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Chapter 1

Rodin was lying on his back in a clump of Parthanian weeds looking at three glowing, red moons. The iridescent light emanating from them was so bright that he could clearly see Lymphora lying beside him. He glimpsed at her profile: the well-formed pointed breasts, the green hue of her reptilian-like skin, the amber eyes ablaze in a set of fiery yellow pupils that glowed with such intensity it simply defied description. Then there was the feature he liked best. Her snake-like golden hair, each strand so alive that her tresses reminded him of a goddess, a deity that the ancient people of Phanus had once worshipped.

He rubbed his nose against the sandpaper coarseness of her cheek, but she brushed him aside. "You should have never told them you'd go! It's much too dangerous."

"Please, Lymphora. Don't pout. You know this is something I've wanted to do for a very long time. Besides, it's not like we'd be apart. I'd never go without you. My hope is that I'd be able to convince you to come with me."

"Phanus is our home. This is where we live and this is where we belong! Our kind has lived here for a thousand generations. Why go to a planet that's most likely uninhabited? Besides, it is so far away."

"By cosmological standards Earth is quite near. It's less than a thousand light years away. In fact, it's so close that with the warp drive mechanism powering our ship, it would only take us four years to get there and back."

"It makes no sense," Lymphora whined. "You aren't the only metallurgist on the payroll. Let someone else go. We'd be away from our family, our friends."

Rodin sighed in exasperation. "I'm the only scientist who has had experience in handling a spaceship that's capable of reaching other stars. Eons ago, Earth contained rich mineral deposits. Monocot wants to send me there in the hope of finding platinum, perhaps even gold. As you know, such metals are essential to our technology. Scientists have already made a prediction that in a few short years our supply here on Phanus will be exhausted. Currently these metals are extremely scarce, but once they become nonexistent, the technological progress that's been made by companies like Monocot will come to a virtual standstill. In all good conscience, I can't stand in the way of progress. As you know, my uncle is the company's founder. He offered me a big promotion if I volunteered to go. This is an opportunity I simply cannot afford to pass up."

Lymphora punctuated her words by stamping one of her web-like feet. "You'd get the promotion whether you went or not and you know it! Eventually you'll end up owning the company. He has no one else to leave it to. I just don't understand why you are so dead set on wanting to go to a planet located in the far reaches of space. There is more to this than you are willing to admit." Lymphora leaned over and took his face in her hands, staring directly into his eyes. "Please, tell me the truth."

"I won't deny it. There is another reason. Earth is where our ancestors came from. We wouldn't even be here had it not been for them." Rodin wrapped her in his arms and held her close. "Aren't you in the least bit curious what we might find on a planet that had once been home to our ancestors? The trip would not only be an exciting adventure for us to share, but it would also be something we could tell our children and grandchildren."

Lymphora pulled away from him. There was reservation in her voice. "For you perhaps, but not for me. Excitement is one thing, but danger I can do without. I was told that three ancient generational starships left Earth. The one that reached Phanus was plagued with all sorts of problems. History books tell us the ship searched the cosmos for hundreds of generations looking for a planet conducive to life. It was just a stroke of luck that they stumbled upon this place, our home. And you want to go back! I just don't understand it."

"You are wrong about it being a stroke of luck. Coincidence wasn't part of the equation. Scientifically speaking, the people of Earth were thousands of years behind us. However, they must have had access to some sophisticated technology or else they would have never landed on Phanus. To think they had the ability to determine the habitability of a planet from hundreds of light years away simply boggles my mind."

"What makes you think it was that difficult?" Lymphora asked.

"You probably know that Phanus and its three moons make up our entire solar system. Our sun is fifty thousand times brighter than Earth. The only reason it hasn't burned us to a crisp is because we are so far away. Like Earth, Phanus revolves around its own axis. As a result, we have a burnished autumn in the northern hemisphere while in the southern hemisphere there's a burgeoning spring. The west to east rotation produces days as well as nights, which, as you probably know, is essential to life."

"Don't get technical on me," Lymphora warned. "Whether luck had anything to do with it or not, what's important is that out of the trillions of planets that exist in the universe, our forefathers found one capable of harboring life."

Rodin softened his voice. "Think about it for a minute. We owe so much to our ancestors. They risked everything by venturing into deep space. The ship that finally reached Phanus carried one hundred thousand souls and was a city in and of itself. Picture this. Those who weren't chosen to fly in that ship were doomed to die a fiery death on Earth. If the ship hadn't found Phanus, you and I wouldn't have been born."

"What's your point?"

"Phanus is eight hundred light years from Earth. Do you realize it took that generational starship over sixteen hundred years to reach our planet? Now that we have developed a faster than light propulsion system, we can get there and back in less than four years. Once we are in hyperspace, we'll enter a sleep chamber. The two years it will take us to reach Earth will go by in the twinkling or an eye."

"You make it sound as easy as crossing a street. I love you, and I know this is important to you, but it is frightening to think about. When you first brought up the idea, I ran it by my father."

"I suppose he's against us going."

"He thinks it's too dangerous."

Rodin took her hand. "Come, let's go inside, and I'll explain it a little more."

Once seated at the table, Rodin continued, "You must remember that the science of cryonics hadn't been perfected in those days, so there were no sleep chambers. Also, the interstellar ship the earthlings used was considerably slower. I admit there would be an element of risk. There always is when people venture out into space. But the expanse of the universe is not nearly as daunting as it once was."

Tears formed in Lymphora's eyes. "Four years is still a long time."

"Please don't cry. I can't stand the thought of you crying."

Lymphora took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "What happens if something goes wrong?"

"You worry too much. If something were to happen, I've taken the precaution of scanning and mapping the features of our biological brains."

"Where did you place the neural networks?" Lymphora asked.

"Just give me a minute." He walked into his study and returned with a canister. He unlocked it and carefully removed two spheres, placing one of them in Lymphora's hands. "This one is yours. Before we leave, I'll place them in a couple of bezels, so we'll be able to wear them around our necks."

Lymphora looked at the brilliantly colored orb. "You mean to tell me that you placed a copy of my brain this?"

"Yes. These particular spheres are state of the art. Before we leave, they'll contain a carbon copy of our entire neurological networks—everything that we are and will ever be. If something were to happen to either one of us, the wearer of the life-giving sphere will automatically receive our conscious thoughts, which will include our memories as well as all of our sensations. In other words, that special quality of mind that permits us to know that we exist and that things around us exist."

Lymphora turned the brilliantly colored object over in her hands. "So what you're saying is if we were to die, all of our thoughts would end up residing in some other life form."

"It beats the alternative."

"That's all well and good," Lymphora said. "But it's not something I'd like to see happen."

"Nor I. It's just a precautionary measure. After all, life in any biological organism is better than no life at all."

Lymphora twitched her nose. It was more a reflex action than anything else. "Please, Rodin, this is nothing to joke about. You need to be serious. What makes you think we'd find a suitable biological entity on Earth? If history serves me correctly, the reason our ancestors came here in the first place was to avoid a massive asteroid that was about to hit their world. The scientists of Earth were convinced that the impact would destroy the planet, and it would become little more than a cosmic shell."

Rodin stood his ground. "What you say is true. At one time, Earth was a sterile world, but what you have to realize is that the cataclysmic event happened over a million years ago. Nature has a way of bouncing back. Our scientists have recently launched a series of highly sensitive unmanned probes toward Earth. The devices have conclusively shown that the planet has acquired the essential biomarkers for life there to exist. To be sure, the comet that struck Earth had done extensive damage, but apparently it didn't devastate it completely."

"Perhaps you'll find gold," Lymphora said. "But life, particularly intelligent life? That I doubt seriously."

"I didn't really want to get into specifics, but spectroscopic analysis has revealed that Earth contains an ozone layer, a temperate climate, water, as well as oxygen. It also has chloroplast. That means photosynthesis is taking place."

"Then why hasn't anyone gone back?"

"Probably because of the expense," Rodin countered. "That's another reason why I think we should go. The trip wouldn't cost us any money. Monocot would be paying for the entire journey. Just think about it for a minute, will you? What if there is life on Earth? Wouldn't it be fantastic to meet up with some of our ancestors?"

"Oh, you can be such a dreamer," Lymphora said softly, shaking her head. "There may be life there, but I seriously doubt if it would be intelligent. Perhaps you'd find some plants and animals...but people? I don't think so. And even if intelligent life does exist, I doubt if the people there would look anything like us. We've interbred with a completely different species,...or have you forgotten? I've seen photographs of human beings at the Ekli museum. We don't look anything like them. Our cheekbones are much higher, our pupils are bright yellow. There are other differences as well."

"Such as?"

Lymphora sighed. "You know all this. Most humans have chalk-white skin...unlike ours that has a beautiful greenish hue to it. Our skin is made up of scales that overlap into folds, much like the reptiles that had lived on Earth eons ago. Not only is it tougher, but I've been told it is more resilient than human skin. Nature has also provided us with six fingers on each hand instead of five. We have web-like feet and—"

"All right. You've made your point." Rodin thought if he were to remain silent perhaps Lymphora would change the subject, but she continued:

"You're right about one thing. An apocalyptic event did occur. Several hundred years after our ancestors boarded the ship, the one that eventually reached Phanus, a large asteroid did hit Earth. I don't really care what those instruments are revealing. Life on Earth, particularly intelligent life, is most likely nonexistent." Lymphora shuddered. "From what I've been able to discover, the people of Earth were extremely aggressive. If there were humans there, our emotional make-up would be far different from theirs. Our species abhors violence of any kind. We value life. Our ancestors obviously didn't. Humans were a cruel, sadistic lot. They killed for the sake of killing. Why else would they have waged war among themselves? Murdering their own kind must have been ingrained in their DNA. I suspect if an asteroid had not hit the planet that eventually the people there would have destroyed themselves. Having said that, if the species is still in existence, they are bound to think we are monsters. They'd take one look at us and either try to kill us or run like hell!"

"You don't know that for sure," Rodin countered. "A million years has gone by since that generational starship arrived on our planet. Their appearance would have most likely changed just as ours has. They could also possess a technology equal if not superior to us. It's also possible that they evolved into a nonviolent civilization."

Lymphora hooded her eyes. "What fantasy books have you been reading? Everything I've ever read pointed to the fact that the people of Earth displayed barbaric tendencies, not to mention chauvinism, bigotry, and racial discrimination. Unlike you, I'm not an optimist. I don't look forward to the prospect of meeting people who have no tolerance for their own kind, much less a completely different species. If the planet is inhabited, I doubt if anything has changed."

Rodin decided it would be in his best interests to call a temporary truce. He knew Lymphora well enough to know that she was using her superior intellect to dissuade him. Why was she so damned smart? But wasn't that one of the reasons he fell in love with her? He knew there was no way he'd be able to convince her to go, at least not today. However, there was no harm in laying some groundwork.

"You must remember that's where life first started, at least life as we know it. Don't you think it would be romantic to visit the place where it all began...just as we will be beginning our life together?"

Both were quiet, deep in their own thoughts. Lymphora was the first to break the silence.

"I love you so much, and I want you to be happy. I know you love adventure more than I do, but couldn't we share an escapade closer to home? We could spend our honeymoon visiting one of our moons. A flight to Nuclides or Ragusa would be shorter and safer. And there would be no need for us to enter a sleep chamber."

Rodin pulled her to him, brushing his lips against hers. "I love you, and I would never go without you."

Lymphora's voice softened, "I love you, too, but we have a wedding to plan. We should be concentrating on that instead of thinking about going to a planet that is so far away."

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From Chapter 2

* * *

Six months had passed since their wedding, and Rodin was happy. Their life had fallen into a blissful routine, and they were making plans for the future—a house, then a child. But still he could not push from his mind the idea of traveling to Earth. Lymphora had been against the idea from the start, but now that they were married and somewhat settled, her father's influence over her had diminished. Rodin knew if he ever had a chance to realize his dream, it had to be now. He planned a special evening for the two of them—a romantic dinner at a famous restaurant. After dessert, he took both of Lymphora's hands in his.

"You are the most important person in my life. I cherish you and value our time together. But..." Rodin paused, almost afraid to go on. "I need to be honest with you. My uncle again has approached me about traveling to Earth. The desire to go has been gnawing at me for months. If you agree to go with me, I promise I will never ask anything of this magnitude ever again."

With their hands still intertwined, Lymphora remained silent. Rodin was about to speak when she said, "I knew this day would come, and I have rehearsed so many different versions of what I would say. I know how important this is to you, and I also know that you have been dragging your feet about the house and child because the trip to Earth has been at the back of your mind."

She paused before continuing, "Because I love you so much, I will go with you."

* * *

Finally, the day Lymphora feared had arrived. Rodin was ecstatic while she approached the journey with a great deal of trepidation. As the countdown began, she stood nervously by the sleep chamber that she was to occupy.

"For some reason the capsule appears smaller than the last time I saw it."

Rodin pulled her close to him and for the briefest of moments, the two embraced. "I admit that it's somewhat claustrophobic, but that shouldn't bother you because you'll be asleep. Trust me. You'll be just fine."

"What if something goes wrong?"

"Nothing is going to go wrong. You'll just go to sleep."

"I'm not talking about the sleep chamber," Lymphora said. "I'm talking about our flight."

"Please don't worry. Remember, the path to Earth has been preset. If a problem arises, the robotic device aboard the spacecraft has been programmed to perform the required navigational corrections."

The two embraced one last time. Rodin attached the sphere that contained a copy of her neurological makeup to a bezel. He then fastened the bezel to a chain. When he placed the medallion-like sphere around her neck, he noticed she had the brooch he had given her pinned to the sash around her waist. Before closing the door to her cryonic capsule, Rodin said, "You'll be asleep in a minute, and when you open your eyes, I'll be here."

She forced a smile. "You'd better be."

"I love you so much and will always be grateful to you for this," he said as he helped her into the capsule.

As he was about to close it, Lymphora grabbed his arm and pulled it to her lips. "I love you, too," she said.

He knew the sedative must have done its job because she drifted off to sleep. Rodin then entered his own chamber. The minute he walked into the cryonic enclosure, a hypodermic needle entered one of his veins. Seconds later he experienced a euphoric feeling, a calmness that only a strong sedative can induce. Sleep came almost instantaneously. His last waking thought was of the medallion that he had placed around his neck. Inside the bezel was the sphere containing a duplicate copy of his neural network. His entire intellectual capacity for thought, as well as all of his memories and experiences, were encased in the brilliant orb. The very essence of his soul would circulate inside the sphere indefinitely at a temperature conducive to its preservation. Upon his death, the sphere was programmed to deliver his neural network into a living host—providing there would be one to receive it. In a manner of speaking, the two spheres, his and Lymphora's, guaranteed that neither of them would end up in oblivion.

Or so he hoped.

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