Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey

by Jennifer Hor

Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey

"Do you think that just this once we can complete a mission on schedule with no mishaps or errors?" Nuk glanced quickly at Kol who was calculating the co-ordinates for the little pod's lift-off from the Mothership's launch platform. The co-pilot was muttering to herself. " ... yes, yes, it's one-three, then one-two ... we have lift-off! Lift-off! Vroooom! ... Did you say something, Nuk? An error? Since when do I make errors? If you're still upset about that accident on our last mission for Captain Tay when we crashed into the boulder and the pod had to be junked – well, that was due to atmospheric turbulence caused by an unexpected flare from the planet Uk-chay's sun. Nothing to do with me in other words!" Kol studied the flashing lights on the console as if entranced. Nuk was unable to see if Kol's expression had changed. The pilot politely cleared her throat so the raspy sound more or less blended in with the background hum of the fuel cells. "I wasn't blaming anyone or anything", she replied at last, remembering the details of the crash into the boulder. Kol had transposed two minor figures when setting the landing co-ordinates so the area where they were supposed to have landed had actually been on the opposite side of the planet to where they did land. As a result of the crash and the pod's destruction, the two travellers had missed observing and recording a unique alignment of five planets in that particular star system, an event that would never occur again. Nuk felt her ear tips twitch and tingle with the pain of a thousand tiny needles at the memory. "I was just thinking, Kol, that perhaps we should concentrate more on what we do, think about why we do things the way we do them and be mindful of the consequences, rather than try to cram everything and more into our schedules just because we might get paid more that way. Our assignments are never that straightforward and there are always risks in what we undertake, risks that might endanger our lives for one thing ..." "Well we have the training and the experience and Captain Tay knows that there'll be problems and unexpected mishaps." Kol peered sideways at Nuk. "When you say we should be mindful of the consequences, are you thinking of things one of us has done or not done which the other should've foreseen and pre-empted? As in something I've done or not done or ignored that you should have warned me about before I actually went ahead and made the decision?" Nuk looked down at Kol's console as if embarrassed but leaned over suddenly to press a square pad flashing red. Immediately the screens around them exploded into animation to show views of the stars and galaxies around them. Waves of electromagnetic radiation danced around one large planet on the left-hand side of screens. "Whew! That planet was very close! Did you say something I should've foreseen or which YOU should've foreseen?" "I'm not entering into any arguments on this trip", Kol muttered, her face turning mauve and pink all over. She glanced at a yellow light on Nuk's consoled that began to beep. "Oh, uh ... what is that light telling us, Nuk?" It was Nuk's turn to change face colour. "Oh, of course, I, uh ... I had better check all the entry and exit points are sealed properly, hadn't I?"

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Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey
by Jennifer Hor

After those hiccups, the assignment continued with no further problems. But as Nuk reflected later, it shouldn't have caused any problems: it was in its own way a routine assignment of the kind she or Kol could have done with just a junior level officer to assist. They only had to deliver supplies to a space station orbiting a rocky planet in the Agul star system and take back some mineral and soil samples to the Mothership for more refined analysis. The path taken had been straightforward and easy: there had been no crossing of comet or meteor paths and maps showed that solar flares and winds affected the region only once in 500 zel. Stray cosmic debris was scooped up by the Agul star's gravitational field or the gravitational fields of the two gas planets in the middle of the system and the space station's orbit took it far from any of these bodies. It was no great achievement for both her and Kol to have reached the space station and exchanged supplies for the geological material without incident. And flying back to the Mothership – why she or Kol could do it alone with the screens done! At least there hadn't been an argument between her and Kol on their way to the space station. The whole time had been spent in silence with both of them absorbed in carrying out their allotted tasks, mindful that everything they were doing was for the greater glory of Queen Zuba and their species: not teamwork, true, but a start in that direction. After eight assignments together, it was about time! With the samples packed and labelled and everything put away in specially sealed compartments in the pod, all formal sign-offs and conclusions completed, and seeing that Kol was hell-bent on making the most of her limited free time catching up on news and drinking with an old sister on the space station, Nuk decided to put in the report to Captain Tay. After spending some time composing the report (well, it only had to be a few lines), she took out the communicator from within the chair-rest and turned it on. The tiny screen flickered into life to reveal Shul's face and a thin crackle emanated from the side of the device: "Contact with Spacepod Chak-Nuk-Kol established, this is Officer Shul, please identify yourselves and your business." Just like an unthinking shell after the chrysalis has gone, Nuk thought, this Shul is fit only to take orders. Wouldn't she know by now what Chak-Nuk-Kol means and what the current "business" is? Still, Nuk gave her identification details, the pod's location and the identity code of their assignment and the bureaucrat unblinkingly transferred all the details to Captain Tay. The tiny screen quickly mutated from Shul's bland pink features to Captain Tay's familiar long face with the bulbous and prominently veined proboscis. "Captain Tay to Comrade Nuk", the device now squeaked, "you wish to file a report to me now?" "Comrade Nuk to Captain Tay", Nuk replied, "I report that we, Comrade Nuk and Comrade Kol, have delivered the equipment and replacement fuel cells to our sisters in Space Station LLXZaril orbiting Planet AA6 in the Agul star system, and have received the mineral and soil samples from the Plain of Zovil in the northern hemisphere's sub-equatorial zone of Planet AA6. This is known in some chronicles as the location of the site of pilgrimage Hestil in which place an army of Gonula warriors was blasted by a ray of light into ashes because they had failed to enact a ritual promising the right of first possession to their Supreme Deity before sacking the city of Donush and putting all its inhabitants to the sword. There are those who say the occurrence was an unfortunate coincidence of a solar flare meeting a chunk of asteroid at the precise moment and location where a hole in the planet's protective cloud layers had opened as a result of volcanic activity not long before Donush's destruction." (Nuk new that Captain Tay had a personal interest in lost civilisations and peoples on other planets.) "We, Comrade Nuk and Comrade Kol, await your further orders."
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Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey
by Jennifer Hor

"Any damage or unusual incidents to report, Comrade Nuk?" "I'm pleased to report non whatsoever, Captain Tay." "I beg your pardon?" "None whatsoever, Captain." "Well – that's truly unbelievable! Well done!" "I know." Nuk couldn't help feeling smug. "We'll definitely be returning with a clean damages log for once!" "This'll be something to report back to the Hierarchy. After eight assignments, you and Kol are finally working together. Where's Comrade Kol, is she with you?" "Uh – she's checking the pod's fuel cells, uh ..." "Ah, don't bother her! You may convey my congratulations on a successful assignment. It is a fairly routine assignment as we all know but even every simple job well done is a boost to our mission. We'll hold a little celebration for you both on your return. By the way, when you return to the Mothership, the Hierarchy has one more assignment for you both but we'll put that on hold after the celebration and after you've compiled your final report." "So there is another assignment for us both?" "Yes, yes, but that's not urgent. After Comrade Kol has finished checking the fuel cells, please convey my congratulations on a job well done to her and prepare to return to the Mothership as soon as you can." "Yes, of course, Captain." "Anything more you wish to say, Comrade Nuk?" "Well, Captain – there is only one thing I want to speak about which is unrelated to this assignment and that is the issue of the back pay owing to us, Comrade Nuk and Comrade Kol, from the business of collecting those Edoran ambassadors in the Azu star system and returning them back to their own quadrant. Has Comrade Tos heard anything more about the debt the Edorans owe us? How is the case proceeding?" They spoke at length about the suit that had been lodged by Tos at the tribunal. The captain was forced to admit that the suit had progressed very little since its lodgement despite Tos's regular queries posted to the tribunal. Every answer Tos received was the same vague and evasive standard reply. The sort of reply you'd get from a non-entity like Officer Shul, Nuk thought. "... that's all Comrade Tos has been able to find so far. We could ask her to resubmit your application for a hearing on an urgent basis with another judge but you know what these tribunal officers are like – they'll demand that you and Comrade Kol work on yet another mission together as further proof that you're capable of working together and only then they might accept the details of your Edoran assignment as plausible. Then they'll want to see three-dimensional, fourdimensional proof and in ultraviolet light as well ... Comrade Kol should have been hearing all of this. It doesn't take her that long to check the fuel cells, does it?" Nuk looked around the capsule. "Maybe she's refilling some of them."

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Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey
by Jennifer Hor

"Amazing. She's not usually that careful. But I'm pleased that she's making an extra effort. Anything else you wish to discuss?" "Nothing more, Captain." "This is the end of our transmission then, Comrade Nuk. We're all expecting you back soon. Please confirm End of Transmission." "Confirm End of Transmission, Captain Tay." They tabbed in the necessary codes, the screen went black and the communicator stopped its crispy noise. Needs fixing, Nuk decided. She closed the device and returned it to its niche in the chair-rest. She opened the pod's log to record that the communicator needed a service check and possible repair. Now it was time to get Kol back to the pod. Should she take a stun-gun in case? At that moment, there was a loud THUMP outside the pod's exit door. Nuk opened the window of the door. She couldn't see anyone outside so she pressed a switch and the door became transparent. On the other side there was a ghostly image of Kol in a heap, moving her limbs slowly as though in a drugged state. The stun-gun was not needed so Nuk put it away and went back to the door to open it. It slid back into a hinge noiselessly and Nuk helped Kol to her feet. Kol looked up and blinked several times. She managed to step over the threshold before slipping out of Nuk's arms and collapsing on the floor again. "Are you all right, Kol? Do you need something to clear your head?" "Eh? Me? Do I what? Of course I'm all right! I'm fine, I'm fine, I am just fi-i-ine!" Kol lifted her head and stared around her. "Wassup? What's going on? What's this place? Do I know you? How'd you get here?" She tried to get up again but couldn't. Nuk had to drag her to her seat and lift her heavy weight into it. As soon as Kol felt the soft material at her back and under her haunches, she curled up into a ball. "Now Kol, try to concentrate. I've spoken to Captain Tay about what we've done and she sends her congratulations to us. Now she wants us to return to the Mothershop as soon as we can. Are you listening?" "Captain Tay? Duh ... she's got more dirty jobs for us? Oh ... yippee", Kol slurred. A loud hiccup burst from her mouth and her whole body convulsed. "There's just one more assignment we have to do together. Then we can go on holidays. And then there's the issue about our pay ..." "What?!" Amazing how quickly Kol sobered up when it comes to the question of work and pay, Nuk thought. " 'Just one more assignment', did you say? The captain says we have to do another assignment? Damn that piece of slime! And you accepted?!" "Calm down, Kol. It wasn't my decision to accept. These assignments are foisted on us by the Hierarchy. The captain has no say either. Come on, you need a rest. We'll start the pod when you're better. You don't look at all well." "I'm all right! I don't need a rest to get the pod going. Watch this!" Kol stretched out her hand to the console and with a speed that defied all the known laws of physics – at the very least, Nuk could have sworn that the time indicators on the console slowed down – she flipped switches, flicked toggles and pressed pads and tabs. "Da-daah! All done! All cor-ordinates are set to take us

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Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey
by Jennifer Hor

back to the Mothership in a few moments. Let's get ready for take-off! Onwards and upwards to our new mission for the glory of the Hierarchy and the Queen!" "What?! Are you sure you've set the co-ordinates right? According to Captain Tay, this is only the second time you've been in this sector of the galaxy! How did you know what to do?" "Relax, comrade, my sister Kek lives here, why'd you think I spent extra time in the space station? It's not like the place has excellent food and drink and riveting entertainment. Kek told me the quickest and easiest way to get out of this galaxy and back to the quadrant where tne Mothership is located. I just memorised the co-ordinates. It's not so hard to learn, you just flick this switch here, see, one-one-three ..." "All right, all right, but this star system has shifted a little since that unexpected comet shower came here half a zel ago, did you factor that in?" "Come on, the shift wasn't that great, only a couple of small satellites around one planet were affected! Their orbits went wobbly and then settled into new, slightly longer rotations. The inhabitants of that planet will just have to cope with new morning, midday, mid-afternoon and three nightly tidal changes in the oceans. The information I keyed in is still relevant. Fret not! The responsibility's mine if we have a collision but that's not likely. Strap yourself in! I can hear the pod starting to vibrate. Vroom, vroom, vroom! Here we go!" The pod was vibrating ever faster, Kol and Nuk quickly prepared the pod for take-off, sealing all entry and exit points, and then strapped themselves into their seats. The pod began to float and then picked up speed (too quickly, Nuk thought). The space station's protective carapaces opened up to allow the pod to launch itself into space. Once the launch phase was over, the journey back to the Mothership became smooth, so smooth indeed that everything within the pod stopped shaking. Maybe Kol is right after all, Nuk thought, she's been out here once before and her sister lives here so she's probably passing a lot of information about this Agul star system to Kol during their personal communications. This is my first trip out here after all. We're on schedule anyway and might even get back a little early. At that moment Nuk's side of the pod juddered suddenly. "Ouch! What was that? Kol, did you feel that too?" "Hey? I didn't notice anything." Kol yawned and Nuk realised she'd been asleep. "I felt a sudden thump. Now it's gone. Something must have struck the pod quickly and flew away." "You're just nervous. You still don't trust me to have keyed in those co-ordinates that Kek gave me. So they're a little different from what Officer Shul gave us. Do you trust that half-wit? Of course you don't. She's nothing more than a chrysalis left behind. The spirit's gone but the body doesn't realise it. By Queen Zuba's sceptre, this is our ninth or tenth mission together and we still don't trust each other." Kol paused. "Ah well, what the heck ... one more job together and I'll definitely be asking for a transfer." "Hey, Kol, this isn't a matter of trust, this is a matter of perception, nothing to do with trust at all. I actually did feel a jolt. I'm sure something hit the pod on the other side of this part of the ceiling here." Nuk pointed to a spot between the top of the screen and the emergency escape above her head. Both she and Kol scrutinised the area where the pod had supposedly been hit. Kol sniffed the spot with her proboscis uncurled.
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Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey
by Jennifer Hor

"Can't smell anything unusual, no post-shock effect at all", she said. Nuk strained to sniff the air near the spot. One of her ears flopped onto her forehead as if from the effort of sniffing. "I definitely did feel something from there, a strange sudden jolt. My extremities are still a bit tingly as if they're remembering an after-shock effect." "Nerves, nerves, nerves. Nothing out of the ordinary has occurred, we're still on schedule, we may yet have a clean record but we've still got several hundred turga to travel yet." "The body doesn't lie", Nuk muttered but already Kol was settling back into her seat with her ears flopped over her forehead. After this incident, neither of them spoke again until the pod reached the Mothership and Nuk had to wake up Kol to steer the pod back inside the station's huge maw properly.

"This is a surprise!" Captain Tay said when Kol and Nuk eventually emerged from the pod, "congratulations on a perfectly executed mission! The pod's back on time for once and without damage!" "We've brought the samples undamaged too", Kol added, holding up the containers. The captain took hold of the containers with their individual compartments stacked on top and around one another, all clamped together, and put them on a nearby trolley. She looked over them for a short time before the trolley was pulled away on its magnetic track to be sent to the laboratories. "Good work! Everything all labelled properly. Comrades Nuk and Kol, you've done well." While the captain started taking the crew away, all the time explaining what was happening with the back pay issue with Kol and Nuk, various automatons surrounded the pod to clean and prepare it for its next mission. One clicking machine ran a scanner over the top of the pod and immediately registered an irregular depression. The scanner began beeping loudly, so loudly that the other automatons stopped their activity and retreated some distance away from the pod, and Captain Tay turned around in surprise at the machines' sudden jerky movements. "What's the problem?" she demanded. "The scanner has noted an indentation on the surface of this craft which may have resulted from impact with a small alien body", the automaton intoned softly and flatly. The captain, Kol and Nuk went over to the pod to inspect the problem. "Ah! I told you, Kol, that I did feel that vibration coming from this side of the pod", Nuk cried, "but you wouldn't believe me!" "The indentation is very slight", the automaton intoned, "so anyone asleep in the craft might not have felt it." "With the way the pod was constructed, the vibration wouldn't necessarily travel to all parts of the craft", the captain added, "so it's likely that the impact wouldn't have been felt by one of the crew if she were sitting on the side opposite to where the impact was made." "The flight recorded may have recorded the impact", the automaton said and went inside the pod to search for it. "Flight recorder?" Kol and Nuk gasped.

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Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey
by Jennifer Hor

"Yes, there is a flight recorder now installed under the co-pilot's seat", the captain said, "it's now compulsory to install recorders on all craft assigned to missions." "So I was sitting on top of a recorder the whole time?" Nuk yelped. She turned to Nuk. "You knew too, didn't you?" "No, I didn't", Nuk replied angrily, "I've already had to put up with your idiotic behaviour over the past nine missions and I'm in no mood to endure any paranoia from you so why don't you just SHUT UP!" Kol's face turned a deep purple-blue and the captain pushed them apart. "No argument!" Captain Tay said sharply, "it was the Hierarchy's decision to outfit the pod with a flight recorder and to not notify you both in case one of you tried to sabotage it. Fortunately the thing's installed in such a way that you'd have to rip the entire seat apart to get at it unless you've got the key and the password and only the automatons have those. No complaints, no whining! Am I understood?" The captain looked at Kol so pointedly that Kol stepped back a couple of paces automatically. Nuk gulped and nodded. "Good. Now did you notice any unusual phenomena such as a meteorite shower or unexpected bursts of radiation or electrical energy during your journey?" "No, not that I can think of apart from that vibration I told you about", Nuk said. "The sector of space we passed through is stable and quiet with regard to cosmic activity", Kol muttered. "So you shouldn't have encountered any unusual cosmic phenomena?" the captain asked. "Not at all", Kol said. In the meantime the automaton had located the flight recorder in the pod, retrieved it and come out, waving the small cylindrical object with a triumphant air. "I have perused the information already", the machine whistled, "no actual impact in terms of changes in vibration within the pod was recorded. It would seem any impact that caused the indentation was light and quick. The pod does not appear damaged in any other way." "So the thing, whatever it was, just touched the pod and went on its way." Kol sniffed and shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing to worry about." "But it must have been travelling at tremendous speed to make an indentation like that and vibrate my side of the craft", Nuk said, "so maybe if the flight recorder had been sitting on my side of the pod, it would have registered the collision." "Well it didn't so end of story', Kol shot back. "Not the end of story", Nuk persisted, "the thing is, what kind of cosmic object makes an impact like that?" "Oh, still carrying on", Kol complained. "The two of you, stop that sniping!" Captain Tay warned, "or I'll cut you both off." "But she started first –", Kol began. "No, she started –", Nuk cut in. "Enough!" Captain Tay snapped her fingers in front of both Nuk and Kol, releasing a fine gas from the rings on her second and third digits over the crew's probosces. The two immediately
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Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey
by Jennifer Hor

went purple in the face, their ears stood up stiffly on their heads and their probosces inflated hugely. Kol touched hers with her fingers and they immediately went rigid and numb. All Nuk and Kol could do was stand as if rooted to the floor and look ridiculous. The odour paralysed their larynxes so they couldn't speak at all though they could still breathe normally. "Now that's good", Captain Tay said after the smell had wafted away, "you'll stay like that for the rest of the day. What a pity you won't be able to make any speeches at the celebration tonight. You'll just sit or stand around looking startled." "May I interrupt", the automaton said, "the other automata are waiting to prepare the pod for cleaning and maintenance. Would the captain and the two crew members be so obliging as to move and allow the work to proceed?" "Oh, of course! We'll move away!" the captain said. She took the flight recorder from the automaton and led the mismatched pair away. Once they were gone, the other machines quickly moved the pod to a decontamination bay. The effects of the spray on Kol and Nuk were long-lasting, Captain Tay having snapped her fingers hard. Both could barely consume the delicious foods and drinks set down before them – their lips were so numb – and Kol could not even hold anything but had to be fed by a waiter. In the visuals recording the event, the expressions on both their faces were so frozen and the rictus on Kol's face so terrifying to behold that when Captain Tay offered them copies of the recording to send to their families, they both declined.

The meteorite that had struck the pod on its way back to the Mothership and caused the vibrations felt by Nuk split into several smaller pieces that all spun away at high speeds in different directions. Most of these fragments are still travelling the cosmos at this time of reporting, and these will travel forever. Except for three pieces. One piece struck a comet, knocking it out of its usual orbit and sending it into a death spiral around a binary star pair. In about ten thousand zel, equivalent to twenty thousand revolutions made by our planet Earth around its sun, the comet will be swallowed by the larger star and surface solar activity will increase. Unusually large solar flares will leap into space and the sector in which this binary pair is located will become hazardous for travel. A second fragment joined a large meteor which then slammed into a planet in a different star system. The planet broke up to form a ring of fragments around its star. Some of these fragments have started to stream into the gravitational field of a nearby large planet to form a thin ring. The unusual spiral, near perfect in its shape, has attracted many observers from across the universe, so much so that a space station was established purely for the purpose of observing and recording the activity within the spiral, and attracts twice as many curious tourists as it does astronomers and planetologists. A third piece deflected a meteor into yet another star system, this one being in its birth throes. Alien microbes within the meteor when it collided and fused with a newborn planet found the subterranean high-pressure conditions to their liking and eventually spread throughout the planet's lithosphere. In time the microbes would venture onto the planet's surface and the products of their metabolisms would change the planet's atmosphere, allowing oxygen to develop, and permit oceans to form and cover the planet's surface.
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Kol and Nuk's Nearly Perfect Journey
by Jennifer Hor

No doubt if Nuk had known of these and other consequences of the pod's collision with the meteorite, she would have a good case to get Kol reported for drunken behaviour and carelessness with the result that Kol would be thrown off future missions and the two would never travel together again. But these events would occur far in the future, too far to benefit Nuk's career, and so her fractious partnership with Kol continued.

END

Approximately 4,700 words

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