PART 2: Airomem

Chapter 22

Airomem would never forget the first time she had seen the power room.

“Oh, and there we were all in one place,

A generation lost in space,

With no time left to start again,”  

Her father sang under his breath, then turned towards her as they walked down the hallway, “Oh Airomem, today is your big day!  Are you excited my little princess? Tell me, what is today?  I seem to have forgotten.”

Airomem smiled when her father called her a princess, and rightly so.  For not only he called her that, but the rest of the Lear tribe.  

With one of her front teeth missing and a new one budding in its place, she held up the fingers on two of her hands, and answered.

“I turned six today!  Which means I get to start in the power room!”  She said, sticking her chin in the air, which she considered very princess-like.

“Oh, I don’t know,”  Said her father, wagging a finger, and crouching down to meet her eye level, putting his hands on her waist,  “Are you sure you are ready?  It’s a big job, an enormous job.  The entirety of Dandelion Fourteen depends on you!”

“I’m ready, daddy.”  She said, and stuck her chin out even higher, which in her mid could only mean more princess-like.

“If you say so!”  He said, picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder as she screamed and her fists beat his back in protest, “To the power room we go!”  

She giggled as she bounced with each step of her fathers until the reached the back of the ship.  Or rather, the very back of the ship- as a Lear, the back of the ship was all she had ever explored, never leaving the two outposts that were constantly guarded against intruders and lead to the front.  They entered a long room, flashing monitors dotting the walls and displaying flickering information, and headed towards a door in the back, where the a word in bold red letters was plastered to the door.

“Nuclear!” Airomem shouted, reading the word, one of the first she had learned as her father taught her to read.

“Yes, nuclear!”  He exclaimed, and set her on the ground, “This is the entrance of the power room, Airomem.  It is time you started learning.  One day,it will be your job to be an engineer here, to keep the power running!  And if you do that well enough, then one day you might lead the engineers and tribe, like me!”  He said, and poked her nose.

“Yeah!”  She shouted, and raised a fist into the air, then quickly lowered it after deciding it was not as princess-like as a raised chin.

“Do you remember the hand signs I taught you?  It’s loud in the power room, and we have to wear ear plugs or else our ears will hurt.  Show me danger.  Good!  Now yes, good, no.  Perfect, you’re such a great learner, Airomem.”

“Look, daddy, I made one up too!”  She said, and held up her hand, making a new sign.

“And what does that mean?”

“It means I’m tired of waiting!”  She said, and her father cracked a smile before continuing to speak.

“Now Airomem, inside this room, everything is serious.  Since the asteroid cracked the ship in half, we have kept the ship entire ship alive.  Both sides.  It’s been no easy task- without the main computer systems, many of the things that happened automatically in the past have to be done by hand.  And we have to be careful, because only one mistake is all it takes to place us back into peril.  That’s our job, Airomem, to not make mistakes.”

“But what if we do?”

“We can’t!  We’ve come so close, and now we at at the final leg of our journey!  Remind me, Airomem, what are we getting close to?”

“The new planet!”

“And what is that?”

“It’s like a ship, but bigger! I think. It’s like where we came from!”

“Exactly.  And it is most exciting because one day, you might get to see it Airomem!”  He reached into a pocket and pulled out a piece of paper with seven dots on it shaped in a ring, “When you look out the window, and you see this, it means we are getting close!  It could be any year now, Airomem, but most think it will be in your lifetime.”

“Will I be princess on the planet?”  She asked, and stuck out her bottom lip, “Otherwise, I don’t want to go.”

“Of course,”  Her father said, “And you’ll want to go!  That’s why I’m showing you the power room, dear.  We provide energy to the ship until we leave for the planet.  Which is good,”  He said, and leaned forward to speak in her ear, “Because we’re almost out!”

Then he started singing again under his breath.

“Now, for ten years we’ve been on our own,

And moss grows fat on a rolling stone,

But, that’s not how it used to be.”

And led her into the power room. 

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Chapter 23

Airomem’s eyes were shut tight as she hid in the dark underneath her bed, gripping the stun gun tight in her right hand and her left flat against the ground, while her toes were coiled like springs against the back wall.  In case the locked door of her apartment burst open.  In case she had to attack.  And in case she had to run.

Her breath came quick as she saw faint blue flashes through the crack underneath her door, accompanied by far off thuds, and the sound of metal ringing on metal.  And she thought back to an hour before, when she and her father had been sharing dinner.

“And how was school today?”  He had asked her, holding out her seat as he placed a plate in front of her, “Tell me that Prometh still has enough wits about him to teach the youngsters!  He used to be the finest of our engineers.”

“Good!”  She said, stabbing her fork deep into a carrot and shoving the entire slice in her mouth such that the next few word were muffled.  Being a princess came second to being hungry, she had decided.”Today we learned about the photonic crystal!  And about what happened to the one on the other end of the ship!”

“Oh, sounds like there was some serious learning indeed,”  Said her father, raising an eyebrow, “Are you sure that you’ll be able to keep all that knowledge in that tiny noggin?  I hear if you pack too much in then it’ll explode!”

“Dad!”  She whined, “I’m not six, you can’t play tricks on me like that anymore.  I’m eight now!  I know better.”

“Funny, at thirty eight I still think the same thing about when I was thirty six.  You can never stop learning, Airomem, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.”

“Yes, daddy. You always say that,”  She huffed, rolling her eyes, and stabbed through another carrot, deep enough that the metal clinked against the plate.  And as she brought the it to her mouth, her father’s head snapped upwards, and she heard it.

The wailing of the siren.  The sound that made the hairs on her neck stand up, and her skin tingle as blood rushed to her face and adrenaline raced along her capillaries.

Her father’s hand swept the fork out of her hand as he tucked her under his elbow, then sprinted out of the mess hall.  Doors flashed by as they passed the siren wielder, a boy who had just entered his teens, holding one of the stun guns such that its prongs were plugged into a box that screeched as he took off in the other direction, running loops around the Lear territory.  

“Starboard!”  The boy shouted with every other step, his cracking voice struggling to make it down the corner he had just turned, “Starboard!  Starboard!  Starboard!”

And then they were at her apartment and her father threw the door open, before tossing her inside on the bed.

“Under, down, down!  Make no noises, and open your door for no one!  Do you understand?”  He barked as she nodded.  

“Wait, daddy, what if you don’t come back?”  She said, trying to grab hold of her hand.

“I always come back,”  He said, gripping her head between his hands, “Don’t you forget that, Airomem.  And I’ll always be here.”  He gave her head a squeeze between his hands, then raced  away, slamming the door shut behind him.  And as soon as he left she rushed to her dresser and took the stun gun from the top drawer, then waited under her bed, trying to still her breath.  Knowing what came next.

The darkness.

And seconds later it happened, the lights above extinguished themselves, along with every other light in their sector of the ship.  Turning the hallways near pitch black, impossible to navigate unless they were already memorized.

Which for the Lear, they were.  

She waited, her jaw tight, watching her doorknob as her eyes acclimated, the only light the faint stars outside her window.  Her muscles tightened as she heard feet run past, and the siren wailing again, this time the boy shouting “Port!  Port!  Port!” as his vocal chords strained.  

For several minutes, nothing happened as the noises drifted away, their volume decreasing until they were just at the threshold of her hearing where imagination fights reality.  Where she imagined all the stories she had heard about the other tribes.  How they feasted upon one another after their squabbles, the smell of cooking meat even  making its way as far as  the Lear’s side of the ship.  The times that they bothered to cook, that is.  Or the screams she heard when she would stray too close to the other side and the battle chants seemed to shake the walls themselves.

And then, in the silence, she heard footsteps.  Footsteps that crept down the hallway, and paused in front of her door, short ragged breaths coming from the other side.

Her breath held in her throat as she watched the doorknob start to turn, ever so slowly, creaking open in the darkness.  And a face appeared around the corner as she leapt out from underneath her bed, the stun gun extended in front of her with both hands, the electricity crackling as she turned it up to full power and bathing her face in blue light,

“Back,”  She screamed, “Back, or I’ll shock you so hard your skin will fry! Back!”

And in the light, her father’s face stared back, blood trailing along his temple.

“Hush,”  He said, entering as she burst into tears, “Hush, it’s over.  What happened to staying under the bed?  I told you to stay!”

And though he scolded her, she heard something else in his voice as he looked down on her standing there, the stun gun still buzzing.  Something she heard when she brought back top scores on her tests, or explained the schematics of the power room to her correctly.

“A princess would fight!”  She answered through the tears, her voice shaking, and he couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re right, she would,”  He agreed, “Now put that down.  And hush.”

“Where were we attacked?”  She asked as he sat down on the bed next to her.

“On both sides,”  He answered, “Port and starboard.  We defended both, and sent them running backwards faster than they came.  Now, princess, why is it that we defend those two points?”

“Because those two points are the only way that they can enter our end of the ship,”  She answered, “They’re the only two doorways.  But why, daddy?  Why do they attack us?”

Her father frowned, and spoke slowly in response.

“Airomem, we live a very different life here than them.  We live an orderly life- but the two other tribes, the Aquarians and Agrarians, are not so fortunate.  The Aquarians control the water, having access to the reservoirs, while the Agrarians plow the fields.  Unlike us, there are many points of entry for them to attack each other, and they are near constantly at war- what they seem to never understand is that they need each other to survive.  They grow greedy, and try to seize the other’s resources instead of trading. But what they lust over far more is what we have, Airomem.  Is after the electrical power.”

With those words, the lights buzzed back to life, and she saw that the blood originated from a long gash.

“Daddy, you’re hurt!  I din’t think that was your blood!”  

“Hush, it’s alright, it’s shallow,”  He answered, “Listen, Airomem.  We’ve started this lesson, and now we must finish it. It is something a leader should know as second nature. The Agrarians and Aquarians must never gain hold over the ship’s power.  Can you tell me why?”

“Because, because then we would be dead?”

“More important, Airomem.  Even if they let us live, it would be worse.  Think, how many years do you need to study before you become an apprentice engineer?”

“Ten,”  She answered, and her eyes widened, “They would break it!  The power room, the reactor, they would break it!”

“Exactly, Airomem.  Not only would we die, but so would they, by their own hand.  And so would the other side of the ship.  So we must protect them from themselves.  Now, why do we fight in the dark?”

“Because no Agrarian or Aquarian has set foot here in over a hundred years,”  She answered, “They would become lost, and would bump into the walls as they try to attack.  It gives us the advantage.”

“Precisely.  Now Airomem, the other tribes will not always try to attack us directly.  They hate us because we demand tribute from them- we supply them with electricity, and they supply us with water and food. But once, one hundred years ago, they tried to starve us.  For two weeks they stopped delivering food and water, even after we turned out their lights, and we dipped deep into our stores.  Tell me, what happened then?  How did your great great grandfather fight back, back when he served as adviser to the leader?”

Airomem knew the legend by heart, the stroke of ingenuity that had been decreed to have saved the Lear tribe from near extinction.

“They turned the power up, instead of off!”  She said, “And the lights burned brighter and hotter than they should have, and it burned the other tribes and their crops.  And only then did they pay their tribute, when their skin was so red it broke out in blisters, and they feared the lights!”

“Yes, well done Airomem.  A last resort, but a necessary one.  But remember, we can only do that in an extreme emergency- typically, the ship should not let the power rise that high, but after the asteroid struck the electricity had to be rewired to bypass many of the safety systems.  And even worse, the same power that harmed the Agrarians and Aquarians also traveled to the other side of the ship.  Surely, they did not know it was us, but we must care for our brothers and sisters, no matter how remote they might be.”

The her father stood, and walked to the door.

“I must be going now, Airomem.  I personally want to check over the ship, to ensure everything is in order.  Go to sleep now daughter, princess, but remember this lesson.”

“Daddy, wait!”  She shouted as he opened the door, “Don’t leave me, I’m scared!”

“We’re all scared,” He answered, “Some of us are just better at hiding it than others.”

“Tell me a story first before you go!”  She demanded, “It can be quick, I need to think about something else, or I won’t sleep.”

He hesitated, then returned to her bed.

“I will, but it has to be quick. Which one do you want to hear?”

“Tell me,”  She said, thinking, then decided, “Tell me about Necti.”

“Ah, your favorite,”  He said, “Of course.”

And he began, his deep voice recounting the tale as she felt her eyelids start to grow heavy.

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Chapter 24

The asteroid struck Dandelion 14 off center.  Of course, it was very near the center, which is why the ship split into two parts.  The very weakest spot of the ship was hit, the bridge itself, the connector between the two sides and the nose capsule at the front.

As soon as the asteroid made contact, all transport between the halves was halted.  No longer was there the air pressure necessary to travel across the bridge, which means anyone who attempted would die. And at the time, Necti was the head engineer of the ship – it was his duty to keep the engines running, and the lights on, and the systems under control.  And when the ship split, Necti was on our side of the ship.

In the confusion of the ship, Neti had two priorities.  The first was to the ship itself, and he ran to the power room to keep the reactor from damaging itself as they systems fell off line.  Much of the work that is done today was automatic back then, governed by the ship itself, though these were destroyed by the asteroid.  So it was up to Necti to preserve the ship, because the ship could no longer care for itself.

But, you see, the asteroid striking the ship was the second most important thing that had happened to Necti that day.  The first had occurred that very morning- Necti had married his wife, Beatrice, who was said to be even more beautiful than the stars.  They had been lovers since childhood, and the ceremony had all but finished- there was but one part left.  You see, when the ship used to be whole, the ceremony dictated that married couple would each depart to opposite ends of the ship, then meet in the center, signifying that nothing could ever separate them.  That they would overcome all obstacles to be together.

And when the asteroid struck, Beatrice was on the other end of the ship.  Which was Necti’s other priority.

Because when he looked outside, at the other half, their lights were out.  This meant that the power room on their side of the ship had been lost- likely because the asteroid hit their side harder, and caused their reactor to malfunction.

Originally, Necti had saved the reactor on our side because he knew that both he and Beatrice would die without it.  But now, he knew that he would not be able to live without his wife, separated far away from him on the other end of the ship.  He knew that she would not be able to live without power, and that soon those on the other side would fight for food, and then starve.

He petitioned for the ship to be repaired immediately, but there was a problem.  With only one power room, there was not enough fuel to reach the new planet if the ship was fixed.  You see, fixing the ship is no small task- the power is requires is enormous.  And once the ship was restored, one power room would have to support the entire ship as mandatory energy hungry systems came back online, which was not in the original design.  As you will learn in your studies, the more power that the reactor must provide, the more that it wastes.  And under that great stress the energy would run out far before Dandylion 14 reached her destination.

But Necti refused to be defeated.  That morning, he had vowed to meet Beatrice at the center of the ship.  He had vowed no distance could keep them apart.  That no obstacle could stand in their way.

So he devised a plan.

First, he turned off every system still online that was not absolutely crucial, and he turned those off those that he could that even once the ship was repaired would draw excess power.  And he knew of a room on the other end of the ship, a room where he could tell the ship to repair itself one day by giving it extremely specific instructions when to awake, and how to fix itself, as he knew we would forget.

You have seen the suits that are kept in the back of the power room, by the engines.  In extreme circumstances, these were designed to allow us to move outside the ship. With his knowledge of the ship schematics, Necti determined which power cables he would need to connect to the other side of the ship to share our electricity.  They wouldn’t be enough to completely restore power, but they would be enough for sustenance.

And Necti did something that no one has done since, and likely no one had done before.

He jumped.

With the cables streaming behind him, he soared across the gap between the two halves, just barely making it to the other side of the ship.  And he restored power to where it was most necessary, plugging our electricity into their systems.

Then Necti reentered the ship through their engines, and their power room, to find his beloved Beatrice.  Like us, he knew how to sign with his hands, an emergence precaution used by engineers for situations where communication might be difficult.  And as the lights flickered back on from their end, he signed to us what had happened through the windows.

He had found Beatrice still in her bridal gown waiting for him at the bridge, and their marriage had been complete.  He had found the control room, and set it such that in the generations to come the ship would awaken, and restore itself just before reaching its destination.

And he signed something else, something as his hands shook and his tears fell upon the window.  Something that he kept secret from Beatrice herself.

That when he had entered the other power room, the photonic shielding around the reactor had been cracked open, exposing him with no protection to the radiation.  On leaving the room, he welded the door shut, such that no one else would ever enter there again, and warned the other side to never to enter the long room leading to their power room, as that would be contaminated as well but with lesser levels of radiation.

He never told Beatrice – hiding it as long as he could as his hair fell out, and sores formed on his skin.  Enjoying his final month with her, with his wife, his love, whom he had let no obstacle short of death part them.  And for whom he had saved that entire side of the ship.

We still know the last message he signed to us, one so weak we could barely decipher it, but caused the rest of the engineering team to burst into tears.  And which immortalized his name forever among us.

“For her, for you, and for them, I would do it again.”

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Chapter 25

Airomem fidgeted in her chair as Mr. Prometh entered the room and strutted to the board, taking a marker between his two remaining fingers and writing in sharp, staccato bursts.

“Today,”  He said to the six engineers to be, “Today, we learn theory!  Today, we forget engineering in the power room in favor of physics- instead of learning which dials do what, and what levers control what, we’ll learn why they do what they do!  We’ll be taking this at quite a high level- much of this is not well understood, and I have an inkling that it never was well understood.”

“Do we have to learn this?”  Moaned AJ, a student to Airomem’s right, “What’s the point, if we can keep the reactors running anyways?”

Prometh whipped around and held up his hand, wiggling the three stumps as he spoke.

“I didn’t lose three of my fingers while I was under captive by the Agrarians to listen to you snivel, boy!  If you don’t want to learn, then you can leave!  Do you know why the Lear spent so much resources on rescuing me, despite my middle age when I was captured?  It’s because of my knowledge, boy!  Because if that reactor goes down, I’m the only one who knows how to fix it, until one of you takes my place.”

Then he held his hand to his stomach, “Horrible things the Agrarians did, boy.  Would you want to hear more?  It wasn’t just my fingers they took- oh no, they took whatever they could, bits and pieces of whatever they could peck at.  Made themselves a nice Prometh soup while they had me chained down, and interrogated me on how the reactors worked!  Ah, such is the price of knowledge.”

Then Prometh leaned down to look directly in Aj’s eyes from six inches away, his voice steady.

“And the best part was that I didn’t even have to keep silent- I told them everything they wanted, because their minds were not trained to receive it!  I might as well have babbled nonsense, boy, nonsense about protons and neutrons and gravitational theory.  And now you are turning away the knowledge that they would have killed me for!  Do you want to hear more of my endurance of their torture?  Do you want me to spin your nightmares for the next month?  Because I can, boy.”

AJ shook his head wildly, leaning back as far away as his could, while Prometh’s face brightened.

“Good, then!  Now, on to your second worst possible nightmare, physics!  Class, much of what we will go over today was developed by a fellow named Einstein.  Class, who was this fellow?”

We don’t know,”  Chanted the class, as they had been instructed each time the name came up in lecture.

“Correct!  While we know the physics, our history going back as far as that name is not nearly as strong.  Must have been a bright fellow, or group of fellows.  Or maybe we’re just not as intellectual as we once were, and he was the average of the lot.  Anyways, back to the physics.  You see, it’s all because of this Einstein fellow that our reactor works.”

On the board, he drew a sphere, and shaded in the inner edge of the sphere before filling in a thick dot at the center.

“This sphere, class, is known as the photonic crystal barrier – inside the power room, you may have heard it being referred to as the egg.  We must take the utmost care not to break the egg- it would be absolutely impossible to replace with the tools we have, and is quite fragile. And supposedly, in terms of pure material, it is more valuable than the rest of the ship combined.  Now, on the inside of this crystal is radioactive matter, which means it spits out energy in the form of super high frequency light faster than AJ spits out stupid questions.  The sphere acts like a mirror- all that energy bounces around the inside, none of it can escape, one hundred percent down to the very last photon is conserved.  And it meets the target here, in the center, which absorbs it and converts it to electrical energy.  Do you follow?”

“Yes, even I knew that,”  Said AJ, “And everything inside the sphere is deadly, like a fire or poison, that can kill us if it escapes.”

“Yes, or can be put to great use!  You see, that target is able to send the energy outside the sphere in the form of a different type of light waves which pass through the photonic crystal as if it were clear glass!  One type of light bounces around the inside, the other type moves freely through- similar to how soup will trickle through the prongs of a fork, but beans cannot fall through the gaps. Now we can use that transmitted energy, or the soup dripping through the cracks, to run the engines, to power the lights, or however else we see fit.  Now, does anyone see the problem with this?”

Airomem raised her hand, and Prometh jabbed at her with his two fingers.

“The ship requires different amounts of energy at different times,”  She said as Prometh beamed, “But the radioactive elements break down at a constant rate.”

“Precisely, precisely!”  He said, “As I’ve stated, the crystal is incredibly fragile.  This means that there cannot be moving parts on the inside, and it’s best that there isn’t, as one tiny malfunction would mean our doom.  In addition, we have to choose a radioactive material that naturally expels energy slowly, so that if they crystal ever does break, like it did on the other end of the ship, the nuclear reaction cannot spiral out of control.  So very tricky, so very tricky, to create something like this!  Something that can give enough power to run the ship when needed but will fizzle out otherwise.  Now, does anyone know how this can be accomplished?”

Airmomem shook her head, and when the rest of the class saw her, they followed her lead.

“Ah, that’s quite unfortunate.” Continued Prometh, “Every year I hope to have an Einstein in my class, but I have yet to be lucky.  You see, this is what he figured out- he found out that under the effects of extreme gravity, you can actually change how time flows!  So bear with me, and try not to tie your brains in a knot, but by creating an artificial gravity field inside the sphere, we can make the material appear to decompose faster on the outside.  Or, in this case, we apply an extremely strong anti-gravity field if we need power, which makes the material inside age faster than us, and therefore spit out energy quicker!  But creating gravitational fields requires a tremendous amount of energy, so the more energy we need, the more we have to burn to maintain that field and consequently speed up the reaction.  Understood?”

“No,”  Said AJ, as Airomem cocked her head to the side, “It seems like circular math.”

“Good,”  Prometh responded, “That’s the best comment you’ve made so far, AJ.  It is indeed- a feedback loop, to be precise.  If more energy is needed, then we crank up the gravitational fields.  But that requires more energy!  So we keep cranking them up, until we can sustain the ship’s power.  Anyways, I didn’t expect you to understand it all.  Hell, even I don’t -but now we can say you’ve had an equal opportunity to the Agrarians who I taught this to!  Though I hope you learned more than them.”

“I’m not sure about that,”  Said AJ, and scratched his head.

“Even with you AJ, we can always hope,”  Said Prometh, “But that’s it for today.  If any of you want to know more, feel free to stay after.”

As the rest of the lass departed, Airomem waited behind.  And she listened to Prometh for several hours, absorbing all she could, whether or not it made sense.  For Necti had once understood it, and if she ever wanted to live up to her favorite story character, she would need to too.

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Chapter 26

Airomem shadowed the engineer as he walked around the circumference of the egg, watching as he checked of sections of a notepad, taking temperature readings and antigravitational values as he adjusted his hearing protection.  She frowned as she followed him, running through the the effects of every one of his actions in her mind, tracking the physics as he adjusted each knob, or imagining the consequences should one of the parameters rise too high or fall to low.

And imagining was important, since there was nearly no physical response to each of his actions.  Numbers would change, and the pitch of the sound might slightly modulate, but for the most part there was no tangible effect- unless a visitor owned the eye and ear of a trained engineer, they would have no recognition of an alteration in the engine room.

But Airomem, Airomem always knew.

She knew that the shrill tone that accompanied the roaring of the engines meant that the resonance of one of the induction coils was out of tune, and that excess energy was being shedded as a result.  And she knew that fixing it would increase the engine efficiency by several percent -not only reducing the induction losses, but also reducing the antigravity field to be generated.  A bead of sweat travelled down the side of her face as she kept an eye on the temperature reading, knowing that she would keep a tighter monitoring of it than the current engineer, who had let it rise two degrees above what her calculations determined optimal.

She drew a sharp breath as the engineer nearly ignored a slight spike in energy output, releasing it just as he noticed, then looked about the room to check each of the systems working to keep the reactor online.  And every time she tracked them, her mouth opened slightly in wonder at the design of it.  At the perfect way it all fit together, at how even with the engineers blunders it could survive, at how it provided power while nearly the entire ship did not have the slightest idea where it came from.  And as she stared, she saw her father enter, and wave her over outside the room.

“Four weeks in!”  He whispered excitedly as she exited, the door closing behind her and sealing the power room away, “Four weeks of shadowing.  How do you like it?”

“It’s great, it really is!”  She said, “But father, I’ve been wondering something.  How, how did all this happen?  Where did all this come from?”

“The power room?”  He asked, “Why, it was constructed when Dandelion 14 was, at the very beginning.”

“The entire ship, then!  How, exactly, did it come to be?  I know that it was built, but why?  And by who?”

“Are the intricacies of the power room not enough to satiate your curiosity?”  He laughed, and touched her nose.

“Come on, father, I’m not twelve anymore!  I’m almost an engineer!  How did all this start?”

“Dandelion 14?”

“Dandelion 14.”

“Let’s take a walk, Airomem.  A lap around Lear territory.  This will take a moment to explain.”

“Sure.”  She answered, and followed him as he started at a meandering pace.

“Airomem, the Dandelion is not only the name of the ship.  Back, before we lived on the ship, it was the name of a plant.”

“From the gardens?”

“Well, yes and no.  You see, the plants back then were not always grown by us.  In fact, they existed before we did- and dandelions were a type that bore no fruit. Instead, they only bore seeds.  Seeds that were clustered in such a way that at the lightest of breaths would scatter them across the earth, where they could have a chance to grow.”

“Why does this matter, if they weren’t brought on the shp?”

“It’s more of the principle of the matter,”  Said her father, and took a breath, “The point is, that this plant was considered undesirable.  But it was so proficient at reproduction that it refused extinction and instead spread its seeds in the face of adversity.”  And closing his eyes, her father began to recite:

“A farmer went out to plant some seeds.  As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and they were eaten.  Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow.  But the plants soon wilted, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died.  Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants.  Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!  Listen, Airomem.  Where we came from, where Dandelion 14 was built, we left there because it was headed for destruction. But we weren’t the only ones, Airomem, who left.  Supposedly, there were others.  Dandelion seeds scattered among the stars, each seeking new life.”

“So there are others then, for sure?”   she asked, excitedly.

“Airomem, wait, before you take too much hope,”  Her father said, “Remember, of the seeds that were cast out by the farmer, only a few survived.  Only some made it only to fertile ground where they could live.”

“So you’re saying that once we find our new home, the others might not survive?  And they might not find us?”

“No, Airomem,”  He answered, his face solemn. “I’m saying that our ancestors spread seeds like a dandelion because only a few would find fertile soil.  For all we know, we might be among those they land on rock and cannot take root.  Even after all this effort to survive, even if we find the new planet home, we may still die.”

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Chapter 27

“Line up!” Shouted Prometh, standing in front of his class of six, “And pay attention!  I may be old now, and my hair may be gray, but I could still knock the life clean out of any one of you in a fight!  The Aquarians and Agrarians will move much quicker than I, I assure you! And not just that, they’ll have all their fingers!  Plus three of mine, which each put up enough of a fight to bring of them down with them!.”

Airomem was squared off against AJ, with another student on her left and right side, and two others on his.  An open door frame had been constructed between them, just wide enough that each of them could reach across to the other side without fully entering the frame, and a wall jutting out for a few feet on each side.

“Now, there are two entry points to our territory.  The Port, where Agrarians can attack, and the Starboard, where the Aquarians can attack.  As warriors, you have one priority- defend these two doors with your lives!  So long as they are not breached, we hold the advantage as they cannot overcome us with their numbers.  So use the bottleneck to your advantage! Of course, these two doors can be locked and braced, but that’s no guard against stubborn perseverance- only you can guard against that.”

“But what if they get through?”  Asked Airomem, “Won’t we have to fight them then?”

“You better pray they don’t!”  Exclaimed Prometh, “But we are prepared in the case that they do.  Each the port and starboard sides have three bottlenecks- the others must fight through all three doors to enter into the soft underbelly of our territory.  Each bottleneck empties in a larger room, so if they try to ram their way through, you can hit them with stun guns from the sides as they come through the door.  And due to their frequent wars with each other, it is almost never necessary to retake a room if we have lost it- instead, when one tribe senses that the other is weakened, they attack.  And the Agrarians or Aquarians will pull their forces back in defense, especially since they know that we won’t pursue them past the initial bottleneck.”

“And why not?”  Asked AJ, “Why don’t we storm through and kill them when they are busy defending themselves?  Why don’t we take their land and defend that as an offensive front?”

This is why,”  Said Prometh, pointing to the wall where a hand drawn map was plastered, “These are the schematics of the ship- found in an engineering book in our territory.  Written, mind you, which is good because I have yet to hear of an Agrarian or Aquarian that can tell a vowel from a consonant.  Now, as you can see, once you break past our bottlenecks into their territory there are many more points of attack.  Instead of defending two doorways, if we advanced we would have to defend six, then eight, then ten as the corridors fan out!  That’s why the Agrarians and Aquarians are always at war- there are dozens of entry points between them, so they have no strategic buffers.”

“But we could take them slowly, and we fight better then them!” Claimed AJ,  “Even you say that.  Though are numbers are far fewer, we have far more stun guns and better strategy, so our firepower is much greater!”

“True, true, I agree with you there.  In terms of weapons, we do have more stun guns, but they have plenty of knives- and while a knife will lose to a stun gun, a knife exists to kill, while a stun gun will only incapacitate.  But have you ever farmed, AJ?  It’s truly backbreaking work.  It would cost hundreds of lives and several years to make that territory advance, all so that we can just be farmers.  Instead, so long as we defend our entry points, we lose a life or two every year- most of them from guards being inattentive.  And even if we did take the land, we do not have the numbers to farm and support ourselves.”

“Rather, it’s far easier to demand tribute for the power that we provide,”  Said Airomem, and Prometh nodded, then he continued.

“But now, enough on strategy!  Stun guns set to low!  If you are struck, you are out and must clear out of the doorway.  Airomem and AJ, you are the keystones.  Akil and Helen, you are left flank.  Priam, Aga, you are right flank.  In this mock battle, AJ’s team will be trying to advance through the doorway.  Airomem, your team will be defending it like the bottleneck on Port or Starboard.  On my call you start, and remember your techniques!”

Airomem squared her feet as AJ crouched on the other side of the door, his eyes flicking left and right as he searched for a weakness, his freshly formed facial hair sticking out in odd directions from just underneath his chin. She held two stun guns, one in each hand, the blue light just barely visible under the low setting, the buzzing just at the edge of her hearing, and the vibrations traveling up her arms.  On each of her sides her flanks turned their stun guns on as well, just as AJ’s flickered to life.

Then Prometh blew a whistle hanging around his neck, and the mock battle began.

Airomem took a sharp step backwards as AJ jabbed forward, the edge of his weapon whiffing just under her chin.  On her right Aga swept in, trying to catch AJ off guard as he recoiled just in time, the blow catching air where he had been just an instant before.  And in her mind, Airomem recited her strategy learned from Prometh while she watched for AJ’s next move.

The keystone holds the formation together.  It is the keystone’s responsibility to plug the hole, to stand strong and open opportunities for corner attacks from the flanks.

And she took another step backwards, opening up space between her and the doorframe as her flanks moved forward to the walls in front of the door frame, using them as a shield to hide their bodies.  Together, they formed a triangular pocket.  A pocket where anyone who entered would be attacked on three sides- from keystone, who was to stop momentum, and from the flanks who dealt the finishing blows.

Without warning Priam darted through the door from the other side, barreling low so that Aga’s taser struck too high.  Then Helen arced down from the left, jamming the taser into Priam’s shoulder blade as he tumbled past Airomem, who allowed him past her without interference.  Stunned and disqualified, he now posed no threat.

But as she pivoted back to the keystone position her eyes widened, watching as Akil bent down with his hand on his knees just beyond the door, and AJ took a running start from several feet behind him.  

“Aga, Helen, strike low!”  She shouted as AJ launched himself upwards, arms flailing through the air.  Aga and Helen struck Akil at the same time as he passed under AJ, but now AJ’s trajectory was headed directly towards Airomem, his stun guns pinwheeling in blue streaks.

She grit her teeth as she staggered her stance, her bangs falling over one of her eyes as AJ descended without grace, holding both her tasers directly in front of her in single ourstrethed point.  They struck AJ directly in his chest as he crashed through them, his far larger body bowling into hers as they collapsed together, loose stun guns shocking them repeatedly on the way down.  She slid against the metal floor in a tangle of limbs, AJ’s body jerking with each electrical impulse, stars forming in her vision as the breath was knocked out of her chest.

And as she sat up, she heard Prometh start clapping to the best of his ability, a smile on his face.

“Well done.  Well done Airomem.  Had your tasers been on full power, this would have ended quite differently.  And AJ, though somewhat unorthodox, that move would be similar to something the other side would try.  And you cleared a hole.  I would declare a tie, but considering Airomem has no casualties on her team, she holds a slight victory – careful, Airomem, it appears that AJ gets sharper with each passing day!  Now, pick yourselves up, it’s time to go again.  This time, Airomem, you will attack.”

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