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DIATA. WARNING! Some chapters contain sexual scenes.
 
 

DIATA

By J. W. Gregory

 

Nyel was just about to place the timewarp co-ordinates for the trip to Voltar Three into the ship's computer when his wife called him. He shook his head and smiled to himself. Diata had a knack of calling him just when he was about to do something that required his careful attention.

“Nyel! Nyel?” she called.

“I'm here!” he answered. He put the shiny disc that contained the co-ordinates down carefully and went to the open airlock of the spacecraft. “What's the problem now, sweet?” he asked.

“Nyel, can we take this with us, please? I really don't want to leave it behind and it won't take up too much room. Please?”

Diata was holding a holograph base in her hand. “It's Mum and Dad, they had it made for us to take with us.” She looked up at him with that look that she knew would make him agree to make room, even if they had to leave something else behind.

“OK. But you will have to weigh it and find something of the same weight to leave in its place.” He wondered what she would leave behind to keep the holograph. Everything was precious to her.

“I already have. I thought that as you are leaving the Lasershoot Club you wont need your laser gun. They weigh the same.”

“Diata!” He gave her a pained look, “I want my laser gun! It's my hobby! I'll come down and find something else!”

He climbed down the metal ladder to the ground and went into the store where all their belongings were stored ready for loading onto the spacecraft. It contained everything that they owned and they had to make up their minds just what they wanted to take with them as weight was important. Anything that was over the permitted weight had to be left and would be sold for them.

As he looked around, he knew that he wouldn't find anything that was less useful than his laser gun, and he knew that he was going to have to give in. However, he was going to have a good try.

Whiz!! Nyel’s four years old son Peto fired his toy whiz gun at him from behind a packing case. The soft plastic missile bounced harmlessly off Nyel's chest and Peto charged away out of the door yelling in victory and almost knocked his mother over.

“Look where you are going! And keep out of the way!” She yelled after the boy who was too smart to stop. She had already threatened him when he broke a valuable ornament that was in the store. He had argued that they weren't taking it with them anyway, but that did not pacify his mother. He decided to stay out of the way and went to the spacecraft. He had been inside several times and knew his way around.

The sleeping pods always fascinated him. That was where they would go to sleep for over a year! His father had explained it all to him. They were going to travel so far that it would take a year to get there, even though the timewarp drive would whisk them hundreds of light years almost instantaneously. They wouldn't be able to use the timewarp until they were clear of the solar system by at least half a light year. To do that they would have to rely on the old warp drive. That's why it took a year.

He looked at the pod that would be his and saw the jets that would fill the pod with gas that would make him sleep. His Mum, Dad, sister and he had been in them several times since they had been chosen to go to Voltar THREE. Dad said it was to get used to them, but Peto still didn't like the idea. He pulled a face at the pod and turned away.

He fired his whiz gun at the door of the control cabin and the missile ricocheted off the door and disappeared into the cabin. Going into the cabin he looked for the missile and found it beside the computer. Running to pick it up, he accidentally knocked the shiny disk that was beside the computer. He froze for a moment, staring at the disk that had fallen to the floor of the cabin, then guiltily looked around to see if anyone had seen him. He was quite sure that he was alone in the craft, so he quickly picked up the disk. He looked at it, but it looked perfectly all right to him. His young inexperienced eyes failed to notice the tiny scratch on the shiny surface. He replaced the disk where it had been and went to the airlock. Looking carefully around, he made sure that he  wouldn’t be seen and left the spacecraft.

Nyel, as he expected, had to give in to Diata and forfeited his laser gun so that she could have the holograph of her mother and father. He knew that he would have wanted to keep one of his own parents if they had been alive when the moving holographs were invented. Although the base was only ten inches by eight inches, it projected a three-dimensional, life-size image that looked so lifelike that one would think that it was solid. Diata's mother and father had the holograph made for them. The images spoke to them giving a different message each time it was turned on. There were four hundred messages recorded on the holograph.

He went back to continue putting the co-ordinates into the computer. He wanted to finish that before they all went to the temporary home that they were given on the launching base that belonged to The World Council of Space Colonisation. He also failed to notice the minute scratch on the surface of the disk.

Nyel was a highly qualified astronaut. Having his own spacecraft that had helped tremendously in getting himself and his family chosen for Voltar THREE, the third planet of a sun that had two Earth type planets. It was the latest discovery of the World Space Exploration Committee and such a find was almost unbelievable. It was rare enough to find an Earth type planet, let alone two orbiting the same sun. That meant that their nearest neighbour would only be a few hours away. He wondered who would qualify to be first on Voltar Four. He knew several of the candidates that had applied.

It was three days later that the countdown began. The last farewells, the hugs and the backslapping were over and the time had come for the last minute checks that everything was on board and placed in its proper place. The technicians were busy making sure that the sleep gas was in sufficient supply. The refrigerator was working efficiently to keep the food and medical supplies fresh. They would need food when they arrived at their destination until they found a source of food on the planet. A hundred and one other tasks best left to the experts who methodically went through their lists.

Diata and Nyel were relaxing having a cool drink, watching the technicians in white coats perform their various tasks.

“No regrets?” Nyel asked.

“No! I'm a little nervous, though. Do you think the roboteams have finished?”

“They should be finished by the time we get there. It is always planned to the last detail. I have never heard of them not being ready for the First Family yet.”

Diata thought of the roboteams arriving on the planet and the task they had of setting up a base. They may have to clear trees and rocks away to establish an area of about a square mile to set up the living quarters for Nyel, herself and their two children, Eelan and Peto.

Then they would build the workshops, the water purifiers, the factories, the power plants, and a host of other things that the First Family would need to quickly establish a colony. Then they would patiently wait, motionless, for the First Family to arrive to give them further instructions. The roboteams would be invaluable to them, particularly at first.

The others that would follow would always call them the First Family, and they would be the leaders of the colony. When Nyel died, Peto would take over the leadership. That was the way it had been for fifteen hundred years since the first colony had been established. The first colony had been set up on one of the planets of the Solar system. She could not remember exactly which planet, but it had not been successful. The colony had to live under domes. Air, food and other supplies had to be sent from Earth. Apart from Earth, none of the home planets were inhabited now.

To be chosen as a First Family, it required being able to make decisions that were wise and practical. To qualify required a two-year period of testing and training. Diata thought back over those two hardest years of her life. She and Nyel had really gone through some tough times and situations during the tests. Often without realising that the situations were deliberately manipulated by the W.C.S.C. Both she and Nyel wanted to give up at some stage or another but each had supported the other and they finally succeeded in passing sufficiently to be accepted.

The hours passed slowly at first, and then the time to board came in a rush. Suddenly there was no time to do anything. Nyel, Diata and the two children were ushered into the craft. They were briefed again for what seemed to be the thousandth time, and then Peto and Eelan had to be placed in their pods. The pods for the children were designed so that they could not be opened from the inside so Diata had to make sure that the children were secure in their pods.

Then she and Nyel settled down in their own pods. The pods would fill with the sleep gas two minutes before lift off. The whole operation was automatic, the timing of the sealing of the lids, the injection of the gas, the clearing of the gas and the opening of the lids when they reached their destination.

“See you in a year!” Diata said. She blew him a kiss.

“I'll look forward to it,” replied Nyel, “but it won't seem more than a nights sleep!”

Nyel opened his eyes slowly, at first not aware of where he was, then became wide awake as he heard the voice of Comp. Comp's voice was male, unlike most of the computers on other space vessels. Most computers had a female voice, probably because most crews were male and liked to hear an attractive and usually sexy voice. Comp's voice was calm and soft.

“There is a malfunction. Please come to the control cabin. There is a malfunction. Please come at once to the control cabin.”

The lid of Nyel's pod was open. The sleep gas had been pumped back into the containers and compressed ready for use again. The whole process of awakening a passenger took three minutes, the withdrawal of the gas, the pumping into the pod the neutralising gas to revive the sleeper and the opening of the lid. In an emergency that was a long time.

Nyel was out of the pod and in the control cabin in seconds.

“Comp! What's wrong?” He asked.

“There is a malfunction of the timewarp co-ordinates. We seem to have been thrown off course while we were in timewarp. I stopped all operations when I was aware of it, but we appear to be in an area that has not been programmed into my memory. As all known factors of space that has been discovered and explored have been programmed into my memory banks, we must assume that we are lost.”

“How could that have happened? I put the co-ordinates in myself as soon as I got them from the W.C.S.C. C. Do you mean they gave me faulty ones?”

“I don't know exactly what is wrong with them or how the malfunction occurred, but I do know that we are not on course for the destination that I believe was to be Voltar THREE. As you know, once the lift off was accomplished, everything is automatic. Except for the usual checks, even I shut down until we get to the destination. I am programmed to check that everything is in order after twenty-five per cent, fifty per cent, seventy-five per cent and ninety-eight per cent of the distance has been covered. According to my internal clock, we should now have travelled ninety eight percent of the distance.”

Nyel walked over to one of the portholes to look outside. There was nothing to see. The blackness of space was everywhere. He went to another. Again there was nothing that he could see.

“Comp, is there anything to see outside from here?”

“Oh yes. There are two light sources that appear to be galaxies. They are not visible to the naked human eye, but I can enlarge them on the screen. They would appear as two stars to you. One is to the right and behind us and if you eyes were capable of viewing it you would see it from the right porthole. The other is also to the right but ahead.”

Nyel looked in the directions that Comp had mentioned but there was nothing bright enough for his eyes to perceive.

He thought of Diata and his two children still in the pods in asleep. He wondered whether to awaken Diata and explain the situation to her. He decided against it. She would not be able to do anything to help, and he didn't want to worry her.

“Can we find a way back to Earth, Comp?”

“I don't know. I can try. That is what I have to do when the emergency measures are put into operation.”

The emergency measures required Comp to search for Earth. If Earth could not be found, it was to search for an Earth type planet. These instructions had to be given to Comp by the leading officer of the spacecraft. In this case Nyel was the leading officer.

“What are the chances of finding Earth? And what are the chances of finding an Earth type?” Nyel was curious but a little uncertain whether he really wanted to know at this stage, he wasn't sure how he would react to an adverse answer.

“It is impossible to say exactly. You must remember that only eleven Earth type planets have been discovered since the beginning of galactic exploration. Based on that information the time that it will take to find an Earth type planet would be approximately twenty seven-point six years. That is only because we have the use of timewarp emergency program. The chances of finding Earth is unknown.” Comp's voice was cultured and extremely calming to listen to, in spite of the alarming situation Nyel and his family were in.

Nyel thought of timewarp and what it had done to speed up space exploration. Actually, timewarp was haled as the most significant discovery for over one thousand six hundred years. It was at first thought that time travel was now possible however those hopes were found to be groundless. Time travel was still just a dream. It was impossible to travel forward or backward in time, but timewarp allowed one to travel in time. Space vessels were able to go any distance and arrive at their destination almost instantly. There was always a difference of exactly ninety-six seconds between the moment timewarp engaged and the arrival at the destination. It was the same no matter how far the craft travelled, with timewarp it would arrive exactly ninety-six seconds later.

Unfortunately, there was a side effect. Whenever timewarp was used it caused a shock wave that brought devastating earthquakes to every planet within half a light year of the spacecraft that engaged timewarp. That was why they still had to use the old 'safe' warp drive to get clear of the Solar system. That was why the sleep pods were necessary. It took just over a year to travel half a light year using the old warp drive, which was safe to use within the planetary systems of stars.

Nyel put his thoughts aside and made his decision.

“Comp. Set emergency measures in operation four minutes after sealing pod one. Search for Earth and record any Earth type planets you find. Continue to search for Earth until the time you estimated has elapsed. If you have failed to locate Earth in that time, return to the planet that most resembles Earth that you have recorded and awaken me.”

Nyel went back to the pods and paused at pod two. He looked down through the transparent lid. Purple sleep gas filled the interior of the pod gave Diata's still form an eerie hue. She looked as if she were dead. Her breast was motionless and her eyelids were still. There was not the slightest movement of any part of her body.

He was glad that science had progressed so much that there was no need to freeze the human body to preserve it in suspended animation. The intense agony experienced by those frozen for only a few months had been so bad that in some cases the mind could not take it.

He shivered, not liking what he was seeing. He had never seen anyone asleep in a pod before. Seeing his wife in that condition unsettled him.

He climbed into his pod, settled down, then quickly gave Comp the command to seal his pod. He just heard the hiss of the sleep gas a split second before he was asleep again.   


CHAPTER TWO

 

It seemed only a short while before he was again awoken from the deep timeless sleep the purple gas brings and for a moment he wondered if he had been asleep at all.

The pod lid was open and he was aware of Comp's voice calling him. There was no urgency in the voice but Nyel was very aware of the situation that they had been in last time. The tone of Comp's voice was nothing to go on.

He quickly climbed out of the pod and went to the control cabin.

“Have you found Earth, Comp?”

“I'm afraid not Nyel, but I have found an Earth type planet.”

“Why did you awaken me? You were supposed to record all Earth types and continue to search for Earth!”

“Your instructions were to search for Earth until the time period of twenty seven point six years had elapsed and then return to the planet that most resembles Earth. Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate Earth and I have only just found an Earth type planet. I thought that you should be awoken,” replied Comp.

“You mean that twenty seven and a half years has gone by already!” Nyel could not believe it.

“No. More than that, I'm afraid. It has taken me two hundred and forty years and three months to find this one planet that is an Earth type. I think it is a significant find as it is the only planet that I have found with an atmosphere that is suitable for sustaining human life.

There is also some form of vegetation on the planet, some of which could be suitable for human consumption.

“In fact, the planet is so closely matched to Earth that in all probability the vegetation would resemble that found on Earth. The gravitation is slightly greater than that of Earth. The day is twenty-five hours and three minutes and four seconds long compared to Earth. The planet is the fourth of a system of twelve and the only one suitable for human habitation. The tilt of the planet is...”

“All that can wait until later, Comp.” Nyel interrupted the flow of information that was coming from Comp. He knew that unless he stopped Comp, the flow would continue until every scrap of information was exhausted. All that concerned Nyel was that Diata and the children were going to be safe and have somewhere that was acceptable to live.

“Where and when would be the best place and time to land on the planet, Comp?”

“I have already selected a location that appears to be ideal for an initial base. It is close to a lake and to a large wooded area that would be useful for timber. As for the time, that is for you to decide. I'm afraid that we sustained some damage eighty-two years ago. A meteor succeeded in penetrating the shell of one of the stabilisers, seriously damaging it. The stabilisers are necessary for landing under gravitational pull.”

Nyel groaned. It seemed that whenever he spoke to Comp he used the words 'unfortunately' or 'I'm afraid'. It seemed that nothing was going right and he wished that he hadn't been so eager to accept the position of First Father of the First Family. This was not Voltar THREE where the roboteams had prepared a base and would do all the really heavy work. This was a planet that they were going to have to work and build a home and base from scratch.

“How bad is it? Can I repair it?” He asked. Why had he insisted on taking his own spacecraft? The larger vessels of the W.C.S.C. were self-maintaining and were large enough to carry repair workshops and spares. Their computers were capable of organising the robots to conduct such repairs. It wasn't that he was irresponsible. The need for repairs in space was so rare these days that one never thought about it.

“It is quite impossible to repair, we do not have the necessary parts. It was an astronomically long chance that such an accident would happen. I don't think any craft would be carrying spares of that nature, although the workshops would be able to make them.”

“Can we get down there?” Nyel was getting just a little annoyed with Comp's way of including unnecessary information in conversation.

“Yes, but there is, of course, the danger of landing heavily or even at an angle which would cause the vessel to fall after touchdown. The chance of sustaining further damage is quite high. That is why you have to decide.”

Nyel decided to see what Diata thought. He felt that she should have a say in the matter before he put all their lives in danger.

“Open pod two, Comp.”

He moved to the port that overlooked the planet and looked out. The planet certainly looked Earth like. He could see the white smear of clouds over the surface. They looked motionless, but he knew they were drifting across the planet, carried along by whatever currents there were.

“Hi! Have we arrived?” Diata came into the control cabin and came to his side, “Is that Voltar THREE?” She put her arm around him and looked out at the planet.

“Yes and no,” replied Nyel. “Yes, we have arrived and no, that isn't Voltar THREE.”

He told her everything that had happened since they had left Earth. He told her about the malfunction, his decision to let Comp find Earth or an earth type and about the damage to stabilisers. He told her of the danger of attempting to land with a stabiliser out of commission and how it could destroy the ship and possibly them with it.

When he had finished, Diata had a horrified expression on her face.

“Do you mean to tell me that I'm over two hundred and sixty years old?” Her hands went to her face, fingertips feeling her skin for lines and wrinkles, “I can't believe it!”

Nyel couldn't help being a little amused at her sense of priorities. She was more concerned about her age than the situation that they were in.

“You haven't aged a day, Diata, you are just as you were when you entered the pod. Now seriously, we have to make up our minds whether to take a chance and land the ship or go down in the shuttle. There is no way that we can use the shuttle to take everything that we need to set up a base. On the other hand, if we take the ship we could end up crashing.”

“We need the ship to get ourselves established, surely. We have to take. The emergency house is in the hold along with all the medical supplies and our belongings. It has to be the ship.” There was no hesitation in her decision.

“I would like to make a suggestion, if I may.” Comp's voice broke in on their conversation, “You could decide to go down in the shuttle and I would attempt to land the ship after you have landed. Although it would be better with someone at the controls to assist manually, there is a chance that I can land the craft without too much damage.”

“Of course! Why didn't I think of it before! Diata, you will take the children down in the shuttle. I will follow you down with the ship. That way we are not putting the children in any danger. When you get down, keep well away from the shore of the lake that Comp has chosen for our base. Comp will try to set down close to the shore.” said Nyel, relieved that he had made his mind up. His concern for Diata and the children’s safety over, he felt better. Diata was perfectly capable of taking the shuttle down safely.

“Wait a minute! Don't I get a say in this?” Diata was not at all keen on leaving Nyel to face the danger in bringing the ship down. “Why can't we just go down and see what's there first, then you can come back up here later and bring it down. The planet may not be suitable.”

The suggestion was a good one, Nyel had to admit, but he knew there was little chance of finding another Earth type and he wanted to get things over while he still had the nerve. He knew there was a danger of being injured or even killed in landing a ship that was unstable. Although it was one of the smaller models, it was still some considerable size and weight.

“No. It is going to have to be this planet or none. Comp has searched for two hundred and forty years and only came up with this. You will take the shuttle with Peto and Eelan.” Nyel was adamant and waved aside the protest she was about to make.

Diata looked at him. She realised from experience that nothing could make him change his mind, and reluctantly accepted his decision by turning away from him and addressing Comp.

“Comp, will you open the other pods, please?” she asked quietly, “I will get the children prepared for the shuttle.”

Nyel well knew what that quiet tone meant. He rolled his eyes upward. He was in her bad books, at least for the moment.

“There is no need to rush off. We can have something to eat and discuss plans. Besides, it will have to be decided exactly where you should land so as to be close but safe. We could do that better after we have got used to the idea. Let's eat first, huh?”

“You want me to cook you a meal before I go, is that it?” Diata said, still annoyed with him.

“No, it's not that and you know it. You know that you taking the children down in the shuttle is the safest way, and you said yourself that we need the ship. And we do! Everything that is on the ship is needed down there if we are going to survive. You know it makes sense.”

Diata had to agree. She nodded and said, “I'm sorry, I was being unreasonable. It's because I love you so much that I don't want you to risk it. At the same time I suppose I know that you are a good space man and can handle this ship as good as Comp can.”

“Better than Comp can under the circumstances. Comp is programmed to lift off and land with everything in working order. He would take the ship down as if all the stabilisers were working as normal. That would be disastrous.”

“OK. You've talked me into it. Does that mean I don't have to get you a meal,” asked Diata, “or do I still have to feed you?”

“You still have to feed me,” replied Nyel.

“And us too!” Peto and Eelan had come into the control cabin looking for their mother just in time to hear the mention of food.

“I've no choice now, do I? Who let you out?” Diata frowned at them.

“The lids were open, mummy.” Three years old Eelan's voice was full of concern that they may have done something to make their mother angry with them.

“I believe that you instructed me to open the pods, Diata, so I did,” Comp said, “that was your instruction, wasn't it?”

“Don't worry about it, Comp, Diata is just being a woman,” Nyel said. He was careful not to add any more. He had won an argument and didn't want to jeopardise the victory.

Over the meal they decided that Diata would leave with the children the moment that their orbit brought them to the point best suited for entering the atmosphere of the planet.

 

Diata left everything to the mini computer that controlled the shuttle. The program had been fed into the shuttle's computer system by Comp. The entry into the atmosphere had to be perfect if the shuttle was to be in one piece when it was time for touchdown. It was only when the time came for the choice of the precise landing spot and the actual touchdown that Diata would touch the controls. That part was easy. All that was required was the movement of the joystick to direct the shuttle forward, backward or sideways. A control lever beside the joystick would cause the craft to rise or descend when moved backwards or forwards respectively. A single pedal controlled the speed in all directions. Diata had flown a shuttle on many occasions and was quite an expert with the very sensitive controls.

To while away the time, she pointed out various things that caught her eye to the children as they drew closer to the planet's surface. They responded with things that they saw, excitedly crying out as they did so. Diata was grateful that the planet absorbed their interest so much. It kept her from worrying about Nyel. She did not feel at ease with the situation. She tried to tell herself that he would be all right but she knew the danger that he was going to face when he brought the ship down.

It was over an hour later that the computer advised her that they were flying through the atmosphere at a thousand feet and would be approaching the chosen site for touchdown in ten minutes. Then came a stream of information from the computer. Speed, air pressure, air temperature, humidity and a hundred other things that she completely ignored.

She positioned herself at the controls and waited for the computer to tell her when to take over. She looked down at the land surface below. It was just like Earth. She saw trees. Forests of them. There were great lakes or seas. Mountain ranges. Open spaces, covered in what must be grass. Hills and dales. Green valleys. It occurred to her that she had seen no deserts at all on the way down but had caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a volcanic area. This was a very fertile planet. She had seen no evidence of intelligent life. At least there were no towns or villages. She felt relieved, as she knew that here was a place that they could all live without too much going against them.

“Thirty seconds to the selected site.” The voice of the computer broke into her thoughts and she took hold of the joystick lightly, allowing it to move while the computer still had control.

The craft slowed until it was hovering at a thousand feet above the edge of a large lake. Alongside the lake was a large open space bordered with a forest. The open space was roughly circular; about six miles in diameter, scattered here and there were small clumps of trees and shrubs. Diata was impressed with Comp's choice for the base. It would be the perfect spot.

“You may take control whenever you wish. Once again, she was pulled out of her thoughts by the computer's voice, “There is a five mile an hour breeze coming from the east, which is in the direction of the lake.”

“Thank you, I can read a compass, but thanks for telling me about the breeze. I'll take over at the count of three. One, two three!” Diata did not need to take over that way. She could have just thrown a switch. It was just that she felt that it was polite to inform the computer of her intentions. She knew that it was silly of her but she felt better.

She moved the lever by her side forward a little and the craft dropped lower, her eyes scanning the terrain below. They were still close to the lake and she remembered that Nyel had said to keep away from the lake. Determined to make sure that everything was safe before she told Nyel that she was down, she moved over the lake, skimming the surface and peering down into the water. The surf was breaking onto a sandy beach and looked inviting. The water was the clearest she had ever seen, allowing her to see through to the bottom. She took note of the depth, since it gradually shelved away from the beach for about nine hundred feet and then deepened suddenly. She could not tell how deep, the bottom being lost in shadow.

She turned the shuttle around to face the shore and viewed the scene. To her right there was a rock formation some five hundred feet high and about seven hundred feet wide. It stretched away from the beach inland partially bordering the great field and ending in a gentle slope that was over grown with shrubs. Directly ahead of her was the field with its patches of trees. She moved forward, climbing so that she could look down on one of the clumps of trees and it was then that she saw the first signs of life. Among the trees were some animals about four feet high and appeared to be standing upright. As she hovered above them they moved away. Diata noticed that they appeared to hop like kangaroos but she could not be sure as they quickly hid among the trees, apparently afraid of the shuttle above them.

Diata took the shuttle to the edge of the field and landed, satisfied that everything seemed safe. She called Nyel on the communicator and saw his face appear on the screen.

“We're down. Everything seems all right. In fact, it's quite a beautiful place and I think you ought to hurry on down too!” She told him.

“We are just about to go over the night side now, I'm afraid. Comp wants to begin the approach in three hours or so. Get some rest yourself and I'll see you later. I'm in the middle of recording everything I can see for future use. How are the children?”

“They are asleep right now, they have had an exhausting day!” Diata replied, “But they loved the trip down.”

“Good. OK. See you later. Oh. Don't forget to switch on the beacon, we will home in on it.” Nyel blew her a kiss and switched off.

Diata did as he asked and then went into the small kitchen to prepare a meal for the children and herself. She knew that it would be a long wait for her and wanted to keep herself occupied. Nyel would not be visible to her for at least five hours.

The shuttle was as big as a large caravan, having six berths, a shower that cleaned and recycled the water used, a small kitchen and a lounge. It was intended to be used as a temporary home while the emergency prefabricated house stored in the hold was being put together. The prefabricated house and necessary tools and supplies along with two robots to build it were mandatory in all space vessels. The World Council for Space Colonisation was very concerned about the safety of space travellers.

Also in the shuttle was a large freezer containing six months supply of pre-packed meals for a family of six. Diata selected three meals and heated them in the microwave and they sat down to eat. The meals were not the best of meals but they were nutritious, and when one was hungry they can be even enjoyable.

It was late afternoon by the sun's position when Nyel called her on the communicator, his face smiling at her from the screen.

“Listen to this! As the leading officer of the space vessel GP5348WXT, I, Nyel Horrak, claim the right to name this planet, the details of which are recorded by the said space vessel's computer. I hereby use this right to name this planet 'DIATA' This naming being legally witnessed and recorded by Comp, the ship's computer and also witnessed by Diata Horrak, my wife.”

“That's stupid, Nyel. Who ever heard of a planet named Diata?”

“Who ever heard of any planet until it was named?” replied Nyel, “Anyway, we are almost there now, you should be able to see us soon but I can't talk for long, this thing is a bitch. “It's very hard to keep her steady. See you soon.” He looked a little worried and Diata was concerned.

“Is everything all right?” she asked, “Be careful. I'll be watching out for you.”

“Don't worry. I can handle it. Got to cut off now, see you.” Nyel sounded confident and she knew that he was a good pilot, so she wished him well and switched off.

She went outside and scanned the sky for a sign of the spacecraft but she realised that it would still be a while before she would be able to see it. While she waited, she took in the beauty of her surroundings. The sky was a deep blue with billowing white clouds over the mountain range in the distance. The air was still except for an occasional gentle breeze.

“Mummy look!” Eelan's excited voice drew her attention. She was pointing to the sky over the forest. Diata looked in the direction and saw an immense colourful cloud rising from the trees. She stared in wonderment at the sight.

“Why, they are birds!” she exclaimed, “Aren't they beautiful, Eelan?” Eelan nodded, her smile showing that she was pleased that she had shown her mother something. Thousands of birds were rising from the treetops, the sun catching the colours of their plumage and reflecting them as if they were polished mirrors. Diata wondered what had disturbed them. A moment later she saw the space craft.

“It's too soon! Something is wrong!” she thought, “He's coming down too fast!”

The craft was coming closer, getting larger and was swaying as it traversed the sky. It was still high but not as high as it should have been. Nyel was obviously having difficulty in controlling it. Diata saw the main drive fire as Nyel tried to regain height but the angle of the ship was wrong and instead of rising higher, it surged forward. It was soon almost above her and it seemed as though Nyel had regained control. She watched as the craft began to drop down over the lake, swaying slightly as the undamaged stabilisers trying to keep it steady for the touchdown. The scene she was watching was three miles away, even so, the cylindrical shape of the ship was quite clear as it dropped lower, tail first, towards the blue waters of the lake. Then she suddenly realised that it was too far out. It was descending into the deeper water that she had warned Nyel about. She shouted a warning, although she knew that Nyel could not possibly hear.

Nyel must have seen the danger at the same time, for the main drive fired again. The great ship's descent slowed, appeared to hang motionless in the air, then began to climb. Suddenly it leaned over sideways. She saw two stabilisers fire as Nyel tried to correct the imbalance, but he over did it. The spacecraft did a slow somersault and then slowly began a shallow dive towards the land, gaining speed as it came closer. The swaying and yawing of the ship gave evidence of Nyel's desperate fight for control but Diata could see that he was fighting a losing battle. From her position it was clear to her that there was no chance of Nyel getting the nose of the ship up.

Transfixed with horror, Diata watched the ship plunge sideways. It crashed into the mountain of rocks by the edge of the lake and she watched as it came to a halt, then rolled down the side of the mountain amid clouds of dust. Then the sickening sound of the crash and the screeching of the Zennalloy hull against the rocks reached her ears.

As the sounds reached her, Diata spurred into action. Grabbing Eelan, she raced to the shuttle and almost threw the child into it. Peto was at her heels and she picked him up and pushed him into the shuttle. Getting into the control seat, she spun the shuttle around and raced to the scene of the crashed spacecraft.

It was lying on its side at the foot of the rocks, a huge dent in the incredibly strong Zennalloy hull. The stabilisers, twisted at various angles, were obviously beyond repair. She looked up at the control cabin ports hoping to see Nyel but could not. She screamed his name but received no answer. She went back to the shuttle and switched on the communicator.

“Comp! Open the air lock!” she cried. The air lock hissed open instantly.

Yelling at the two children to stay put she scrambled out of the shuttle and climbed through the air lock. She found herself standing on what was the wall of the air lock compartment. It was tilted at an angle making it difficult for her to keep her balance as she made her way to the control cabin.

“Nyel! Nyel!” she called. There was no answer. “Nyel! Answer me!”

She reached the control cabin and saw Nyel in the control seat. A heavy cabinet had broken away from a wall and was lying across the lower part of his body. He was unconscious and blood was tricking from his mouth.

“Oh my god! Nyel!” Diata cried. She tried to lift the cabinet off him but it was too heavy for her to move. She looked desperately around for something that would help her but could find nothing.

“Comp! Help me!” she pleaded.

“I have already activated robo One. It is on its way to the control cabin now to receive instructions from you, Diata. I'm afraid that there is nothing that I can do physically.” The calm voice of Comp helped her to get a grip on herself. She had begun to panic and needed reassuring before she became hysterical. She had not thought of the robots.

Robo One appeared at the cabin door and entered.

“Robo One, lift that cabinet off Nyel, quickly. No. Slowly. Carefully.” Diata had forgotten for the moment that the robots would obey orders to the letter, not being able to comprehend that humans suffer pain. She must make sure that she gives precise orders to them.

As the robot gripped the heavy cabinet and effortlessly lifted it off Nyel, Diata saw the extent of her husband's injuries. A corner of the cabinet had crushed down onto his abdomen. A dark, crimson stain spread ominously over his tunic. She had never seen so much blood and felt so helpless. Panic welled up in her again as she realised that Nyel was losing blood fast.

“Robo One! Get the medical chest, quickly! Hurry!” she called to the waiting robot. The robot responded immediately moving quickly towards the door and making its way to the hold where the medical supplies were stored.

Diata knelt by Nyel's side and put her arms around him, trying not to look at the nauseating sight of the blood. Holding him tightly, she sobbed, moaning his name.

“Diata.” his whisper was faint and she looked up at him, relieved that he had regained consciousness.

“Nyel, don't move. You're hurt so bad. What can I do? Robo One is getting the medical chest. There will be dressings and pain killers in there.”

“Diata, I blew it. I should have listened to you,” Nyel said weakly.

“Don't talk. You did what you thought best. Here's the medical chest now.”

The robot had entered with the large chest. He set it down beside Diata then stood up, waiting for further orders. Diata opened the chest and took out some thermal blankets and wrapped them around Nyel, then started to cut away his tunic.

“Diata.” Nyel reached out and took her wrist. “Diata. It's no use. It's too bad. I know. I'm going to die.”

“You are not! I won't let you! I'll take care of you!”

“Diata. Listen to me...You have got to take care of the kids.... You’ve got to make it on your own.... I know you can.... Keep the beacon on.... Earth may pick up the signal and come for you.” Nyel was getting weaker. His face was white with pain and blood loss.

“No, Nyel no!” Diata frantically tore at the wrappings of a thick pad of dressing and pressed it to the wound in an attempt to stem the flow of blood. Nyel moaned with pain and she took a syringe of anaesthetic and injected him, her hands shaking as she did so.

The anaesthetic began to work almost instantly and a few moments later the look of pain on Nyel's face faded but his eyes were beginning to glaze. Diata shook him.

“Nyel! Wake up! I need you to help me treat you. Don't go to sleep, please.”

Nyel opened his eyes and looked at her. His hand reached up to touch her cheek and brush away a tear.

“Diata, I'm sorry, I love you,” he whispered.

“Oh, Nyel, I love you too, so much,” she hugged him and he sighed and went limp in her arms.

“Nyel! Oh, no Nyel. No, no Nyel, no. Oh, no.” She rocked his lifeless body in her arms, moaning and sobbing and kissing his cheek and neck.

She did not know how long she had remained there, holding him, until she became aware of Peto calling her.

“Mummy. Eelan's crying.” Peto had climbed into the air lock and was looking for her. She stirred and saw that it was almost dark, the lights in the cabin were on. Peto came into the control cabin.

“Mummy, Daddy. Daddy?” Peto's voice rose as he saw his father's blood soaked tunic. Diata jumped up and ran to him. Kneeling down she turned him away from seeing his father. He turned his head to see and Diata took his face in her hands.

“It's all right, Peto, I'm coming.” She led him out and told him to go back to the shuttle. She went back inside and covered Nyel's body with the blankets. She took one look around and left the ship, numbed with shock.

Diata, without being consciously aware of it, took three meals from the freezer, heated them and placed them on the table for the two children and herself. She sat down and pushed the food on her plate around but she could not eat. The children ate silently, stealing glances at her, sensing that it was not the time to disturb her. When they had finished eating she put them to bed and lay down on a bed herself, still numbed with shock. Shortly after she gave way to tears of grief, her body shaking with great sobs as her mind began to accept the horror of what had happened.

Eventually, her mind and body weary, she fell asleep.

She was awoken by the sound of Peto and Eelan arguing about something and she wondered if she had just had a terrible nightmare and jumped out of bed to look out of the window. The crashed spacecraft was lying there, confirming the reality, and she knew that it had not been a dream.

“Oh my God, Nyel. Why? Why did this have to happen? Why?” she said, tears coming to her eyes. She stood by the window wondering what to do, feeling totally helpless and alone.

“Mummy, is Daddy all right?” Peto had come to her side, “Is Daddy coming yet?”

Diata picked him up and hugged him tightly, fighting back the tears,

“Peto. Oh, Peto. Daddy won't be able to be with us any more. We have got to try to get on without him. He wants us to remember him and work hard to make this our home.”

Peto was too young to understand. He had seen his father on the ship.

“Is Daddy hurt? Will he get better?” he asked.

“No, Daddy won't get better, Peto,” Diata said, her words choking in her throat, “he's gone where he won't be in any pain any more. He was hurt really bad in the crash.”

Putting Peto down, Diata considered her next move. Finally, she decided and filled with resolve she went out to the ship. Entering the control cabin, she saw the robot still standing where it was the night before. She avoided looking at the still form of Nyel and spoke to the robot.

“Robo One. Empty the cabinet that you lifted and bring it outside. When you have done that, go and get the necessary tools for digging and activate robo Two. Then both of you come and see me. I will be in the shuttle.” She turned and left the ship, not wanting to remain in there any longer than possible in case her strength failed and she broke down.

Going back to the shuttle, she again prepared meals for Peto and Eelan. The task done, she went to the window and waited. The robots had opened the hold doors and were climbing down the folding steps of the hold, their arms carrying large metal boxes that no doubt contained the tools that she had requested.

The robots placed the boxes on the ground and began to walk to the shuttle, their stride carrying them smoothly and rapidly across the ground. Diata went out to meet them.

“Come with me, robos,” she said. She went past them to the foot of the mountain of rocks. She looked around, then making up her mind she pointed to a spot near a large rock close to the nose of the spacecraft.

“Dig a hole here big enough to bury that cabinet. Make it eight feet deep and one end by this rock.”

Without hesitation, the robots went for the tools to do as she bid, digging the large hole quickly and efficiently. When they had finished, robo One returned to the shuttle to inform Diata the hole had been completed.

“The hole that you requested has been dug and we would like you to approve our work, Diata,” said robo One.

Diata was taken off guard for the moment. It was the first time that One had spoken and she had not realised that the robots were capable of speech. The robot's voice was identical to that of Comp's. She thought that it was only natural that it would be, as Comp had programmed the robots.

“Thank you,” said Diata, overcoming her surprise, “I'll come and look now.”

The robot turned and led the way back to the hole. It was a neat oblong a little bigger than the cabinet. The sides were straight and the corners' square. She looked down into the hole. The bottom was flat. Beside the hole was the mound of soil that had been dug out. It too, was neat and tidy, evidence that the robots worked with precision.

Diata's heart became heavy as she thought of what she had to do next. Steeling herself, she instructed the robots to bring Nyel's body from the ship and place it in the cabinet that had caused his death. They were then to bury the cabinet and to make a tower of rocks over the grave.

When the robots had completed their tasks, Diata viewed the result. She nodded in approval. This pile of rocks would be a monument to her husband, to keep him in her mind and to remind her children that they once had a father that loved them.