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Paradise Regained

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Darv and Astra lay together on the beach, staring up at the stars.

“Do you miss them, my lovely?” Darv asked. “The stars, I mean? Being close to them.”

“Not even a little bit,” Astra replied. “I’m not like you, Darv; I can be settled. I like being settled.”

I like being settled!” Darv protested. “With you, anyway.”

“In that case, why do you keep flying back up to the Challenger?” Astra demanded.

“Supply runs,” Darv replied glibly – too glibly by half. “Besides, you know I prefer to keep an eye on the control systems. We dismantled the central switching room on the flight back from Earth, but our beloved Guardian Angels survived without their organic hub before.”

“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Astra accused her husband. “I don’t know why you bother, Darv; you know that I always know, and if you don’t tell me what’s bothering you I only imagine the worst.”

“Yes, Astra,” he sighed. “But… it may be worse than you could imagine. It’s something we’ve all tried hard not to think about.”

“You mean the fact that we’re bound to die out?” Astra asked.

“What?”

“Darv; I know you and Telson sometimes think that Sharna and I are completely dense…”

“We do not…”

“But we are just as capable of working things out as you are; often more so. Elka and Bran have three children, and with the Challenger’s medical facilities in range, every chance of another healthy set of twins or even triplets; that’s the way the Angels engineered us, after all.”

“Yes, my love, but…”

“But with no other families on the planet, they’re a dead end,” Astra agreed. “So; what have you thought of to solve the problem?”

“We know that other Challenger missions were sent out after ours. We found Challenger II, and that was no good, but there could be other Challenger missions still out there. If they were long range missions, launched not long before the Solaria mission, they could still be on their third or fourth generation crew.”

“Always assuming that their Angels haven’t killed them all,” Astra added bitterly.

“But if they were launched that late in Earth’s history, they wouldn’t have had any free-will computers aboard. Remember the safeguards put in place by the people of Earth when they realised that they would have to use free-will machines to control the Solaria satellites?”

“And that was barely enough,” Astra reminded him.

“Quite; but for anything less complicated they would certainly have used banks of simpler computers. That means that they could still be out there.”

Astra’s eyes narrowed shrewdly. “You’ve been trying to contact them,” she accused.

“For over a year now; since the triplets were born. Bran and Elka might be satisfied with their lives…”

“After what they put their parents through I think they’d be satisfied with a lot less,” Astra put in.

“…but what about Savin, Cros and Vaedra? What can we offer them for their future?”

“But the risks,” Astra said. “What if you attract attention from hostile aliens?”

Darv shook his head. “In all our travels – and I honestly believe we must be about the best travelled human beings in the universe – we’ve never met, nor seen any sign of, a single alien intelligence. The nearest we ever came were the hominids who used to live on Paradise, and they were hardly hostile, let alone a force on our scale.”

“So, you think it’s safe?”

“Yes.”

“Then why haven’t you told the rest of us?”

“Because Telson wouldn’t think it worth the risk,” Darv replied. “But we need new blood if we’re to offer our children any kind of life on this planet. If we can’t bring it here, we’ll have to send the children out when they’re old enough.”

“But if we do that, we’ll never see them again!” Astra gasped. “We’ll be dead and gone by the time they return.”

“Which is why I want to bring other people here,” Darv agreed. “That’s why I’ve been sending out signals, and setting our fallen Angels to keep a listening watch.”

“And…”

“And… someone’s coming,” Darv admitted. “They’re decelerating towards us as we speak.”

Astra was shocked. “Why didn’t you tell anyone? When will they…”

“Fourteen years,” Darv replied. “They’ll be here in fourteen years, Paradise time.”