Chapter 10 Pastoral inbound

“Ben, we are going to transition shortly. Would you please put your restraints on including your shoulder straps and snug them up, please. I may have to do some abrupt maneuvering as we approach Pastoral.” Ben pensively strapped in, and said, “I'm good to go.” “Don't be nervous Ben, we are going to be a good distance away from Pastoral when we pop out into normal space. Thirty seconds Ben” Celeste stated, and then Ben felt his guts twisting, and a moment of weightlessness passed. Vids went from gray to showing a view of Pastoral below them. Mechanically Celeste went into a dialog for Ben. “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 uplink, and still operational. No apparent communications traffic. Downloading its memory. You never know what you will find. Revising its 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 in her orange work jumpsuit and sat down next to Ben and said, “You can take off the restraints Ben, can I show off a bit?” “Sure,” Ben said, “Show me what you can do.” A large sphere appeared in the cabin slowly rotating in front of them with swaths of photographic like maps appearing on its surface. “I'm mapping the surface and this will take a bit of time to complete. The maps are layered. There are camera images, microwave surface radar, infrared, electromagnetic sources and many others. Watch this Ben.” Ben gawked as the surface changed to a high resolution topographic map in gray with lots of blue colors mixed in. “Everything in blue is an artificial structure. I'll change the image a bit. These are subsurface cavities. The orange ones are artificial, all the green ones are natural like caves and sinkholes. I'm locating all the natural resources at the same time. There is a lot of both 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 and inquired. “Do you have any geopolitical mapping data, Celeste?” “Yes I do, but bear in mind it's well over a hundred years old.” as the overlay appeared. A map of the continent showed the two lands and their primary cities. The Eaulander side was bordered on one side by a mountain chain with one large city near the border that was its capital and dozens of smaller ones in the outlying areas. A few tiny ones were in the mountain valleys. A low rock wall in places appeared to defined parts of the border. The Gaian side was mostly plains with occasional hilly areas with one medium-sized city that was their capital near the border along with what looked like about 100 small villages scattered across the country. “Another thing of note here Ben, my best estimate of the population before we left was about 4.5 million. I think the real number is less than half of that. Something must have happened.”

“This is interesting Ben, I'm overlaying what power sources I can find. On the Gaian side, they have some power in each of the villages, but there is no grid that connects them together. The same thing with communications. They may be using solar power. There is some wireless communications traffic that I can barely detect and can't decipher yet but none powerful enough to reach more than maybe seventy-five miles at the maximum. On the Eauland side, they have a modest power grid and it appears there is one large 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. Unlike the Gaians, they have some powerful transmitters that carry vid like transmissions but using fairly low tech. They have limited low power wireless communications and computer network transmissions.”

“What do you usually do now Celeste,” asked Ben. “Typically If it appears safe, and it does, I move to an orbit about 100 klicks out. From there 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 can also improve the mapping data, and we will be close enough to get decent imagery. I will be able to resolve individual people in the open, and I can do a current population estimate.”

“Sounds good to me Celeste, let's do it,” said Ben. Celeste glanced at Ben and said “Okay Ben, and 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 going to continue the mapping. It looks like the Gaian side has very 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 twitched slightly and said, “This is number 943.” Ben hesitantly asked, “Celeste can I ask you how old you are?” Celeste paused for a few seconds and said, “I'm the older women in your life Ben, the honest answer is 62 years old.” Ben sat quietly digesting this. “This must mean you have had many partners before” he murmured. Celeste looked back at Ben and held up three fingers. “You know the last one was murdered. The first didn't work out over time for a variety of reasons, and one was with me for over 40 years and passed away. It really hurt badly and it took a long time for me to mostly, but never quite get over it. I gave them my very best, and I will do the same for you.” Ben smiled back at Celeste and simply said, “I will do the same for you.”

“What do you think we should do now Ben?” asked Celeste. Ben studied the slowly spinning globe in front of him. “Celeste 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 Ben?” inquired Celeste. “Yes,” said Ben. “Can you zoom in on that place between them where that big section of the rock wall border is missing?” “Here?” said Celeste where a spot became highlighted and closer. “That's the place, Celeste. Maybe we can wait until dark and land exactly on the border there. It 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 Ben, let's do it,” said Celeste.

Three hours later in the night the ship gracefully curved downward, settled in a grassy field and powered down. Again that night Ben briefly awoke. Turning his head he saw Celeste wearing pajamas laying next to him with her back to him. Taking a pillow he gently set it next to him. He put his arm around both her and the pillow and thought maybe he heard a small sigh as drifted back to sleep.