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The Nightstar Zoo • View topic - Starside (original fiction)

The Nightstar Zoo

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PostPosted: Thu May 06, 2004 6:07 pm 
I'm winging this out solely for the purpose of reminding people that this thread exists, so that maybe they'll start posting here again. I may continue it if I get more ideas.
Also, I'm kind of making the technical stuff up as I go along, so my apologies to anyone with astronomical knowledge who knows I got something(s) wrong.


The blackness of space rolled out in every direction, punctuated by thousands of bright stars like the eyes of the gods. Here and there the dust took forms, making the shape of a galaxy or nebula, or maybe a patch of asteroid field. There was no sound, besides a quiet rhythmic clanking in the distance and the steady buzz of the comm.

Rhasind took a deep breath. The beauty of space never ceased to astound him. It was something he couldn't quite grow accustomed to; the sheer vastness of it, the endless sea of matter and energy within which human beings were just bugs in a storm. The others didn't understand, but then, why should they? They'd been seeing space all their lives. Rhasind had seen it for the first time only two years ago. Being raised Dirtside, where even the brightest stars were drowned out by the lights and smog layer, he had found the moon amazing, dim and obscured though it was. And then he had gone into space, seen things he had only read about. It was like emerging from a tiny cave in which he had lived his whole life to whitness the open air, and in that moment, he knew what it meant to be alive. From then on, Dirtside would always seem tiny and confined to him. And how could a Starsider understand that? Even the most cramped colony had plenty of viewports and open space. And no Starsider would be caught dead on surface ground. For that matter, most Dirtsiders would rather die than go into space, too.

Maybe I'm different, Rhasind thought, not for the first time. Only one in a million Dirtsiders comes up here. Is there a reason?

A crackle of static from the comm interrupted his reverie. Turning, Rhasind began the slow spacewalk back to his two colleagues, sending short bursts of radio code to signal that he was on his way. They were about 200 meters away from him, which put them about halfway to the horizon of the asteroid. Most asteroids weren't huge, at least those that hadn't already been mined out, but this was one of the smaller ones. Behind them stood the mine ship, like a needle reaching upward into space, small by planet or even colony standards, but easily the hugest object on the rock. It could hold at least a dozen people, but was crewed only by three. The rest was all cargo space. There were much larger ships, for bigger jobs on bigger asteroids, but the smallest class was all they needed for this assignment. A little of what they were after went a long way, and they would be taking all there was. Once he got back within the normal operant range of 25 meters, he switched his radio to normal capacity. "What's the problem?"

"Man, would you quit daydreaming and help out for a change?" Cooper sent through the comm, his moderately deep voice filled with irritation. He was crouched around the driller, supporting one of the legs.

"You weren't busy five minutes ago. And you're always telling me I'm too useless to help out." Rhasind sent jokingly. He was always getting hassled for being a Dirtsider, although by now it was more of a running joke than a serious insult.

"That doesn't apply when we start hitting slick rock," Ferret responded, in the nasal pitch that bugged a lot of people, from his position at the other leg.

"Oh; how bad is it?"

"Freaking silic glass is tripping up the bit," Cooper grunted as the driller shook violently, and him with it. "This mofo's sliding all over the place. Now come over here and help me."

"Alright, coming." Rhasind took his place at the third leg and put down all his weight on it. Between the three of them, they weighed about 25 pounds in the light gravity, but that was enough to keep the digger steady enough to be sure that the drill wouldn't snag on a piece of glass and break.

"So," Rhasind sent conversationally as the shaking slowly dwindled, "we get what we were after?"

"And how, man." Cooper shifted position as he spoke. "This rock has more mineral variety than one of those nutritional cereals. Everything from boron to gold and beyond. There's even some gas deposits in there."

"Yeah, good. But what about the uranium?" The shaking had almost completely stopped now. The digger had broken through the glass. Rhasind mentally thanked the engineers who'd made a digger which could survive just about any digging conditions on an asteroid. In the old days miners had to spend a couple of months testing the area composition and the atmosphere before they even brought a drill down. Now it only took a couple of hours to configure a universal drill for any circumstances.

"We hit the jackpot, man." Cooper finally responded. Standing, he reached over to the console and hit a few buttons. The rhythmic clank of the digger stopped as the drill reversed direction and started to rise out of its hole. "Enough to fill the hold halfway. Not much by the usual standards, but for what it is..."

"We'll fill the rest of it with hyrdrogen," Ferret interjected. "And some gold, to sell for wiring. That should get us the best worth."

Rhasind nodded. Standard practice, all told. Oxygen was relatively easy to find, but hydrogen was useful as both an energy and a water source, which made it a top pick among gasses. The uranium, on the other hand, was worth a mint, especially in Starside, because the Dirtsiders never sold most of what they had, and uranium was so quickly processed to make ship fuel that it was always in need.

Rhasind stood up and looked into the faceplate of his crewmember's suit. Ferret was an odd character; no one knew what his real name, and no Starsider knew what the nickname meant. Even on Dirtside ferrets were no more than an exhibit in a museum. Nevertheless, the name seemed to fit him, a sly, wiry man with a careless air that belied his true cleverness. Cooper was different; big, with a simplicity about him, but he knew his way with his work, and that was all he needed. As for Rhasind, he was an enigma to most people; the only Dirtsider space miner in history. The handful of Dirtsiders who'd ever gone to space were all engineers and scientists, but Rhasind preferred the solitude of spacework. He was less like a Dirtsider or a Starsider, and more like something else entirely. Like someone who lived with his feet on the ground and his head in the stars. No one had ever met anyone like him, but he knew what he was doing, and did it without fuss, so no one bothered him about it.

Rhasind glanced at the hole, half a meter in diameter and a few hundred meters deep. The end of the drill disappeared into the digger, where it finished folding into its compact shape. Then another bit began to protrude, twice as wide as the first. The hole was ready to be widened, and then they'd be down there, digging out portions of rock and vacuuming pockets of gas into large bags for transport.

"All right." He looked at both of his shipmates, one after another. "Let's get to work."


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PostPosted: Sun May 09, 2004 2:53 pm 

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 11, 2004 7:03 pm 

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 12, 2004 10:24 pm 
Okay, okay. This took way, waaaaay longer to do than I intended. I debated even finishing it at this point. It's been what, three months? Oh well. This chapter is pretty boring, but I felt it was important to moving into the actual main plot, which hopefully will happen in the next chapter. And that might be in another three months for all I know.


The ship shook suddenly as it was locked into place in the pier. Rhasind held on to the main console with both hands. He hated landing in spaceports. Entering the total darkness and silence of the piers was like going into the arms of death. The port was a large cylinder covered with spiky piers, long, tapered, bifurcated things like the snout of some animal, that closed over an entering ship and then flooded with air so the pilots could safely exit. It could be fairly uncomfortable, depending on how good a pilot you had for your ship, but to Rhasind it was always somewhat frightening. It came from living on Dirtside, he knew. Starsiders were used to total emptiness, but when you were raised on a planet, it wasn't something you encountered very often.

The pier closed, the sliver of starlight slowly vanishing, and then, a moment later, the silence was replaced by the sharp hiss of air entering the pier. Rhasind jumped; he always did. Cooper chuckled, and he and Weasel took off their helmets. Docking was a time when you wore helmets, because you were never in as much danger as when you were heading into something solid, and there was no stupider place to die than 50 meters from home ground. Rhasind hit the button to release the airlock, then took off his own helmet, and followed Cooper and Weasel to the inside of the pier.

Emerging into the light of the main port was like being reborn. Rhasind took a breath of fresh air. At least, compared to the ship it was fresh. The cylindrical corridor that led to the main colony was a dull grey, studded with foot-and-hand-holds for easy propulsion along it. It was about as ugly as a corridor could get, largely thanks to the horrible paint job, but no spacer could help but appreciate the sight of it. It led home. A bulkhead below them led to the large shaft that was used to load and unload ships, while the corridor, one of six surrounding the shaft, was for personnel. No sooner had Rhasind entered the corridor than his suit radio began to beep rapidly, signalling an incoming transmission from the colony. He hit the transcieve button. "What?"

"Would you be so kind as to report to my office immediately?"

It was boss Rock-Siley, the man in comand of spaceport operations.

"Oh," Rhasind stuttered. "Um. Uh, Right away, boss. Rock. Sir." The transmission cut out. Rhasind turned to the others, who were just entering the corridor and trying not to snigger too loudly.
"Shut up, asswipes," he admonished them. "You're just lucky I was through first, or he'd have slammed you.

Cooper carefully stilled his face. "You think he's pissed at us for something?"

"He didn't sound it."

"Then what? He couldn't care about our run."

"Let's just go and find out."

The corridor seemed to stretch forever, an illusion caused by the poor quality of light inside it, but it wasn't more than a couple of miles long in truth, and it was easy to traverse by pressing oneself against one of the myriad footholds and shoving off as hard as possible. If he hadn't been long since used to the process, Rhasind would have thought it looked and felt like child's play. Nevertheless, it was the quickest way to get around in an environment without gravity.

About ten minutes later they emerged from the main port into one of the large boarding stations in the rim of the spherical node that attached the spaceport to the hollow cylindrical colony. The node spun with the colony, a method meant to grant it artificial gravity via centripetal force, causing the crew to slowly drift toward the nearest of its curving walls. People crowded around them, bustling in and out of the corridors and shafts of the port. The place was even busier than usual; something big was going on. Nothing urgent, or they'd have been notified by radio before docking, but something big nonetheless. Rhasind eyed his companions. They'd noticed too. Doubtless Siley had something to do with it. They'd find out.

Rock-Siley's office occupied the center of the central node, along with those of four other administrators who collectively controlled all business in the spaceport. Siley himself was in charge of operations, meaning that he, personally, chose who would go where, and for what. He was the last man you wanted to piss off, except maybe Rock-Tannen, the personnel administrator. But Tannen could only fire you; Siley could put you on a mission to hell.

That fact was impossible to forget as Rhasind and his crew entered the office, still in their deepsuits. Siley stood motionless, watching the spaceport through his perfect window like an ever-watching deity. The three exchanged glances, each daring the other to be the one to speak up, and Cooper was the loser, as Rhasind and Ferret simultaneously put their eyes on him. He managed to stop himself from swallowing or clearing his throat.
"Crew I-22 reporting as requested, Rock!"
Rock-Siley stood a moment before turning his head. "Good to see you."
"You wanted to see us, Rock?"
"Yes, I have something to tell you, and I wanted to make sure you didn't get it from anyone else. I don't want people getting rowdy over this." The crew exchanged glances. Their collective thought could be heard aloud: bad news.
"I have bad news and good news." Siley continued. All eyes returned to him.
Rhasind ventured a question. "Could we get the good news first?"
"No. It's conditional of the bad news, which is this: that uranium you went through the trouble of finding has lost most of its worth. The uranium market's bottomed out."
Cooper pushed Rhasind aside. "What the hell? Are you saying we went all the way out to that speck for nothing but-" A hand on his shoulder cut him off.
"A drop in the uranium market means one of two things," Ferret said. "Either the space travel and nuclear power industries have dried up somehow, or..."
Siley interjected. "That's right. Uranium's become obsolete. Or close enough not to matter." He turned and pointed to his window. "The Science Corporation has developed a new propulsion system that works without needing additional fuel. You probably didn't see the new ship while docking, but I'm sure you noticed the extra traffic in the node. I wanted to get you in here before someone told you what was going on. The new device converts gravity into inertia- don't ask me how that works- so the ship can move as long as it has enough mass. And that's where the good news comes in."
He smiled- a rare occurence for Siley. "The spacing union's new ships need to be intensely massive and have as much gravity as possible, so they're buying heavy metals in huge quantities at very competitive prices. They aren't buying uranium because it's still needed to power the colonies. The demand will be enough to keep the whole mining union at work for the next half a turn at least, and keep our pockets reasonably heavy the whole time." A number of various cheers went up before Siley could go on, so he waited a moment before continuing.
"Now, I called you in here because I didn't want you spreading what I'm going to tell you to everyone. The administration is setting up a team to move one of the larger asteroids into orbit so that it can be easily harvested. This team will consist of crews R-33 and B-66, who've already been briefed, a representative from the spacing union, and three representatives from the Science Corporation, who are currently resting in the colony. They got here last spin. Two of them are Dusters, so you'll want to be prepared to deal with that."
"Great." muttered Cooper, "Dusters."
"Just don't let them hear you saying that." Siley took a disk from his desk and handed it to Rhasind. "The specifics of your briefing is here. You'll be meeting with the rest of the team next spin. Try not to be more than 15 minutes late."


 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2004 12:53 am 

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2004 9:52 pm 

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 9:29 pm 

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 21, 2004 2:42 am 

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 03, 2005 2:58 pm 

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 06, 2005 6:08 pm 

A titanium shutter opened, revealing a view of open space. The many stars still showed a noticeable tinge of blue.

"What's our speed?" It was a commanding voice, with a slight accent.

"We've just broken under one hundred-thousand kilometers per second," came the reply.

"Ah, good. How long until arrival?"

"At present rate of deceleration, about eight hours." The shutter clicked back into place.

"Good. Send someone into power control and have them start exercising the circuits. I want all systems at capacity by the time we arrive."

"Yes, sir. This will add an additional twenty minutes to our travel time."


The voices were accompanied by a roar, the kind of distant, constant roar that's easy to forget you're hearing until it stops. But outside, in space, there was no way to hear it, and no one to hear.

The door slid open, and mining crew I-22 entered the conference chamber. The delegates already inside looked up.

Rock-Siley frowned. "You're ten minutes late."

"We know," Rhasind said, his gaze sweeping over the occupants of the conference room. The large round table looked empty even with 13 people sitting around it in clumps. It was easy to tell who each set of people were from their appearance and how far they were sitting from each other.
Rock-Siley, standing alone on the far side of the table, glared at the team as if to say, "I told you 15 minutes." What he said out loud was, "I was wondering if you'd come at all."

"No matter," said a subdued, droning voice from the far corner of the table, "We are aware of the Starsider tendency to hold little store for punctuality, so fortunately we hadn't really begun the meeting yet." The man who'd spoken, a Duster, was one of two drably-dressed men with perpetually bored faces; the pair had the most space around them in the room. Like their planet, the Dusters had a grey and dull appearance, and personalities to match.

The scientist next to them, a Dirtsider, seemed used to their companionship, if not comfortable with it, while the Starsider from the spacing union was clearly uneasy being so close to them. Rhasind looked over the Dusters, trying not to let his disdain show, then sat with his partners at the table, next to the other two teams. "In that case," he said, "let's get started now."

The Duster who'd spoken nodded, and his partner stood up, moving to a screen on the wall that lit up in response to a remote control in his hand.
*click*"As you can see from this illustrated cross-section," he began in a voice indistinguishable from his partner's, "the new ship design utilizes a heavy back end designed to be filled with heavy materials. We want most of the filling to be removable so that space can be used for cargo if needed, which means that getting the materials shaped and in place will be most of the work."

*click* "This is the new drive device, recently developed by our corporation. It warps gravitational fields, allowing us to take the force exerted on the ship by celestial bodies, and vector it in a specific direction. In other words, we can use gravity as a propulsion mechanism, needing to power only the gravitation device and controlling computers. But that means that the weight of the ship itself must be significant, in order to achieve decent velocities. The current ship design, depending on the exact materials loaded into it, will be able to make the quarter-light-year-trip between the Starside colonies and Dusty planet in roughly half the time of current ships. The prototype being built right now will carry out just that purpose, until more ships are contracted, and-"

The sound of snoring, increasing steadily, caught the man's attention. He turned aournd.

The three mining teams had fallen asleep, chins rested on the table or buried in their forearms, and even Siley's eyes were drooping. Only the Science Corporation and spacing union representatives were following the Duster's speech. Slightly taken aback, he quickly recovered himself. "Well then. I'll get to the point." *click*click*click*
"This is R183AB, one of the largest untapped rocks in the system." The mention of the word "rock" perked up the miners. "So far this asteroid has gone un-mined because of its distance- its orbit is further than Dusty's, and on the other side of the sun from it, as well. Fortunately, Dirtside's orbit will take it to its closest proximity with R183AB in only 13 spins. The spacing union has already planned out the action, and now the crew preparation is all that we need. In 13 spins you three teams, along with Mr. Gaujhidre here-" He nodded to the Dirtsider scientist- "will be executing in one of the spacing union's largest ships: AJ-31. Now, before I continue, are there any questions?"

"Yeah," muttered Rhasind, "Who's in charge?"

"That... is still being contested."

The shutter clicked open. The stars appeared normal to the naked eye. One body, a great yellow ball of heat, took up the center of the viewing screen.

"Is that it?"

"Yes, that's the one. We're drawing very close now. We'll be able to scan the system for life soon."

"Good. I want every bit of population tracked, no matter how small."

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2005 9:56 pm 

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2005 11:46 pm 
More and more exposition. This should answer some questions, and of course, raise some more.

The rock looked small from a distance, but then, in space, you can never tell how large something is by looking. Nevertheless, it was the largest object in view, and crew members would often be seen staring out the forward shield at it when not occupied with running the ship. One advantage of combining three crews with one ship was that there was far less work for each person to do, but that also meant lots of time spent with nothing at all to do, and most of the crew soon wished they had more to occupy their time.

Rhasind was tired of looking at R183AB. He sat in the common room, a bleak, poorly-lit chamber near the center of the ship, playing Stones with Cooper, Ferret, and Dan, the captain of R-33 team. Stones was a popular game Starside, though most boards, like this one, actually used plastic disks instead of the traditional stones, with fastener on one side to prevent the pieces floating about in low gravity.

As usual, Ferret was winning. Rhasind was getting tired of watching Ferret win, too. He would have been glad to leave after this game, but he was afraid Gaujhidre would find him, and here he had an excuse for not talking to the neurotic scientist. As a Dirtsider, Gaujhidre- Hamal, as he prefered to be called, though no one called him that- found the Starsiders intimidating, which Rhasind could understand. In addition to being generally much larger than Dirtsiders, Starsiders were also possessed of a grace that no planet-dweller could learn. While Rhasind comiserated with Gaujhidre's discomfort among such a foreign group of people, he was bothered by the way that the scientist had latched on to him as the only other Dirtsider on board. The man was truly annoying, and Rhasind was definitely tired of his antics.

Ferret smiled up at him. "Game." There were groans all around.

Dan, an especially large man with a slow but deep-reaching mind, frowned down at him. "We need a new game. You always win at this one."

Ferret laughed. "Well, if you can find something in this dinky boat, we can play that."

Dan twisted his face in concentration. "How about rock-paper-scissors?"

Ferret laughed again.

The foreward bulkhead hissed open and Gil, an average-sized, glasses-wearing member of B-66, grabbed the frame and pulled himself through, his legs trailing behind. "Hey Rhas, you're up on the helm."

Rhasind threw his arms up. "Finally. Something to do in this tub." He left the table, to be replaced by Gil, who held up a rather shabby package triumphantly. "Hey, look what I found. Cards."

"Dammit," Rhasind muttered as the bulkhead closed behind him.

The control room, somewhat alarmingly, was filled with an acrid, bluish steam.

"What is that?" Rhasind demanded as he tried to wave some of it out of his face.

"Well, it was coolant." A voice penetrated the fog, to be followed by the face of R-33's navigator, Flint. He wore a damp cloth over his mouth. "We had a small fire in the drive computer. Nothing big, so we didn't feel the need to alert anyone else. We've got it mostly patched now. Um, I wouldn't breathe that in if I were you." Rhasind swore and covered his own mouth with a sleeve.

An hour later, he was really wishing he was back in the common room with his team. The coolant steam, which never quite dissipated, stung his eyes, Flint and the B-66 captain, Ant, kept cracking bad jokes to each other, and he had the constant feeling that Gaujhidre would come poking into the room at any moment. To top it off, some indicator light kept blinking on the upper console, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out what it meant. Finally, he lost his patience. "Hey, Flint, how do you turn this damn light off?"

Flint, who had been in the computer room checking the headings, poked his head through the open bulkhead. "What light?"

"This little yellow one on the dash here. It's not labelled."
Frowning, Flint yanked himself into the room and investigated the tiny, blinking light. "What the hell is that?"

"Hell if I know. The only lights I usually pay attention to are red ones."
Flint's frown deepened. "I can't recall seeing a light like this on a panel. Tell the truth, I'm not sure what this panel is for." He reached into a drawer, pulled out the manual, and flipped through it for a few minutes. Then, with a shrug, he released it into the air and dove back out the bulkhead. "Hey Ant, get in here!"

"What?" The captain's voice echoed vaguely through the ship.

"Come here and take a look at this!"

Ant floated casually in, squeezing the last dregs out of a tube of tang.

"What the hell are you getting excited about in here? Did we land while I wasn't looking? Heheheh."

"Do you know that this panel is for?"

Ant squinted up at the disused panel. "Oh, that's the side radar."

Rhasind eyed the controls. "We have side radar?"

"Yeah. Kind of pointless, isn't it? I guess it's from when they used this thing in heavy fields. All those peripheral rocks, y'know? Anyway, that light means there's something out there within the nearest thousand miles or so that the support system's picking up." He reached forward and flicked some switches. "Here, tell me what's on that screen."

After a moment, an image began to appear on the image monitor below the radar panel. Rhasind stared at it in consternation. And stared. "Is that..."

Flint peered in. "...A ship?"

Surprised, Ant glanced over. "The hell?"

"That's a ship alright." Flint said. "Heading into our solar system from an uninhabited area. Ant, get us some kind of readings on this thing. I want to know exactly where it is."

"Hokay." Some more switches were flipped, and various lights came on.

"Hmm. This can't be right."

"What is it?" Rhasind asked.

"According to this, we've got a ship here twice as big as the R18'. And it seems to be going at roughly our speed. Toward the Starside colonies, is my best guess."

"There is no ship twice as big as this one. And there's definitely nothing with that design."

"Not in this solar system, anyway." Flint piped in.

Rhasind stared at him. "You're not saying..."

"Why not? It looks kinda like those things the First Generation came out of. I mean, they had to have come from somewhere, right?"

A strange, cold sensation began to creep over Rhasind. "Are you telling me this thing is coming from... the homeworld?!"

"That's the only thing that makes sense to me."

The three of them stood stock-still for a minute, dumbfounded.

Rhasind felt a chill as his brain kicked back into operation. "Hell. Do we have a radio transmitter on this ship?"

"Damned if I know. I think there's a radio room somewhere, but who knows if it's even stocked?"

But Rhasind was already heading out of the aft bulkhead. "Gaujhidre! Gaujhidre! Dammit," he muttered to himself. "Hamal? Where the hell are you?"

Finally, he bolted into the engine room, where Gaujhidre was calmly inspecting the engine.


The scientist looked up, and his face brightened. "My good friend! What brings you here?"

Rhasind paused for a minute as he regained his breath. "Is there a... radio room on this ship?"

"Of course. All ships have two-way radio equipment."

"I want you to contact Starside. Tell them a ship is heading toward them from outside the solar system."

Gaujhidre stared at him for a moment, trying to discern whether he was somehow joking."Is this true?"

"Very true. I want them to have a head's up. It's all we can do from here."

Gaujhidre thought for a moment. "We should contact Dirtside instead. The Science Corporation will need to know about this."

"No. Dirtside won't take this well, I know it. Just tell the Starsiders, they'll be able to figure out what to do about this, and if they think Dirtside needs to know, they can pass the message on."

The scientist mulled this over for a while. "Very well. I will send them a warning. Send me some schematics and I will try to get them as much information as I can. But Rhasind... do you realize what this portends?"

"I have no idea, Hamal. Considering we don't know anything about where the First Generation came from or what it was like, one guess is as good as another right now."

"But surely.... why now? After 100 years, why would another ship come now?"

"I don't know. I just don't know."

Last edited by The General on Mon Jul 18, 2005 2:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2005 12:45 am 

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