"Do we have a fix on where we are, Mr. Nishioka?" "Star charts are not synchronizing, Captain. I am unable to determine our location at this time." "Very well, keep trying." Space Dreadnaught Captain Hendrik van Rijn's brow furrowed in thought. One minute the CSF 'Michael Faraday' was on routine patrol in the Beta Lauran system, the next it was here; wherever 'here' was. The ship had been shaken as a dog shakes emerging from water, but the mass detectors had been silent and the visiscreens showed nothing unusual.
"If we had been in closer proximity to a planetary system, I would have suspected we had intersected a gravinometric orbital anomaly," said Coxswain Andersson from his station at the helm. "Otherwise it appears to be a hitherto encountered phenomenon." "All systems are functioning normally," added Executive Officer Sanchez. "A planetary grouping has been detected consisting of a GV sun and seven planets one AU from our location. Shall we investigate?" The Captain nodded. Better to be active than remain inert. Maybe a clue to their whereabouts could be found there.
The outer planets were mountainous and desolate, with minimal atmospheres and pockmarked with craters. Only primitive forms of life were detected, so the ship moved on. The fourth planet was considerably different. Vast seas, verdant forests, rushing rivers, flower strewn meadows of waving grass, glittering lakes and rolling hills beckoned to weary space travelers.
"Atmosphere breathable, temperatures mild, numerous life forms detected, but no signs of civilization," Ensign Reed said, his fingers busy on the console touch pad.
"Initiate landing sequence," van Rijn replied. "We'll set down in that open area on the day side near that forest." "Initiating landing sequence", the Coxswain responded, "Aye-aye." The 'Michael Faraday' dropped from orbit and descended on antigravs to the planet's surface, crushing several hundred meters of waving grass under it's bulk. Landing struts were extended to stabilize the craft and all was quiet save for the creaking of the cooling ultradrive tubes.
First to emerge was the ships contingent of Space Marines, blast rifles at the ready, who set up a defensive perimeter. Next came the scientific teams; xenobiologists, botanists, meteorologists, geologists and entomologists, eager to unlock the planets secrets.
Hovercars emerged from hatches in the hull and their crews fanned out to scout and report anything of interest. Once the perimeter was deemed secure, those crew members not on watch were allowed to go outside to luxuriate in the fresh air and sunshine.
"Scout Team Five reporting in Captain," XO Sanchez said. "They've found the wreckage of a spacecraft forty kilometers from here." "Put it up on the screen, Ensign." The camera on the hovercar scanned the wreckage of a spacecraft of unknown origin. It was constructed of a dull gray substance, angular in design. It lacked any viewports or gun turrets and had been there for some time, as vines had crept over it and the hull had crumbled in spots. There were no signs of life.
Much of the interior had crumbled away, but what remained showed that the craft was neither terrestrial in origin or of any of the twenty advanced life forms humankind had encountered as it explored the galaxy.
What appeared to be control panels and the drive motors were unfamiliar, as were the configurations of various compartments and presumably chairs and tables. More to the point, where were the former occupants? Where had they gone?
Captain van Rijn surveyed the assemblage of ships officers and senior non-coms seated before him in his conference room. They were among the most talented and capable crew members in the Space Fleet, yet their faces were grim and some glanced absently about as if thinking of something.
"Status report," van Rijn said his voice unusually harsh. The tension in the room was palpable.
"Engine room functioning normally," said Commander Mugabe, his blue-black face impassive. "Life support systems, likewise. Fusion piles running at thirty three point five seven percent of load capacity. Main drives on stand-by." "Defense perimeter secure," said Marine Major Campbell. "All personnel on rotating watch. No intrusions reported." "All personnel in prime physical condition," said Chief Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Mulroney, then she smiled, "The outside air seems to agree with everyone." "Search teams have located the wreckage of three additional alien spacecraft since my initial report," Lieutenant Carstairs began. "All spacecraft unidentifiable and appear to have been abandoned for advanced periods of time. No traces of life forms in evidence." "This area of the galaxy is unknown to us," Ensign Nishioka said. "We cannot correlate our star charts with any of the suns visible to us. We are no longer in known space." The reports continued until all had finished. The Captain had listened to each in turn and said nothing. All eyes were on him as he said wearily "That we are lost there is no doubt. The probability of finding our way back to our own area of the galaxy is remote. Therefore, we must decide where to go from here. We could go back into space and cast about looking for familiar stars or we can remain here and form a colony. The ship has the resources to support our efforts in that regard. This is an altogether pleasant place in which to live, and since we seemingly have little choice in the matter, the most logical course of action is to remain here. What say you?" The response was uniformly in the affirmative to establish a colony. The idea of roaming the star fields like a 26th Century 'Flying Dutchman' appealed to no one.
The first desertions occurred as the second watch was assembled after their time outside. Seven men and five women were missing from the ranks. Search parties returned empty handed. This was duly reported to the Captain, duty rosters were reorganized and life went on. Slowly the disappearances became more frequent until non-essential portions of the ship were shut down and sealed off to conserve power.
The Captain was baffled and angry. His command was melting away like Martian ice caps in summer. Where had they gone?
Lance Corporal Mulroney froze and gripped his blast rifle tightly. His squad had fanned out looking for deserters when he heard voices and laughter. It sounded like children. Moving stealthily through the underbrush he came to the bank of a creek, the waters moving sluggishly on their way to the river and the sea. His eyes widened as he looked down the bank. A group of children were playing there, diving, swimming, swinging on a rope from a tree branch and letting go to splash into the water or sunning themselves in the grass. It all seemed so familiar, and then he realized he was looking at a summer time of his youth when he and his friends would spend hours cavorting in Duncan's Creek.
He shook his head in disbelief and moved closer to where the children were playing, their carefree laughter ringing in his ears. It was Duncan's Creek and those were his friends. What in the world was happening?
Then he saw her, Ginny Petersen, thirteen years of age and already blossoming into a woman. He remembered the first time they kissed. It was in this spot so long ago. They began a love that lasted until... "Eric, hey Eric, where you been, c'mon we're choosing sides for donkey polo." It was Jerry Martin, good old Jerry, and Bruce, and Steve and shy Angela, sarcastic Emily and the rest; it was real, it was. He dropped the blast rifle and ran to join his friends.
Captain van Rijn sat slumped in his control chair on the bridge, gazing absently at the visiscreen showing the seemingly endless forests, rolling meadows and a vast lake. His life had been a slow climb up the promotional ladder until his captaincy and command of his own ship. Now it was gone, all gone.