written and illustrated by Adrienne Foster Potter


Chapter I:

Flora and Fauna

Irvana looked out the huge steel-glass window on the main deck which allowed passengers and crew to gaze at the stars, and felt like a space explorer.  She saw the blackness of space, dotted with beautiful specks of light, and the occasional smoke-like wisps of a distant, colorful nebula.  She was sorry to leave her friends but she would be able to teleview them every week. Some of them might eventually resettle with them on the new planet, if everything went well.

     That morning  she had said goodbye to her old home, the neighborhood where she'd lived since birth, and left with her family for Space Dock in Houston II. By evening they were en route since Earth Force teams had already checked, loaded, and re-checked the massive array of supplies they would need.  Their flight was smooth and uneventful and they shot at light speed towards their goal.

     A new planet had been discovered in 2140 A.D., and after naming it Othgar in honor of the General who defeated China in the last war, Earth Force immediately recruited volunteers to settle it. Irvana's family accepted the invitation, partly because they were tired of the noise and pollution of the city and partly because Kaylar, Irvana's mother, was growing wary of the government's inability to stop gang crimes. The gangs that infested the slums bombed out in the third world war were invading the suburbs more every year to loot, rob and assault. There had been a fly-by shooting at a school only three miles from their home. It wasn't Irvana's school, but it might have been.

     Even more importantly, Irvana and her mother both suffered from Asthma, made worse by the pollution that Earth had fought valiantly to contain and had failed. Even though the United Nations had formed a pact in 2030 to eliminate emissions from factories and vehicles from all its member nations, there were countries who polluted at will and even dumped their garbage from the air freely and illegally on other countries. Many forms of cancer had been cured but the solution for Asthma and allergies remained elusive. While Kaylar's illness had seemed to abate as she matured Irvana's was unpredictable and seemed to surface at the worst possible moments, such as in the middle of a Spelling Bee.  She would have been the champion, but suddenly there was no air to breathe and the inhaler she always carried in her pocket was empty.  She had been carried away by Air-medics and disqualified.

     Irvana's family was an ideal choice for colonization. In spite of her disability she herself was a top student who specialized in programming agricultural robots; her mother was a pilot and interspatial shipping expert, as well as an agricultural scientist; and her father, Meltro Fastin, was a highly specialized Nano-Botanist. Other colonists had equally valuable skills. In fact, their only lack was a medical doctor, but since droids were being used more and more as doctors this was not a problem. A first-class, newly-programmed medical droid (M.D.) would accompany them. He had a better bedside manner than many human doctors, as well as a sense of humor carefully crafted by a comedic computer crew.

     Three other families also volunteered to settle the new planet. The father of one of them was being trained in how to maintain the M.D. It was good that there were droids because a human doctor would never spend ten years in medical school and then fly away to a distant part of the galaxy to a small colony where there would be no financial advantage and few patients, as well as isolation from the rest of the medical world.

     After a slightly rough landing on the hilly, grass-covered plains of Othgar their cargo was off-loaded and they immediately made temporary shelters.  They used a tractor-like earthbot to grade a bigger landing pad for future starships, to which they added lights. Later they chose locations for permanent habitats. Irvana's parents chose a hill surrounded by flat land to grow crops. There were many trees to remove and the soil wasn't ideal for farming but the planet had various elements and minerals that would help them create fertilizer and food for the crops. There were builder droids who helped erect the geodesic domes that would be their homes and farm droids that would be programmed to prepare the land and care for each individual crop.

    It was the Fastin family's job to grow everything necessary to sustain the colony. Another family named Anders would mine terexian, an element used to make metal hard enough for space vehicles, and coptin, an element like copper but much harder, which never lost it's shine. It was almost as much in demand as silver for solar watches, jewelry, wrist computers, wrist phones, and small appliances. The third family, the Garcias, explored the planet and gathered data to transmit back to SciData, the earth super-computer that stored all the scientific data in the galaxy. A fourth family, the Lu's, was trained to maintain much of the equipment necessary to survive, a full-time job for both parents, one of whom was a Computer-Electrical Engineer and the other a Mechanical Programmer Engineer.

    Irvana fell in love with the planet almost as soon as she set foot on it. The air was cleaner than any air she had breathed in the cities on earth. There were mountains like those on earth and thousands of trees that resembled pines in scent and appearance. There was a lake and a river near their settlement and an island that she knew she would explore. Best of all, there was empty land as far as the eye could see.

     She asked her parents for an acre of land to plant crops and a garden of her own. They agreed as long as she programmed the farm maintenance droids herself. From a glass control booth at the top of the geodesic dome that was their new home she worked every day programming and controlling the farm droids so they would till the fields and plant her favorite vegetables, potatoes and corn, on one half of her acre. The third quarter nearest the dome was planted with every type of flower available and in the fourth quarter she planted herbs for seasoning their food. Once the seeds were in the ground and the droids were correctly programmed to maintain each crop uniquely she helped her parents plant the remainder of the farm. When that was done she was free to play and explore.

     Irvana had developed a liking for the Medical Droid because he was funny and always willing to attend to even the smallest cut or sliver. One day he came to inspect her handiwork and was so impressed that he helped her erect and hang a swing-chair from a large tree next to the garden. This became one of her favorites places to sit and read and sometimes he visited her there.

    There were eight other children of various ages on the planet and they were allowed to explore together as long as they took their dogs and a nanny droid with them who was armed and programmed to protect and administer first-aid if necessary. Today all the children had gone to the island for a picnic on an airboat and were exploring and looking for insect specimens.

     The island had dozens of the fir-like trees that smelled like the Pines back home. As Irvana peered up the trunk of one of them she heard a tiny, squeaking, cry. She looked up to where the sound came from and saw a few pine needles move. She reached and parted the needles with her hands. There sat a ball of fur, small enough to hold in her hands with two shiny black eyes peering down at her. It tried to move and let out a squeaky cry again. Irvana gently reached for it and inspected it. It shivered in her hands and cringed at her touch. It was round and very soft and had two tiny web-like feet, but one of them seemed to be injured. She gently put it in her backpack without showing the others, fearful that the little kids would want to hold it and touch it and perhaps frighten it.

     The Nanny called them all back for a picnic lunch but as they were finishing Irvana's wrist-com buzzed. It was her father. A satcom message had come from the nearest Star Base predicting a bad storm on Othgar, their new home. They were told to report back immediately and so the Nanny gathered up the picnic and it's guests and shooed them all into the Airboat.

    As she rushed into the dome Irvana asked, "Dad, can I borrow a shield generator so I can protect my garden?"

     "Irvana," he sighed, "I'm going to need your help with the rest of the farm. The storm is coming fast and we've got to protect the crops or we'll all end up going back to Earth."

"But Dad, please! You know how hard I've worked on this. It's my life's work."

"I know," he answered with a sad look, "and I'm sorry Irvana, but the family and the colony have to come first. If there's time when we're done you can shield your garden afterwards."

Sorrowfully, Irvana set off with her parents and the droids in the airboat and they hurried to assemble and start up the force field generators around the huge farm to shield the crops from the fierce storm they knew was coming. Tears fell as she thought about her flowers, herbs, vegetables, and all the work she had put into them. She thought about the beautiful aromas she had been waiting to smell that wouldn't be there, but logic told her that her father was right. They couldn't let this storm ruin their food supply. It would be months before another space shipment came in and the supplies they had brought with them would be used up around the time of the first, critical harvest.

Her father glanced over as she furiously typed in commands to program the correct coordinates and was proud of her intelligence and her speed in grasping the reality of their situation. He realized how much her personal garden meant to her and was sorry that the farm had to come first. He wondered if there was some way to save it.

Before they could finish, the storm exploded upon them in a blast of wet fury. Winds blew up to 80 miles per hour and rain pelted the ground, leaving pockmarks and pools of water everywhere. Most of the fields were now protected and those that weren't could be replanted later. They had deliberately over-planted, anticipating natural hazards, so they bent themselves into the wind and headed towards the warm, dry Airboat, then set off for the shelter of home.

When they arrived, the Medical Droid was in the kitchen with the housekeeper droid and they greeted him warmly. At the sight of him Irvana suddenly remembered the little creature she'd found on the island. How could she have forgotten it?! It had been hours since they returned from the island. Was it dead?! She rushed to her room and opened the backpack. It lay still with it's eyes closed. She gently touched it. Suddenly it's eyes opened wide and it squeaked. "Oh you poor little thing!" she exclaimed. "I'm so sorry I forgot about you!" She carefully picked it up and set it on her bed.

She got a cup of water from the bathroom and dipped her finger in it, then placed it near the creature's eyes. An itty-bitty mouth suddenly appeared in the fur and began to lick the water. When it was gone it squeaked for more. She tipped the cup next to it's face and it drank until it was satisfied. Then she called her parents and they quickly came to her room with the MD.

He had named himself Mardee and since he had been programmed to serve others he thought nothing of stopping in his tracks at the first mention of need, storm or no storm. He was totally water-proof anyway. He was human in appearance although his skin was smooth and hairless. He picked up the little creature to examine it. As she and her parents watched he scanned it, checked it's DNA, examined the damaged foot, and decided it was closely related to the Gerbil, although larger and rounder. It's head seemed to be part of it's body with the brain in the center and the other organs surrounding it. "What are you going to call it?" he asked Irvana.

"Moppett," she told him.

"No, I mean the scientific name."

"Oh, let me think for a minute." She thought of her favorite dessert which was Trinidad Gel, something like jello, ice-cream, and whipped cream combined. "How about Gelandian?"

"Sounds delicious to me," said Mardee with a smile. "We'll need to tell the Garcia's so they can send photos and scans to SciData."

He used a skin melder to patch the wounded foot and told Irvana to fetch some bread crumbs. She did, and it gobbled them from her hand as if starving, then looked up as if asking for more. She gave it more, which also disappeared. Then it burped and promptly went to sleep in her hands, to everyone's amusement. She gently layed it in one of her doll beds and covered it with a small blanket.

Meanwhile the storm raged outside and Irvana's heart wrenched each time she thought of her garden. It seemed to go on for hours and she wondered if the landscape would be changed when it ended. Thanks to the built-in force fields and their weather-proof geodesic domes all the settlers were warm, safe and dry as they watched huge sheets of lightening shoot across the planet's face or light up the whole sky at once. The thunder was dimmed by their home's sound insulation, but it reverberated around the dome and caused the rounded glass to rattle.

Finally the wind seemed to blow itself out and the rain gradually evaporated into dry air. Irvana impatiently raced out to see the damage done. It was dark but she could see by Othgar's two moons that outside the farm's force fields there were a few trees blown down and mud everywhere. The lake seemed a little higher. She turned toward her garden. What was this?! Everything looked perfectly fine! She saw the force field generator next to it and ran back to her father.

"Dad! Who did it?! Who saved my garden?!"

"Mardee did it," he told her. "When you were so willing to sacrifice your garden in order to help the colony and your family I commed him and told him about our problem. He was happy to come and help and while we were working on the rest of the farm he erected force fields around your garden. That's why he was in the kitchen when we came home. She hugged her Dad as her eyes watered slightly, this time with tears of happiness. Then she hugged Mardee.

"Nice heart rate," he told her.

That night she checked on Moppett before falling exhausted into her own bed. The next day the droids began cleaning up the mess the storm had left but Irvana and Moppett, her pet gelandian, spent the entire day tending the garden and reading on the swing, in the fresh air and under the bright, clear sun of Othgar. * * * * *  

Exerpt from Chapter Two  "Dad! The medical scanner is registering life forms!" While everyone was making a fuss over the injured Almer, Irvana had re-set the medical scanner for a wide area, open DNA scan...

Excerpt from Chapter Three:  "Had their gifts been offensive? Did it make the aliens sick? Sadly they returned to tell everyone. Disappointed, everyone went about their daily chores, ..."

Excerpt from Chapter  Four"Leena is scared, somebody is hurt…I don’t know who, but they're all alive.  Wait…it's her mother, and someone else, not her Dad. Her Dad is okay. He's trying to dig them out. They're trapped in a cave-in. We've got to help them!"  

Excerpt from Chapter Five: "..."It ended for us but not for him!" she cried. "It seems earth left some unfinished business didn't it? Besides, he'll die if we leave him there any longer!"

Excerpt from Chapter Six:  "They were at the base in minutes, and using silent explosives, had penetrated the outer wall.  A guard saw the commotion from a hundred yards away and was instantly dispatched by a sharpshooter with a silent laser rifle."

Excerpt from Chapter Seven: "Commander Bergan had immediately awakened Kevo and given him a new "special assignment. '  Within minutes he and a dozen men were dressed in combat rescue gear and preparing to board a stealth cruiser."

Excerpt from Chapter Eight:  "Their celebration was short-lived.  In the next moment a thousand fireballs erupted from a thousand Pitorgan ships and each Earth force ship hustled to load and fire its smart, crystal-bearing torpedoes." 

Excerpt from Chapter Nine:  "Little did they know that Fenshar was at that moment back on Pitorgia, planning a comeback.  She had seen the results of the crystal 'death ray' as she called it, and longed to rescue the Grisling and return him to his 'preferred' condition."  
Excerpt from Chapter Ten "...she felt a sudden darkness in her head.  She glanced across the room at Jeremy...then at Darak, and knew that they felt it too.  Darak was dressed in his best embroidered tunic and he pulled a crystal out of a hidden pocket.  It had turned black!

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