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GIBRALTAR SUN -- An Excerpt
Jennifer Mullins was bored. But then, who wasn’t? As she sat in the astronomy control room, the strains of Williams’ Star Wars, Opus 3, reverberated from the rock walls. Jennifer loved the Old Master composers and, being alone, had the volume turned up to where the music was just below the threshold of pain. She tapped her foot in time to the beat while she worked on her weekly status report.
Status: Nothing to report!
At least, that is what she would like to have written, but of course, it just wasn’t done. Dr. Powell insisted on at least two pages of text each week to basically say, “Nothing to report.”
It had been more than a month since their last gravity wave observation. Triangulation put that particular wave in a system nearly 200 light-years away, almost due galactic north from Brinks. It had been thrilling to realize that the stargate that had originated the wave had done so at a time when human beings were still struggling to get into space. Of course, that had been the last thrill she’d had.
Even her Saturday night dates were beginning to pall. For one thing, Henry Sortees was very debonair, but he was beginning to repeat his jokes, and his performance in bed was little better than adequate. It was a shame there wasn’t any new blood on the base. After four years of exile, even the talk of how many credits they were amassing back home had ended.
The problem was that no one knew how long it would be before they were relieved. Hell, she told herself, the Broa might have followed the expedition home and conquered Earth while they were stuck on this godforsaken airless rock of a moon. Perhaps no one would ever come to tell them that they could go home. Perhaps they had no home to return to!
In the meantime, the slow, unglamorous work of watching the sky continued. The contact the previous month had added a fifth confirmed Broan world to their list. Five worlds in four years. At this rate, Brinks would have a population the size of Earth’s by the time they finished their survey of the Sovereignty. That is, if the air plant and hydroponic gardens held out.
Life went on, to be sure. Approximately 40% of the original expedition’s rear guard had either married or taken up housekeeping in the interim, and two dozen children had been born. That, at least, was the bright side of life. Whenever Jennifer felt blue, she would walk to where the nursery-kindergarten had been set up.
There was something about the high pitched squeal of children’s voices that perked her up. She would watch the little darlings/barbarians chase each other around, oblivious to the fact that they were cut off from the rest of humanity, and smile. Often she became wistful, wishing for a child of her own. If only Henry were more skilled at the oldest of humanity’s sports, perhaps she would have considered a long term commitment and motherhood.
The opus ended in its usual crash of symbols and horns. She keyed her display and scanned the list of available music. Even that was getting old. How many times could one listen to the same symphony without becoming jaded to even the classics?
She glanced at the chronometer. Only 45 minutes left in this watch, after which she would adjourn to the commons and spend another evening watching holos she had seen five times before, or else join in one of the interminable bridge tournaments that never seemed to end.
She reached out to key her selection into the music list when a different sound enveloped her. From all around, the sound of alarms blared in her ears.
She blinked, and turned back to her main screen. On it was a bright red text box with the blinking words, LASER DETECTED, inside. There was also a coordinate indicating that the monochromatic light was coming from the sky in the direction of Earth. Her boredom suddenly forgotten, Jennifer keyed for analysis. The machine was still calculating when her comm unit buzzed.
“Observatory,” she snapped out, not taking her eyes from the screen.
“Powell,” came the reply. “What have you got?”
“A comm laser, sir,” she replied. “Definitely human.”
Her words were cut off by the resumption of the alarms. Absentmindedly, she keyed them to silence.
“A second comm laser, sir. And a third!”
Within a minute there were a dozen of them.
“Any messages yet?”
“Not yet. Just carrier waves. However, I think it safe to say that the fleet has arrived to relieve us.”
“Sounds like the only explanation,” her boss replied. “However, let’s not get anyone’s hope up until we know for sure. Study the situation and when you have an official message, make the announcement.”
“Observatory out,” Jennifer replied. She turned back to her work. The comm lasers remained strangely silent, although she remembered that no message would be started until the ships on the other end were sure their beams had fallen on Brinks Base.
Then, as she was beginning to suspect something was wrong, the screens began to display messages. The first was the time of transmission and the name of the ship – virtually all of them strange to her – then the standard fleet greetings announcing arrival. Finally, there were several personal messages appended to the transmissions, mostly to the captains of the two vessels that had stayed behind.
Discovering that she had been holding her breath, Jennifer exhaled loudly and keyed Brinks’ response to the flood of incoming messages. The response was impersonal, giving the arriving ships approach information and a synopsis of what had happened in their absence.
Her duty done, Jennifer sat back and marveled as the number of comm lasers announcing ship arrivals continued to climb. “My God,” she thought, “they’ve brought everything, including the kitchen sink.”
Her mood was considerably buoyed half an hour later when she was relieved by Eric Powell, who was himself amazed at the number of ships breaking out of superlight.
“It’s an invasion!” he muttered as he scanned all of the identifications.
“If so, it’s a happy one,” Jennifer responded.
“Do you know what this means?” Powell asked, straightening up from where he had been hunched over the monitors.
“I do indeed,” Jennifer said, jumping up and hugging him. “It means we get to go home. In a little over a year from now, I will be frolicking in the surf at Waikiki!”
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