Worlds Without Number (3)

The hibernation chamber automatically began bringing Tom back to a conscious state. The painful tingling in his arms, legs, hands and feet would continue for hours. His muscles would take longer than that to regain most of their strength. Tom would not return to full strength until after he spent some time at full gravity, or better yet, full gravity in a gym. Waking from hibernation was often the worst part of any trip. He told himself that this would be the last trip he would take. He was getting to old for this. He should settle down and get his life back. Maybe get married, and raise a family. Maybe go back to church. He had contemplated retirement after his previous mission, but this trip was to good to refuse.

Tom floated about the cabin of the ship, checking all the systems. Everything appeared to be normal. He looked out the windows and could make out the planet that must be his destination. From here it looked remarkably like earth. Tom used the ship’s instruments to learn what he could about the planet. It was slightly smaller than the earth. Over the next few hours he was able to learn that there was an atmosphere, and water, and that the temperatures would be bearable. So far so good.

The ship had been able to use the repeating signal from the planet to make whatever course corrections that were needed. This made Tom’s job a bit easier. He would not need to take manual control of the ship until after he entered the atmosphere. From there he would need to select a place to land. This could be a bit tricky, depending on whether he was going to have some type of a reception waiting for him. Over the last several days the ship had transmitted the same repeating signal that was being sent from the planet, back at the planet. This was the best that Tom could do to call ahead. Would the signal be received? If not he would have to pick a likely spot on his own.

After the ship entered the atmosphere, Tom decided to steer for one of the larger continents that was on a convenient approach angle. And then, off in the distance he saw what appeared to be several airplanes headed directly for him. He slowed way down and waited to see what they would do.

The planes resembled pictures Tom had seen of military aircraft from earth from about 200 years ago. Not exactly alike, but similar. They looked fairly sophisticated, and seemed to have some type of weapons available. Tom hoped they would not be necessary. His ship had no weapons of any kind, and Tom probably would never use them if he had them anyway. He was definitely being escorted. One of the pilots appeared to have tried to communicate with Tom, but he could not know how to reply. The ship was still sending out the repeating signal that had been received on earth years earlier.

Tom followed the lead of the pilots to a large, somewhat deserted looking, runway that had a couple of boring buildings nearby. He began to wonder if he were being taken hostage. Tom’s ship did not really need the runway, and settled easily near where the planes had stopped. The sensors of the ship let him know that the air was fine – very similar to earth. He looked out the windows, and saw what appeared to be several human-like beings surrounding him. He could not tell for sure what they looked like, because they all appeared to be wearing protective clothing with some type of respirator. Tom knew that was very sensible, they did not want to risk exposure to any contaminants that might be present. Tom put on his own protective clothing, and grabbed the holographic display. The rest could wait for later – hopefully.

Tom emerged from the ship, and was met by a large group of ‘people’ who were each holding what looked to be some type of gun, and pointing it toward him. Not the most friendly reception he had imagined. He instinctively raised his hands. After a brief moment Tom timidly said, ‘I come in peace, take me to your leader.’ He could not help but smirk at the uselessness of his words. One of the group, who appeared to be the leader, motioned to a few others. They came up to Tom, and grabbed him by the arms. A few others circled around behind with their guns ready. With another motion by the leader, the whole group escorted Tom to the nearest building. Tom wondered what he had got himself into.


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