I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 31

A meeting with a nuclear scientist

Tara Benson was not my idea of a typical nuclear physist, but then I always had been a bad judge of matching occupations to personnel.

I had read her biography and service record, mainly the one paragraph summary, and it said she was one of the best in the world.

Criteria indeed for anyone on this ship apparently, though I didn’t regard myself as fitting into the category, but someone must have thought I had the potential.

On the way down I had a few moments to contemplate her ordeal, not only being taken prisoner, but of being transported back in the manner we had used, when it was a means I would not willingly use on myself.

It was why the first thought I had when I saw her was to apologise.

She was sitting in one of the special chairs that could analyse everything about you, what ailed you, what diseases you had, the state of your body.

When I had my first medical examination, the put me in an earlier model of that chair and it picked up the missing anatomical parts, the fact I once had several broken bones, that I was slightly anaemic, and the reason why I sometimes had bouts of indigestion.

They fixed all that, and a slight imperfection in my eyesight which I didn’t know about.

The doctor was looking at the monitor when I arrived.

“How is she?”

“Better than we expected. Other than being exposed to radiation for longer than prescribed, and which we can fix, she is in perfect health.”

“Mentally?”

“You can ask her yourself. I’m about to sign off on her going back to work, after a good night’s sleep.”

He spoke to her for a minute or so, then helped her up out of the chair.

“I assume you are the new captain,” she said when she saw me.

“Not by choice, but for the time being, yes.”

“I have a few questions, if I may?”

“Now?”

“If it’s possible”

There was a consultation room free, so I escorted her inside, and closed the door. It was odd, I thought, that she sat behind the desk.

I also felt like she was making a mental assessment of me, perhaps thinking that I was not what she might have considered Captain material. To a certain extent I may have once agreed with her, because everyone expected a captain to be much older and therefore wiser.

It was an analogy I’d heard before.

“Whose idea was it to transport me across to this vessel?”

I had expected that the means might be questionable, but in the moment, and considered along with the course of action I’d taken, it was the right decision.

“Mine. After discussion, of course, with the relevent experts. The risk was acceptable, proven by the fact you’re here now, and relatively unharmed.”

“It was a surprise, I’ll grant you that, and a first. From what I managed to overhear, the plutonium was sent down to their bunker to provide power to the facility, under the surface of the moon, and only accessible by transporter. Given the risks, it also surprised me they were so committed to using it.”

“Since most of that crew were escaped convicts from the Mars mining prison, any means would be acceptable.”

“Prisoners, not aliens?”

“Yes. The ship’s were old personnel transports, and the big ship, where you were being held, an old freighter.”

“The Orion.”

I knew it well, and surprised that I’d not recognised it. They had managed to disguise it well.

“A ship, I’m sure, you might be familiar with,” she added.

Perhaps my captains bland expression was not so bland.

“Ancient history,” I said, “from a time that I would rather leave in the past.”

There was a story, and not a pretty one, of a voyage not so long after commissioning, where systems failed and crew members died, all part of the experience in those early years in space. The quest for profits had outweighed the necessity for proper testing, and we had borne the brunt of the ‘test as you go’ mentality that had reigned before Space Command had taken over.

“You must tell me, one day.”

Her expression was one of curiosity, and not one to be mistaken for anything else.

“Is there anything else?”

“If you are considering retrieving the plutonium, let me know and I’ll be happy to help. I suspect the people on Venus would like to see it sooner rather than later.”

“You know where this base is?”

“Of course.”

“Good. I’ll let you know after I’ve spoken to the security people.”

© Charles Heath 2021

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