On the way back from the forest, Abe felt greatly relieved. Not only had they successfully gathered countless plant specimens without serious issues but they had avoided disaster in the forest and the field. Before they reached the vicinity of the circle, however, Abe forgot that Skip was listening in, and commented on the scenery below. Idly, he reported to his crew that there were carcasses on the ground below at three different locations. Realizing almost at once that he had, in effect, reported these sighting to the bridge, he bit his tongue when Skip showed immediate interest what he discoveries.
“How interesting,” he broke in immediately. “Let’s get a closer look!”
“Good grief!” muttered Sheila.
“You’re not serious?” Abe asked in disbelief. “They’re dead. What’s the big deal?”
“I’m just curious,” Skip replied eagerly. “Are there predators around them? Describe them for me!”
Abe wanted to argue the point, but Skip insisted on them bringing back the carcasses for testing as possible food resources. It was, he believed, much safer than capturing wild specimens for the lab. Everyone, including the captain, groaned loudly now. It would be the most distasteful task undertaken so far on the planet. Though greatly tempted to simply refuse and assert his role as captain, Abe knew it was futile. Skip was already barking out instructions on how to proceed. Dropping down a hundred meters in the rover, fearful that they might attract spinners during the process, and repulsed by the prospect of gathering rotting carcasses, Abe and Sheila studied the rodent-like corpse near the shore, the desiccated corpse of a spinner in the field, and, near the habitat, a portion of one those elephant-like beasts. All three carcasses, when they approached, were being chewed on my small rat-like creatures and long-legged fliers resembling storks.
In an irritable tone, Abe gave Skip a description of the carcasses and begrudgingly reported each step of the assignment. During the explorers grisly chore, under their breaths, Skip was called many different names, most inventive of which being was supplied by Carla, the most spirited member of the crew. The only tools for the enterprise were pitch forks, intended for field operation, and sanitation gloves and goggles. Awkwardly, as the Phoenix skimmed the ground, Ingrid, Carla, and Max, hastily scooped up the rodent carcass, and tossed into the aft compartment, followed more easily by the remains of the spinner in the field, which Carla managed by herself. For the elephant-like beast, however, which required most of the crew, it was much more messy affair. Everyone wretched, as they flopped it down in the aft compartment. Nicole, Mbuto, and Said vomited onto the deck.
That afternoon, when the rover returned with its smelly cargo, the three carcasses were dragged in by perspiring and gagging crewmembers and quickly tested by Sandra and Woody, the acting scientists in the lab. Only the androids had the stomach for studying the blood and entrails of such creatures. These early samples of animal protein, which the discoverers found so revolting, were disappointing to Skip and his crew. The very thought of eating such vile things after handling them today was naturally unthinkable to the humans. Not only were the three carcasses not edible, but they had too many toxic chemicals for human consumption. Like some of the plants they had discovered, they were poisonous, which seemed just as well to the squeamish crewmembers yet boded ill for the future. According to Skip, who reported Sandra’s and Woody’s findings immediately, there was a possibility that many of Kepler 186f’s animals, as well as plants, might be poisonous. A more determined effort to find protein resources must therefore be made elsewhere on the planet.
The next day, with this important goal in front of them, found the explorers in search of both freshwater and marine life. Until they got a better feel for the terrain and the wild life on this world and it was proven that alien animals were palatable and not toxic, this seemed best for the explorers. Skip and Abe agreed that alien fish and shell-fish, if they existed, should be a possible source for protein, too. Considering what Abe and Sheila had seen from Phoenix-One so far, the waters on Kepler 186f seemed free of monsters. A fly over could establish where they could begin searching before the lakes and shorelines of the ocean could be studied up close.
All went well, when they began their exploration. The waters below reminded them of footage from twentieth and twenty-first footage of scenes on Earth. The banks of the lakes, rivers, streams were crowded with the elephant-like beasts and several smaller creatures resembling gazelles. The oceans likewise resembled Earth, glistening quietly, with only a sprinkling of fliers overhead.
Unfortunately, their first exploration of a nearby lake was disappointing. The fish-like creatures were quite repulsive. There were swimmers looking very much like eels that seemed too grotesque for consumption, and yet, when they were analyzed later by Sandra and Woody back at the habitat, they were considered edible, at least in a nutritionist sense, and were placed on the inventory of collectible foods. That same day, the Phoenix One flew over the ocean to make a preliminary study of potential marine life. Without exploring the ocean surface itself, it was obvious to Abe that they would encounter the same problem with fishing as on beaches back on Earth (a rough surf, requiring fly casting from the shore). When the Phoenix returned that day, both Abe and Skip agreed that serious marine fishing would require construction of a motorized boat. Because Abe and Sheila were both air force officers with no practical knowledge of navigation at sea, Sandra and Woody would do the research. The crewmembers would provide the labor for the craft.
As the crewmembers built a boat according to specifications drawn out of Skip’s and Rusty’s databases, the first sprouts sprang from the greenhouse planters, a remarkable discovery, since it would take the same plants weeks to grow on Earth. That the growth cycle was accelerated on Eden was one of the most important discoveries on the planet. In the future, after barely two weeks, the first saplings would appear in the greenhouse, and not long after in the outside garden, the furrows were overflowing with vegetables and herbs.
When the boat, built from unused building materials and powered by the motor from an excavator, was finally completed, it was attached by lines to the undercarriage of the rover and ferried to the beach. For this venture Mbuto and Said, who claimed they were susceptible to sea-sickness, bowed out of the enterprise. Nicole was simply too scared. The boat was scooted by sheer human effort into to surf, and, after finally starting the improvised outboard motor, began its history-making voyage into the alien sea.
As would ancient mariners on Earth, Abe, Sheila, Max, Ingrid, and Carla, used specially contrived hooks and line as well as heavy duty netting to catch marine creatures. Because the first catch was experimental, since they knew nothing of the nutritional value of the planet’s sea creatures, this first voyage was intended mainly for study. What they found in the first toss caused the fishermen dismay.
“What the devil are those things?” Sheila stared in horror.
“Let’s see,” Carla said, pointing to various locations on the net. “That one on top looks like a sea-going centipede, the ones below it remind me a little of a fish, except that they have multiple eyes and long whip-like tales. That critter there, though, just looks like a blob.”
“Ick!” Sheila Ingrid made a face. “What about those little fellows at the bottom of the net? How awful. They look like worms.”
Abe listened quietly a moment, as they studied the net. Then, after they debated on whether or not to try another toss, Max exclaimed, “There’s something down there—a shadow below the boat!”
“Yes, I see it!” Sheila gasped.
“Everyone!” sputtered Abe. “Don’t move! Get away from the rail!”
The conflicting orders requiring both movement and immobility confused the other mariners. It was, at this point, that disaster almost overtook them. From the bowels of the alien sea, a monster so terrible it brought immediate screams from everyone, surfaced from the waves. Resembling, a giant octopus but, upon closer inspection, was more like huge sea anemone rising from the depths, it almost swamped the boat.
Almost immediately, Skip, always vigilant, shouted from all of the communicators: “Hunker down. Pray Ingrid. I’m on my way!”
Though a valiant attempt was made by the mariners, their puny weapons proved futile when fired upon the creature. As expected Ingrid called upon God to save them. In no mood for quoting scripture, she made a direct appeal this time. Even Carla found herself muttering in a panic, “Save us Lord! Save us Lord!”
Just when the crew thought they would be swallowed by the monster or drown in the sea, Skip arrived in Phoenix Two. Training the laser beam on the belly of the rover onto the beast, he hovered in one spot, dangerously close to its tentacles. The concentration of energy didn’t kill it or even damage it to any degree, but, finally after directing the beam on it for several minutes, it gave the creature sufficient discouragement. Returning to the depths, it left a great wake in its retreat, which again almost swamped the boat. As he flew off, Skip ordered the crew to haul in the net and bring it back to the lab. Afterwards, fearful that the monster might return, Sheila shoved the throttle forward all the way, racing to the shore. No sooner was the boat beached, than the five mariners lugged it as far as they could onto the sand, grabbed the slimy net, scrambled onto the rover, and returned quickly to the habitat.
Back at command center, the crew related their harrowing experience, as Sandra and Woody performed tests on their catch. The basic test was to determine toxicity. After this, further chemical analysis was conducted to find out whether or not the creatures was nutritious enough to make harvesting them worthwhile. After waiting for several hours in which they checked the progress of the green house and garden, Sandra and Woody came back with the results. There were in the samples mixed blessings. Some of the creatures (the ‘centipede’ and fish-like creatures) were edible, while the blob and worms, as expected, were, in fact, actually poisonous to human beings. Reluctantly, Abe agreed to take the boat out with his crew again. For the next effort, though, the boat must be weaponized if it is too become a provider of food. This would require more android ingenuity and human labor. The space station was again searched for hardware and equipment to build the weapons.
For the next sea-going expedition, Mbuto and Said had a change of heart and volunteered to join the crew. Abe thought it was all right to add a crewmember, but one of the others had to stay behind. Abe, of course, as captain of the boat, would stay. Being the pilot of the boat Sheila couldn’t very well bow out either. Knowing that the two women would put up a fuss, Max magnanimously offered to stay behind. Because Skip insisted, as he had for the previous expedition, that the doctor be aboard, it was between Carla and Ingrid, which, after the toss of a coin, resulted Ingrid winning the privilege of staying aboard.
This time they had a much better idea of what to keep and what to toss back in. The alien centipedes and alien fish were keepers, while everything else, including the blobs and worms would be tossed back in. Since the boat was now weaponized with a modified Triton surface laser bolted onto the bow, Mbuto and Said felt it quite safe to offer their help. No one was happy with the thought of eating the alien centipedes and fish, but it seemed so easy to net such a large amount, that within an hour the boats hold was filled to the brim. With time on their hands and Skip’s encouragement from the ship, the six mariners now decided to use the fishing poles instead of the net.
“This reminds me of when I was a boy,” Mbuto said, holding firmly on his rod. “My father took me deep sea fishing off the coast of South Africa. What rush that was!”
“I prefer lake fishing,” replied Said, gazing lazily at the sea. “My parents owned one of those new hover crafts. Trout, salmon—all manner of fresh water fish were shoveled up by its scooper.”
“What?” Ingrid frowned with disapproval. “Isn’t that like cheating?”.
“My father was a fishermen,” explained Said. “All commercial fishermen did it that way back then. Frankly, Ingrid, I can’t stand fish. That’s all we ate when I was a kid: fried, baked, broiled, ground up into meat balls, you name it.” “Blech!” He made a face. “What I’d give for a big thick steak.”
“I don’t think you have to worry.” Abe pointed to the hold. “When they’re done with that in the kitchen, it won’t taste like fish.”
“Personally,” said Sheila, reeling in her line, “I prefer something more exotic. Lord, how I miss lobster and crab!”
That moment, as to emphasize her words, she appeared to have caught something. Excitement glowed in her slightly sun-burned face. So far, inexplicably, no one had even a nibble. Now as she brought up her rod, she forgot herself and let out a scream. Caught on her hook was another hideous denizen of the deep, which resembled the mouth of a Venus fly trap as it gripped her hook. Even more horrible for the mariners were the school of snapping crab-like monsters tearing at the sea beast.
“I’m sorry.” She looked at the captain. “That gave me the creeps!”
“You startled me half to death!” he grumbled.
“Here,” Max said, reaching over with a knife, “let’s cut it free!”
“That was rather creepy,” Said wiped his brow.
“Yeah.” Mbuto shuddered. “I almost loss my rod.”
“I think we’ve been out here long enough,” Abe decided, after glancing at his watch. “Today’s haul will feed the crew for a week.”
“I hope they make them taste good.” Said muttered, as they headed back to shore. “Those centipedes didn’t appear very appetizing. Maybe they can make them taste like steak!”
“Or lobster!” Sheila said wistfully.
“I was a vegetarian until I spent time in space,” Ingrid announced dryly. “The best thing I’ve tasted so far on the ship and habitat was the dried and canned foods Sandra and Woody found on the station.” “Just think of it,” she marveled at the thought. “We were eating powered eggs, fake bacon, and canned peaches a hundred thousand years old on the ship. Here in Eden, everything will be fresh!”
“Fresh isn’t necessarily good,” Said reminded her. “Half the fresh animals and plants on this planet are poisonous. The other half are so gross they must be camouflaged to be edible. Let’s hope we can find decent game in the forest we can eat!”
A new expedition to search for grains and, with the encouragement of Said and Mbuto, more palatable game, brought Phoenix One uncomfortably close to a second volcano in the north, nearly as large as the first. Though it was erupting as they passed over, Ingrid, the geologist, considered it stable because of the steady magma pouring from its lip, that allowed gases to escape, which prevents violent explosions. In a relatively innocent patch of grasslands, Phoenix-One once again landed. No sooner had the crew (minus Nicole this time) landed than Carla had gathered up a bundle of promising grains that resembled corn and several other plants. Out of nowhere it seemed, a strange looking creature resembling a giant caterpillar ambled toward them, making a path through the towering grass. Almost instinctively, disregarding Skip’s standing orders, Said and Mbuto now blasted the poor beast to shreds.
“You idiots!” Skip screeched over their communicators. “That was hardly a monster. It was so slow it barely moved. What harm did it do?”
“I’m sorry!” Abe mumbled. “I didn’t see that coming!”
“You’re the captain!” Rusty joined in. “You should see things coming!”
“Disarm them captain!” demanded Skip. “Take their weapons.”
“Here, gimme your guns!” Max snapped his fingers.
Mbuto, head bowed, looked properly contrite, but Said uttered a wounded cry. “Why? It was just a dumb beast. I thought we were supposed to conquer the planet!”
“You fool!” Skip’s voice blared. “I never meant that!”
“What did he mean?” murmured Said. “He once called for a jihad against this world. Now we’re to treat it with kid gloves?”
Mbuto remained silent. As they retreated from the smoldering mass, Sheila lost her breakfast. Said was on the verge of tears.
“You men can’t me trusted!” Carla scolded, as they filed into the rover. “We should never have brought you along!”
During the remainder of the expedition, as they finished up their inspection of food resources, Skip, in very human-like form, grumbled in the background, unable to grasp the stupidity of Said and Mbuto. Despite Skip’s efforts to stimulate crewmembers, using catch phrases, he had evidently failed to reach certain members of the crew. Even the feisty Carla, who had been expressing an ‘us or them’ attitude when it came to predators, didn’t harbor such behavior. It was plain who Skip was speaking to as he lectured the crew while they finished up their collection. It was, he reminded them, tempting to become trigger happy and fire upon potential or imagined threats, but the sport of hunting and needless killing of alien wildlife was against the cardinal rules of exploration. The shooting of the spinners was, of course, an exception, as would be any creature attacking the group, but, all forms of eradication Skip now pointed out, must have the element of self-defense and survival. Hunting, in itself, must be limited to providing food for the habitat. With the backdrop of the alien world, still mostly undiscovered surrounding them, Skip finished his brief lecture then lapsed into silence.
With Kepler 186f’s obvious threats and many unknowns, the task ahead was daunting. He was in charge. He had always been in charge. As the Old Testament god, his voice boomed occasionally from above, guiding this remnant of Earth. Ingrid was scandalized when Carla made this comparison, but part of the Old Testament comparison was correct. They were, she knew, the Chosen Ones, the inheritors of the new world.
When the Phoenix One became airborne again, a flock of headless fliers, eyes streaming along each of their bat-like wings, zoomed past the rover. Below them the humans saw more of the elephant-like creatures, and other denizens, difficult to describe, not seen before. A pack of hopping, galloping wolf-like monsters chased a large creature resembling a mutant pig and more of the spinners scurried across a field, aimlessly it seems, or perhaps because some other monsters was pursuing them. Perhaps, suggested Max, half-seriously as he looked down at the new Eden, this is how Adam and Eve felt when the saw the strange creatures created by God.
After they arrived back at the habitat, carrying their baskets of samples, the specimens were taken by Sandra and Woody into the laboratory. Skip greeted everyone amiably, but then cast a jaundiced eye at Mbuto and Said. In barely more than an hour, after a quick study, Sandra reported to the crew that the corn-like grain discovered was of excellent quality for hybridization and farming, which meant that they would have to fly back to that dreadful zone.
To keep the monster packs at bay in order to fill the rover with grain, the sound cannon was used again, and yet the crew still had to move quickly. During a close call, when the wolf-like beasts charged the gatherers, the basic rule of self-defense was put into operation, as two of the ravenous creatures were blasted full force by the entire crew. Unlike the apparently mindless spinners, the remainder of the pack then shied away from the crew as they finished up their task.
Added to the job of adding the first load of grain to the makeshift warehouse, was a second exhibition to the ocean to net more marine creatures. While the fishing exhibitions were limited to how much could be eaten within a period of time, several trips were required by Phoenix One in order to fill the warehouse. A small portion of the grain was harvested for seeds, and already the garden was spouting the seeds of the first samples as well as several exotic plants. In a separated portion of the garden the saplings of alien fruits as well as the nuts found in the forest were likewise blooming, and in the greenhouse, were the herbs had been planted, experiments were being conducted on various vegetables to make them more acceptable to human palates and special research was being done of hybridization of both fruit trees and grains.
It was becoming clear to their caretakers that the humans were becoming able to care for themselves, but they hadn’t finished their ultimate mission of the new world. The next stage in their exploration and conquest of the planet came with much less enthusiasm by the humans: the manufacture of clones.
When this most important phase in the minds of their caretakers finally arrived and before further exploration of the planet which might provide more food resources, all energies would be focused on the propagation of the human race. Though they helped build the special laboratory, carted equipment into the facility and assisted in the fabrication of clones, as the laboratory was set up, the humans began their labors completely ignorant of the method required to generate clones. As they listened to the directions of their task-masters, it was, in a sense, on the job training. Though the equipment was complex (some of which Sandra and Woody didn’t even bother explaining), the general method of cloning was simple: somatic cells (from all of the crew, including the four dead crewmembers) would be fused with female eggs, which had been harvested separately. The fused cells would be activated with jolts of electricity, then placed in a chamber filled with chemicals similar to the womb. From this point, in what struck the science fiction buff Mbuto as a science fiction fantasy, the laboratory was filled the eerie presence of womb chamber after womb chamber of embryos, that would grow within an accelerated period of weeks instead of months into fetuses, and then infants, who, after making it to term, were removed from the wombs as would normal infants from their mothers, stimulated by a swat on the rear or jolt of electricity into uttering their first cry. At that point, exclaimed Sandra beaming with great purpose, they would be taken to a nursery (which hadn’t even been built) and be cared for by human nannies.
This last part of the plan was irksome to three of the women, who, it was taken for granted by Sandra and Woody, would play their traditional roles. Less irksome, except for the possible danger involved, were the men’s roles as explorers, as they continued exploring the planet for more food resources. During their labors, Sandra and Woody would test the food resource specimens and also began the manufacture of the clones. Also important, Skip explained to the humans, was a search for alternate forms of energy and minerals useful for future use on the new world (the original goal of the ill-fated Triton mission), and, not mentioned directly but implicit in the scientific portion of the expedition, a survey of the remainder of the planet for more evidence of intelligent alien life. Understandably, Carla and Ingrid felt cheated, as the others continued exploration. At first, however, until the laboratory had produced infants ready to be labeled newborns, everyone would be involved in the building of the nursery and the necessary additions to the lab. Several trips by Phoenix One were required to transport more prefabricated components for the Triton mission back to the planet. Using the heavy duty equipment available, the nursery was constructed in less than a week.
For the morale of their human charges, occasional breaks in the routine were allowed. During the interval between the final stage of cloning until they became newborns allowed the three designated nannies to accompany the rover on an excursion to the alien cave. It amounted to nothing more than a field trip for the bored stellarnauts. This time, for the first time leaving Rusty in charge of the ship, Skip wanted to have a look at this wonder himself and accompanied the explorers to the cave. Even the timid Nicole, not wanting to be left behind again, came along with Ingrid’s moral support. With renewed expectation, after Sheila parked Phoenix near the hill, Skip and the eight humans emerged from the rover, weapons ready, and promptly entered the cave. Fortunately for them this time, there were no challenges by spinners. To insure they had the advantage when they re-emerged from the cave, Skip brought a specially designed blaster he fabricated on the ship, which would, he boasted, vaporize the little monsters.
Despite this reassuring boast, something wasn’t right after they entered the cave. The first thing Abe and his crew noticed as they walked down the corridor, was the utter darkness. There was no light at the end of the passage. Using their flashlights, which arced back and forth with nervous energy as they progressed, they kept their weapons at their sides so as not to shoot the person in front. When they finally entered the great cavern, the stalagmites and stalactites glistened brilliantly in the glow but the cave, itself, remained dark. When they reached the crystals, they, too, were dark. Their wondrous inner light had ceased. This fact greatly disappointed everyone except Skip, who saw this as very significant.
“Really?” Abe gave him a curious look. “How is this significant?”
“Think about it, captain” Skip trained his light on one of the crystals. “Why would the light suddenly go out, unless they aliens turned it off?”
“Why would they do that?” asked Max. “We’re no threat to them?”
“They don’t necessarily know that,” Skip said thoughtfully. “Of course, that’s just one explanation for the light going out…. I have no idea what else caused it to go out, but it is quite significant. In fact, it’s more significant than if it was left on.”
“So the aliens might still be here?” Nicole looked at him with concern.
“Perhaps they’re on this world somewhere.” He said studying the dark crystals. “Perhaps they just left.”
“Hmm.” Said pursed his lips. “Do you think they’re coming back?”
“That’s a good question.” Skip replied thoughtfully “For all we know, there might be more concrete evidence of an alien civilization elsewhere on this world.”
“That’s why we’re gonna do more exploring!” piped Mbuto.
“Yes,” Skip sighed. “…. while you look for more resources. That’s your main goal.”
That moment, he flashed his light at the entry to the cavern. “Lets head back,” he said, stepping away from the crystals. “We’ve seen enough here.”
All nine of them, with weapons ready, ran swiftly to the rover. Carla took this opportunity, as soon as they were buckled in, to lodge a protest. “I think it’s unfair that I can’t go!” She blurted, pointing to Mbuto and Said. “I’m a better stellarnaut than those two clowns!”
“So am I!” Ingrid pointed to herself.
“No way, no how!” Said stomped his foot. “That’s woman’s work.”
“I’m not doing it either!” Mbuto shook his head. “I’m not cut out for that kind’ve work!”
“We need nannies for the nursery,” Skip reminded the women. “We all have to do our part!”
“Oh really?” Carla glared at the men. “While they’re having all the fun!”
“I can’t believe this, Skip.” Ingrid gripped her forehead. “I thought this was the twenty-fifth century!”
“It’s much later than that!” observed Skip. “More like 100,000 AD!”
Though Carla and Ingrid weren’t amused, this caused laughter among the men.
“Perhaps they can take turns with the men,” Abe suggested as they became airborne.
“We could compromise here,” Skip shrugged his shoulders. “One of you—Ingrid or Carl—could switch with one of the men. It’s very likely, that there will be follow-up expeditions so that the other can have her turn.”
“That’s much better.” Ingrid nodded at Carla.
“So one of us has to stay behind?” Said frowned.
“Of course,” Skip replied irritably. “After the way you two behaved you’re lucky you can come at all.”
“Skip’s right.” Abe gave Said a stern look. “We all have to do our share!”
“There you have it!” Carla gave Said a malicious grin. “You heard it from the top!”
After Skip was dropped off in the docking area of the ship, the explorers were left with the opinion that he had altered Sandra and Woody’s plan that three of the women would be nannies. Said and Mbuto grumbled under their breaths but dare not make an issue of this state of affairs after Skip’s admonishment on Phoenix One.
That evening, as the group gathered for supper, all was well, as they discussed what they had found (or what they hadn’t found) in the alien’s cave, what Skip had said about it, and what this all meant. No one wanted to believe there was a threat, but Skip words had sparked questions in all of their minds about the visitors. Could the fact that the crystals were now dark imply that they simply moved on? Or did it have a deeper meaning? Wasn’t it a coincidence that, after they visited the cave, the crystals lost their wondrous glow?... Would they find more evidence of the visitors elsewhere on the planet, as Skip suggested, or were the two domes and cave all that was left of a bygone race?…. Were the visitors going to return?
Several routine chores had to be performed each day by the humans, as Sandra and Woody tended to the lab. The gardens and green house had to be watered. An elaborate irrigation system had been developed by Woody for watering the fields that required monitoring Weeds, present on this alien world as they had been on Earth, had to be picked and the plants expected for pests, which included tiny bugs resembling beetles and moths. The humans had to take turns preparing the meals, doing janitorial duties, helping in the lab, and countless other tasks. While they went about their chores, Sheila managed to always be on Abe’s work team. Her fondness for the captain had grown since they had discovered Kepler 186f. Realizing now that the threat of extinction was gone and their survival had finally been secured, Abe had time to think about her too. Influenced by Ingrid’s lofty comparisons between the human remnant and Old Testament characters, their friendship might have seemed a parody of Adam and Eve. The military chain of command that they had shared was irrelevant now. There were only two air force officers among the humans. Who cared about protocol 557.7 light years from Earth?