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Adrian Kosoff stood at the rail of the balcony circling the starship’s main auditorium, smiling like a genial paterfamilias at the young men and women down on the main floor celebrating their arrival at Mithra’s planet Gamma.
There were almost twelve hundred scientists and engineers on the expedition’s technical staff: mostly young, mostly recent graduates from the best schools on Earth, all of them volunteers for this star mission, all of them aware that they had exiled themselves from their homes and everything they knew back on Earth, all of them happy to have completed the two-hundred-light-year voyage successfully. After two years of training on Earth and two hundred years sleeping away the distance to Mithra, they had arrived at last at their destination.
Kosoff was a burly figure of a man, thick torso and limbs, his bearded face square and blunt-featured, his eyes a piercing blue, his thick mop of mahogany-dark hair and bristling beard showing streaks of gray that he refused to alter with rejuvenation treatments.
“We’ve made the trip here to the Mithra system successfully,” he said to the men and women looking up to him, his amplified voice booming godlike across the auditorium. “No human being has ever traveled so far from Earth. This night we celebrate our safe arrival. Tomorrow we begin the task of saving the intelligent creatures of planet Gamma from the death wave.”
They applauded. They cheered. Then they started their celebration, mixing and swirling across the auditorium floor. Music sounded. Some couples began to dance. Others headed for the makeshift bars that had been set up along one side of the cavernous room. Laughter and the sounds of conversations filled the air.
The key leaders among the technical staff were almost all former students of Kosoff’s or students of his graduates. Kosoff thought of himself as the respected—even revered—leader of this scientific expedition. Head of the family. He knew that some of the younger echelons thought of him as a beneficent dictator, even an enlightened tyrant. So be it, he told himself.
Satisfied that the celebration was well and truly launched, Kosoff turned from the railing and went to the table where the ship’s captain was sitting behind a collection of bottles and glasses.
Kosoff sat across the table from Rampalji Desai, captain of Odysseus. Nominally, Desai was Kosoff’s superior, but the two men had formed a friendly partnership: Kosoff ran the technical staff, Desai ran the starship. Conflicts between them were nonexistent, so far. Of course, like all the humans aboard Odysseus, they had both slept the two centuries of the voyage in cryonic suspended animation.
Desai was actually several centimeters taller than Kosoff, but so lean and quiet in demeanor that he gave the impression of being the smaller man. Dark of skin and hair, his eyes were large and liquid, nearly feminine, and his voice was almost always hushed—but when he had to, he could roar out a command that made everyone on the bridge jump to comply.
Now, leaning slightly across the bottles and glasses scattered on the round table that separated the two of them, Desai pointed to the partying throng below and said in his soft, almost lyrical voice:
“They seem to be enjoying themselves.”
“Why not?” said Kosoff. “They’ve arrived safely, thanks to you and your crew.” Nodding toward the wall screen that showed the lushly green planet they orbited, he added, “Tomorrow they begin the task of saving the natives of the planet. Tonight, it’s eat, drink, and be merry.”
“I think perhaps they are happy that their memory uploads were successful.”
Kosoff waved a hand airily. “I’m not so sure they’re celebrating the uploads. There are plenty of memories that I’d rather have done without.”
Desai smiled, gleaming white teeth against his glistening dark skin. “Ah, but you have led a vigorous life. Very vigorous, from what I’ve heard.” Gesturing at the gyrating crowd below, he went on, “They are mere children, they don’t have any regrets that they want to forget.”
“Not yet,” said Kosoff, dead serious.
Desai merely sighed.
Copyright © 2016 by Ben Bova