The off-world communications died in the night. Mind you, died wasn't a good word and it wasn't a constant link, more of a household connection to the communications and navigation array in orbit. Well, that had been in orbit because all the automatic and diagnostic readings indicated that it was gone, and it had been far too big a thing to just pick up and take away in an eight-hour period.
Technician Velesi knew where the array was supposed to be, so she got out her manual telescope, and looked for it. There was a large, shredded piece of superstructure there, but the framework, the installed modules, and most of the superstructure were gone. A few pieces of debris trailed behind it, but most of it had been obliterated. It looked almost as if someone had run through it with an orbital transport, but there weren't any orbital transports here. Or, Technician Velesi thought to herself, there hadn't been yesterday.
She ran a few tests, diagnostics on the surviving equipment, for the most part to check on what was and wasn't functional. Then she went through a few manuals to refresh her memory of their content and started pulling items she'd need out of storage. She ran a few calculations through the base's computer core. Then, finally, she doubled-checked the final logs from the orbital array, and then added the appropriate preparations to the top of her task list.
The visitors the logs had warned her to expect arrived almost simultaneously in official looking small surface transports. Technician Velesi had the base's systems scan the registration numbers and check them against the relevant databases which had, fortuitously, been updated a few days earlier via the defunct array. The responses the base systems gave her were half unexpected, and she carefully but unobviously made certain that her weapon was ready to fire. Both transports opened their entrance hatches to reveal a single figure in regulation power armour. Normally it would be sealed, but both wearers had chosen to remove their helmets and risk the chances of disease and contamination in order to allow her to make eye contact with them. Technician Velesi briefly admired the forethought and effort on the part of others that had sent her two attractive and apparently compatible companions in the middle of a solo decade-long posting on an otherwise uninhabited minor planet.
The one whose visual details declared him to be a member of the Naval Navigation Division hailed her first. "Navigation Station Yutko, I am Astrogation-Lieutenant Gênhouhi of the Eleventh Fleet. I am here to secure this station and protect it from rebel attack and incursion." He turned his perfect profile and beautifully coiffed hair to look at the other newcomer and added, "It seems that I have arrived just in time."
The other person, whose armour proclaimed him to be a member of the Ngwū̃lohutwe Guard, the protectors of the inner worlds, snorted dramatically. "You're a fine one to be talking!" He turned back to Velesi and went on, "Technician, I am Staff Sergeant Kiandende, Third Battalion, Tõngu Regiment, Ngwū̃lohutwe Guard, and I have been sent here to protect you and the Navigation Station from rebel insurgents, such as this fellow."
Since they were both lying to her, Velesi shot them both with the broad range stunner mounted in defence of the station.
If they had been awake they would probably have objected to the way that Velesi stripped them out of their armour, gathered their identifying data, performed several tasks upon their persons that might have been of dubious ethical status if she had been any sort of medical practitioner, and returned them to their orbital transports. Orbital transports having major problems moving between two points on the surface of the same planet, she didn't attempt to enter and disable them. She did, however, leave both men a gift. Or payment, given that she kept both their surface transports.
They woke at the same time, each finding himself on the ground outside his orbital transport and lying on his side in the recovery position. Their movements triggered the message crystal that she'd left for each of them and they each received the same message, albeit from slightly different angles.
The crystals gave them an image of Velesi sitting outside the Navigation Station, and then she began to talk: "Gentlemen, congratulations on waking up alive. I hope that you both intended to retire to the country after that last mission and take up farming, because that is, effectively, what you've done. Individually or collectively you destroyed the orbital interstellar communications and navigation array that used to be above my head here. Now that you've done that, do you know how long it will take for someone to come out here and fetch us? I do, and I'm peeved at the amount of time you extended my ten-year posting by. I had five more years of hardship pay and then I was going to go home and get myself a dingwū̃mê dū̃ dikngembõ, and now? You two can find out the hard way, because you followed that up by lying to me, both of you, and I don't want to have to talk to you. That's why you're back at your landing sites, alone." She smiled brightly and went on, "Don't worry though, I've left you each a standard simple, long term survival kit. I don't know how much food you've got tucked away in those transports, but you might want to get the survival kits open and start working with them very, very soon. Also, don't think that you'll just drop over and annoy me - I've kept your surface transports so you can't just skim over those inconvenient oceans and things." She smiled. "We have lots of time here in front of us - you really should take a few hours here and there to read the whole manual for those survival kits."
The projected image switched off and each one-use crystal went black, indicating that it was non-functional.
Gênhouhi never did read the entire manual. He did, however, read all the component labels.
Kiandende finally got to the interesting parts of the advanced section of the manual after six months, and promptly started calling Velesi some interesting words, including kidū̃ngu ngwækwaka in an admiring tone.
Ten years is a long time to agree to spend alone off the edge of traversed space and on the edge of known space. However, Velesi, Gênhouhi, and Kiandende were all descendants of a people who had first crossed the distances between stars by extending the lifespans of the crews of their starships. Velesi had agreed to a decade-long hardship posting because she expected to live for three or four centuries after that. In her opinion, the payoff for time spent and invested was worth it.
Circumstances, however, were leaving her on the planet of her hardship posting for three quarters of her expected lifespan. Admittedly the chances of this happening purely by accident were non-negligible, which was why she had the complex, long-term survival kit, affectionately known among the space faring trades as "the colony in a box."
Time passed. Thanks to her survival kit, Velesi wasn't alone for long, and soon the descendants of every child that she raised called her Mevou, meaning grandmother. She fought hard against it, but the town that grew up around Navigation Station Yutko was called Dimevou - from the informal construct meaning 'the place of grandma.' She did concede that her people should keep an eye on her two fellow strandees, and make sure that they didn't get themselves into too much grief, but she refused to have any personal interaction with the two men herself.
Gênhouhi busied himself with a serious study of the local fauna on his large, temperate island and tempered it with a little light maintenance of the small-scale automated systems that had come out of the survival kit. His contact with Velesi's people was a young botanist named Bikêbi whose family had adopted the appellation of Kilatka. The two men shared notes on their common interests, and Gênhouhi once confessed to the younger man that he had found being solely responsible for infant and young agricultural animals so nerve racking that he had chosen not to explore the all the possibilities that his survival kit had provided.
Kiandende, on the other hand, had explored the full possibilities of the kit he'd been handed, and had a small thriving community of his own. Bimaptū̃ Diladuhɪ̃ was what he wound up naming the place, "the place of just exile", but most of his juniors called it Bimaptū̃ . Their first contact with the people around Dimevou came when Laptõmu, an athletic young woman of the Vabta Hukê, caught Kwomula Mumæyatounhi scouting out Bimaptū̃ through binoculars from the top of a tree growing on top of a hill. Although Velesi refused to talk to Kiandende herself as a matter of principle, the two groups worked out a mutually agreeable accord and construction began on a long-distance spur of the Dimevou maglev public transport system to connect the two settlement areas. Laptõmu and Kwomula set up housekeeping together at the point on the larger land mass' shore where the maglev route would have to become a bridge.
Members of the Vabta Hukê and Mumæyatounhi families were still arguing over which family appellation the young couple's children would be using, when a relay beacon popped into normal space right beside where the remains of the original array hung in orbit over Dimevou. It was two years later than the earliest date that Velesi had calculated that such a thing could arrive. She woke to the news that morning, delivered as it was by an overexcited great granddaughter. By the time the following ship arrived, she had dressed, breakfasted, and warned out the people that would have to deal with any problems that interstellar visitors might cause. As a matter of courtesy, she had messages passed, through others, to Gênhouhi and Kiandende that they could expect visitors.
When the ship hailed the navigation station, Velesi was sitting at her old duty desk, wearing something that looked a lot like her old uniform. The codes the ship’s communication systems used to talk to the navigation station's systems were all the right codes, and the sensors on what was left of the array told her that the vessel's markings were the right ones. When the vessel opened person to person communications, there was even someone Velesi knew standing beside the captain.
"Technician," the captain's warm voice made Velesi wish she was a century younger, "I am Captain Nunda of Ngwe Anggõ la ma Ngwækũnenhu. You know Senior Technician Penga, I believe?"
"Yes," Velesi acknowledged. "The Senior Technician ran my preparation training for this assignment. It's good to see you again, sir."
"What went wrong?" Senior Technician Penga was, as Velesi remembered him, to the point.
"Someone ran through the array with a transorbital shuttle," replied Velesi. "Two people with surface transports bearing false fin numbers showed up here just after that, so I stunned them both, took them back to their shuttles with simple, long term survival kits and left them there without ground transport." She added reflectively, "I was trying very hard not to be vindictively angry about what they'd done. I'm not sure that I succeeded."
“Their families will complain that you deprived them of the opportunity for reproduction,” replied Captain Nunda in a slightly amused tone, “if their years of isolation don’t count against their punishment for damaging the array, or they weren’t responsible for the damage.”
Beside him Penga laughed. “She left them long term survival kits, mupo la ne. If they wanted children, they could have them.”
“I also invoked section forty-four of regulation nine when I collected the required biometric identification data,” added Velesi primly. “I can assure you that they both have many descendants. All the paperwork is filed and annotated.”
Captain Nunda’s eyes narrowed, and he asked, “How many? Your total population is obviously too big to evacuate.”
Velesi shrugged. “Off hand? Our current levels are around three hundred and fifty thousand, not including the settlement founded by the one who claimed to be a Guardsman. My simple math brain says that those two idiots have seventy descendants each, but that doesn’t take into account that successive generations have multiple pairs of original progenitors. If it’s important to get an accurate number, then I can run you a query on the citizenry database.”
“There are several elderly former insurrectionists,” remarked Captain Nunda meditatively, “who get a great deal of traction in the popular media from lamenting the loss of their potential descendants for ‘the cause’ while also controlling extensive family-held assets. It would be interesting to see their reactions to having to accommodate so many new share-eligible relatives.”
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