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Chapter 11 Pastoral inbound

“Ben, we are going to transition shortly. Would you please put your restraints on including your shoulder straps and snug them up. I may have to do some aggressive maneuvering as we approach Pastoral.”

Ben pensively strapped in. “I'm good to go.” 

“Don't be nervous, we are going to be a good distance away from Pastoral when we pop out into normal space. Thirty seconds to arrival,” The vid went from gray to a view of Pastoral turning below. Mechanically Celeste went into a dialog. “Four satellites, no make that five are in orbit. One is operational, and the others appear to be dead. Querying satellite. It's a communications link, and still operational. No communications traffic. Downloading memory. You never know what you will find. Revising software and uploading. I have control of the satellite. It's slow, but there may be a need for it in the future. Your implants may be able to uplink through it. Starting to map.”

Celeste appeared and sat next to Ben.

“You can take off the restraints now, can I show off a bit?” 

“Sure, show me what you can do.” 

A large sphere appeared in the cabin slowly rotating in front of them with swaths of maps appearing on its surface. “I'm mapping, and this will take time to complete. The maps are layered. 

Watch this.” Ben gawked as the surface changed to a high-resolution topographic map. “Everything in blue is an artificial structure. I'll change the image a bit. These are subsurface cavities. The orange ones are artificial. I'm locating all the natural resources at the same time. There is plenty of iron and aluminum along with a fair amount of rare earth minerals. Is there anything you would like to see?” asked Celeste.

Ben pondered for a moment. “Do you have any geopolitical mapping data?” 

“Yes I do, but bear in mind it's over a hundred years old,” as the overlay appeared. A low rock wall in places defined the border. Eauland had a large city near the border, and a mountain chain was off to its west. The Gaian side was mostly plains with occasional hilly areas with one large village also close to the border with hamlets scattered elsewhere. “Another thing Ben, my best estimate of the population before we left was about 4.5 million. I think the real number is now less than half of that. Something bad must have happened.”

On the Gaian side, they have some power in each of the villages, but no grid that connects them together. They may be using solar. There is some wireless communications traffic I can barely detect, can't decipher yet, and short range. On the Eauland side, they have a modest power grid, and one power generating plant near their mountains. I don't see a nuclear signature, so they must be using some sort of local fuel to run it. They have transmitters that carry vid transmissions. They have no wireless communications and a limited computer network.”

“What do you usually do now?” 

“If it appears safe, and it does, I move in closer. I can start to hear some low power communications traffic to get an idea of what is going on and what languages are being used. I'll continue to improve the mapping data, and we will be close enough to get decent photographic imagery. 

“Sounds good to me, let's do it.”

“Okay, please put your restraints back on. I have more than once been surprised by a surface-to-air missile or the ilk. They aren't fast enough to hurt me, but I might have to move quickly.” Ben was pushed slightly down into his seat, and sideways a bit, and a few minutes later Celeste said, “We are in a stationary orbit Ben, please stay seated, and we'll see if anything is going to happen. I'm continuing the mapping. It looks like the Gaian side has few roads and lots of paths. I suspect walking is the primary form of transportation. The Eaulander side has lots of roads. Transportation looks like vehicles towing trailers and closed coaches of various types.”

Ben turned to Celeste, and asked, “How many of these surveys have you done?” Celeste winced, “This is number 543.” Ben hesitantly asked, “Can I ask you how old you are?” “I'm the older women in your life Ben, the honest answer is 68 years old.” Ben sat quietly digesting this. “This must mean you have had partners before?” Celeste held up four fingers. “You know the last one was murdered. The first two didn't work out over time for a variety of reasons. Arthur was with me for over 50 years and passed away. It hurt badly and I mostly, but never completely got over it. I gave them all my  best, and I will always do this for you.” Ben smiled back,  I will always do the same.”

“What do you think we should do now Ben?” He studied the slowly spinning globe in front of him. “Can we zoom in on the border a bit. Do you see the two capitals, Veneration and Mathara?” 

Celeste lit the cities up. “These two?” 

“Yes, can you zoom in on that place between them where that long section of the rock wall border is missing?” “

Here?” said Celeste where a spot became highlighted and closer. “That's the place. Maybe we can wait until dark and land exactly on the border there. This might be as close as we can get to neutral territory and still be accessible to both groups. It also may avoid any issues with appearing to favor one side over the other and give us the opportunity to judge how they interact with both us and each other. Then we'll just wait and see what happens in the morning.” “That's an excellent idea, let's do it.” 

Three hours later in the darkness, the ship gracefully arced downward, settled in a grassy field and powered down. Again that night Ben briefly awoke. Turning his head, he saw Celeste in her pajamas laying next to him with her back to him. Using a pillow, he encircled her waist with his arm and closed his eyes.