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Chapter 3 Main Chapters Chapter 5

Chapter 4

The next few hours were rather anticlimactic. They had appeared where they had expected to, but couldn't assume that all was well. Now, everyone was running diagnostic tests to ensure that all actually was well. Dr. Hayase, Dr. Sanada, and Dr. Rara were running dimensional tests to ensure that they hadn't traveled millions of years into the future or appeared in a different, parallel universe. Dr. Warai, Slade, and the maintenance crews were examining the ship to ensure that it was still intact and all its systems were operational. The pilots of the combat mecha were assisting in this process by performing spacewalks via their robots, checking the exterior of the ship for mysterious cracks or alien remoras. Mrs. Nanjyoin, Akane, and Ayuko coordinated all the operations from the now-lonely bridge.

Kazuki carefully moved Zinv around the hull, using the thrusters on Zinv's backpack instead of legs. He knew he had to concentrate, but somehow he couldn't stop thinking about all the bouquets. How long would he have to satisfy all four of their egos? Why were these fights always breaking out among them? Kazuki hadn't asked for any of the circumstances that had brought them together. Why did they always blame him for any perceived slight against them that was really just an accident?

He was being unfair, Kazuki reminded himself. Usually they got along very well. Also, he had very specifically chosen for all of them to be together, and to be doing what they were right now. Last time they had made a new universe, all of them had agreed that they wanted to be together too, or else they wouldn't be here right now. It was just hard sometimes. Actually, during some of the calmer times was when he most doubted his choices. When everything was as normal as it ever got, he wondered if it was really best for the people he cared about to be together like this. Maybe it was selfish and cruel of him to keep everyone close all the time. Was it really best for everyone to be stuck together forever? They never got to experience a normal life, normal pleasures or responsibilities, when everyone stayed together in the way he and Zinv enjoyed.

It would also make mealtimes a more comfortable experience if he inhabited a normal household.

How could he know what was best? The simple answer was how happy they seemed to be, but that might not tell the whole story. Of course living this way made him happy, and everyone else claimed to be happy to be together like this. What if there was more fulfillment than their current living situation afforded them? What if it were denying the others some opportunity to grow, or become even more happy? Had he denied them that opportunity every time he had asked Zinv to modify the world?

Zinv, as Kazuki knew through their telepathic bond, shared this confusion. This was a question whose answer Zinv did not know either.

Dr. Warai wasn't quite sure how to phrase his question. Slade had only told him once about what he had done in the other world. The doctor did know he'd be keeping his voice down.

"I never got to ask you," he murmured to Slade as they looked over technical readouts, "just why you didn't want the low-powered Himc to be made, or why you didn't want to pilot it."

Slade shrugged, and replied in a similar murmur, "I just prefer the full power of my little uberweapon. Despite everything."

Dr. Warai wasn't sure that was the answer he wanted; it made him terribly uneasy. Neither of them wanted to continue this conversation.

Finally, the checks were all complete; all was well with the vessel. The navigational information was entered again, and the Voyageur's engines were engaged. In the next blink of an eye, they appeared just outside the orbit of the planet Loki. A bright star shone in the viewscreen of the bridge. From their point of view, the star was partially eclipsed by Loki.

"Say hello to Imanuel, everyone," Dr. Warai said breezily. "It'll be our sun for the next month."

Dr. Sanada suggested, "We'd better steer this thing into Loki's orbit proper so we can begin the exploration."

"Right," Dr. Rara agreed. "I'm putting the navigational information through now."

"Thanks," Dr. Sanada said easily, then exclaimed, "What! We can't go in like that! We need a polar orbit first!"

"I thought we wanted to go for geostationary orbit first," Dr. Rara said defensively.

"Then maybe you could've brought it up when we were planning the trip!" Dr. Sanada was incredulous.

"Mrs. Nanjyoin, please call up the meeting minutes," Dr. Rara insisted. "I did suggest that when we were planning this."

"I'm afraid I can't do that," she said equitably, "I'm still logged into communications. We'd have to wait several minutes for me to access the meeting minutes."

Mitsuki Sanada was irritated. "Just make a decision now! Every minute we wait, we drift further in the gravitational field, making it harder for us to take any action!"

"Kent, don't you have that on your PDA?" his wife asked.

Kent fiddled with his PDA, gesturing rapidly to command it, juggling work schedules. "No, I don't have the minutes, but the work schedules clearly indicate we go into a low orbit first."

"It's not a low orbit first!" Dr. Rara and Dr. Sanada insisted.

Akane asserted, "I have access to the meeting minutes right now, and it is a low orbit first."

"Well, we ought to change it to polar first!" Dr. Sanada decided.

D yawned. Alice complained, "This is boring. Are we actually going to do something now that we're on the final frontier?"

Kazuki suggested, "Why don't we at least concentrate on moving towards the planet for now?"

"But what orbit are we going to put it in?" Dr. Rara asked.

"Let's put it to a vote," Ayuko suggested.

Dr. Warai harrumphed. "When this expedition is over, I'll tell the reporters, 'The best part about this expedition was the teamwork and camaraderie we shared.'"

The view began to change as the ship began to move.

"We're moving," Yayoi noticed, accessing several sensors in an attempt to determine why. "I'm hoping that we're firing our engines? I'm only hooked into sensors."

"Of course we're moving," Dr. Sanada said. "After all, we're going into a low orbit now, aren't we?"

"Right," Dr. Rara agreed. "Of course that's what we're doing."

Kazuki suggested tightly, "Right. Why don't we all go over what we're doing again?"

"There's no need," Dr. Sanada waved it off.

"We remember the plan," Dr. Rara assured him.

Akane ignored them and read off the final plan of the mission. The first phase was one that they were able to accomplish relatively quickly. The Voyageur moved into the low orbit, and using its telescopes and equipment, surveyed large areas of Loki. It was, as expected, a planet with an iron core, relatively close to the size and gravity of Earth, with a slightly thinner atmosphere. As anticipated, it was incapable of supporting human beings. There was no sign of life, intelligent or otherwise.

Mitsuki Rara mentioned to D, "This is the part you get to do."

"This is the fun part for me," D smiled.

"Yes, if you would please, D," Dr. Sanada smiled at her. "Do it now."

D accessed her control system and released several satellite probes, which would orbit the planet. Some of them fired their own rockets to place them in different orbits, so there would be many points of view. Mrs. Nanjyoin confirmed that all of the satellites were communicating with the Voyageur.

Dr. Rara said, "All the atmospheric conditions are as we expected. Let's go ahead and send the other probes."

Mitsuki Rara and Sanada, as well as Mits, released aerial rovers and landbound probes to further explore the planet. The land rovers were concentrated in areas that they did not anticipate human explorers would have time to reach this mission. Many of the aerial rovers surveyed the areas where the expedition was preparing to send humans. The vast multitude of data now being received meant that Yayoi, Dr. Hayase, and Dr. Rara and Dr. Sanada were quite occupied in sifting through it. The Mitsukis, D, and the bodyguard trio, were occupied in directly controlling several of the probes.

Slade drummed his fingers on the armrest of his chair as he looked at the power flow aboard the Voyageur. "Dr. Warai, any idea what could be causing this fluctuation?"

Dr. Warai looked at the information Slade had just sent him. "Yes, it looks like something's draining the energy. Have you shut down the backup antennae systems?"

"Twice." Slade affirmed.

Dr. Warai and Slade thought for a moment.

"It's time to move into geostationary orbit," Akane offered.

"Of course, my dear," Dr. Sanada agreed.

Ayuko had been handling intership communications, and had been speaking in a low voice for large portions of the past few hours. Now she spoke up and said, "The crew is requesting some more time before we change orbits. They need some more time to prepare things and stow their equipment."

"A reasonable request," Mrs. Nanjyoin mused. Dr. Sanada nodded, "Sure, as long as it doesn't take too long."

Dr. Warai finally told Slade, "I don't know what it could be, and- it's going away now."

A few minutes later, Ayuko exchanged a few murmured words with the crew, and announced that everyone aboard was prepared. The orbit was changed.

Kazuki held his excitement in check. It was almost time now. As soon as all of the endless scientific tests were done to ensure his safety, he would get his opportunity, and seize it.

Yayoi looked at everyone. "Any other measurements we need?" Dr. Sanada shook his head.

Dr. Hayase determined, "All the measurements indicate the ground is solid and safe."

Dr. Rara grunted. "We should go ahead and launch the habitat, right?"

The habitat was carried aboard the spaceship and would be left behind on the planet. During the mission, the expedition members visiting the planet would live there on a temporary basis. They would return to the ship after a few days to be replaced by others. At the end of the month, all the people would return to the spacecraft. All this would of course be impossible if the habitat landed on quicksand or an alien tar pit, hence the exhaustive battery of probes and sensors. Once the habitat successfully landed, then humans and their mecha could finally land on Loki.

"Oh, I don't know, only if you think so," Dr. Sanada told him.

"Well, I do think your opinion matters, even if you are stupid," Dr. Rara replied.

"Your opinion matters even though you're an idiot," Dr. Sanada replied.

Dr. Warai whined, "Mommy, make them stop being mean to each other!"

Kazuki spoke up. "Come on, guys, this is important. Can't we work together?"

Mitsuki Sanada asked, "Dad, is there any good reason we can't proceed with the mission?"

Kazuki's stomach growled. D looked at him in surprise and realized, "I guess there is one."

Mitsuki Rara gasped. "I'm so sorry. In all the excitement, I forgot it was lunchtime. I'll get you something to eat right away." She hurried off the bridge. The bodyguard trio cried, "Wait! Ms. Mitsuki!" and followed her.

"I'll help too," decided Mits, departing the bridge as well, "since everyone must need lunch by this time."

Kazuki tried again. "Hold on! I can go without lunch!"

Yayoi was also leaving the bridge. "At your age, regular meals are especially important." With that, she left.

"But we're almost ready to-" Kazuki began.

Mitsuki Sanada said firmly, "Kazuki, we'll be back soon. I'll see to it that they just make a snack. In the meantime," she pressed a button and stood up, "that should get us ready for the next phase of the mission."

Ayuko smiled disturbingly. "Mitsuki, my dear, I believe we're all hungry. We've been working for so long. A full meal for everyone would be most appropriate."

"If Kazuki gets hungry later," Mitsuki Sanada commented as she strode off the bridge, "I'm not going to listen to any complaints from him. You may, if you like."

Slade looked at his PDA. "I knew we forgot something in the scheduling. We forgot to schedule any time to eat. Glad we caught that one."

Kazuki looked around the bridge despondently and commented, "At least Mitsuki got the habitat launched."

Slade was muttering to himself. "I should start forgetting things I actually want to forget, for a change."

Dr. Sanada had finally logged into the control system Mitsuki Sanada had just been using. "That was actually the wrong control for that; she pressed the one to send some other equipment to the surface." He pulled a large lever. "There. That's released the habitat. I thought she would certainly remember it."

Chapter 3 Main Chapters Chapter 5