Westward’s command deck was divided between two large offices, one for Captain Carter and the other for the Chief of Operations. A quick glance to either side through their glass walls satisfied Lamont that both, as usual, were unoccupied. The chief was doubtlessly patrolling the control deck, the expansive brains of the vessel located on the opposite side of the hall behind him. The captain was in his habitual spot, standing with folded arms in front of the low observation bench in front of the deck’s central control console. From here, he had an unobstructed view of the deck’s wide transparent front, and immediate access to the pair of technicians who manned the complex console.
Alerted to Lamont’s arrival by a quiet ping from the automatic doors, Carter looked over his shoulder at the newspaperman and gave him a nod before returning his attention to the magnificent view of the planet. His eyes were wide and sparkling. The lights on the deck had been dimmed to allow the natural reflected light from the world’s surface to dominate. Making his way around the console, Lamont nearly brushed shoulders with Rex, who was perched above his seat as his fingers flew across the complex electronic board.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Captain Carter remarked as Lamont stopped beside him.
“What’s it called?” Lamont asked, lifting his recorder.
Francis shrugged. “The Martian navigational charts don’t have names, just numbers. Unique identifiers corresponding to the planet’s coordinates in regard to the galactic center and distance from their parent star. It will be up to us to name her.”
“Up to you?” Lamont asked.
Francis smiled. “I have a say.”
Lamont turned his eyes to trace the outline of a large continent that was slowly emerging from the deep black crescent of the planet’s shadow. The dominating color was a brown-red, but sprinkled with large patches of blue-green. He thought of the dramatic features that Carter might have observed as he led a string of pioneering expeditions through the Solar system in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. The great dark eye of Venus, the knife-edged rings of Saturn; even the remarkable featurelesness of Neptune. What would Francis have named those worlds if they hadn’t been already?
“What will you propose?” Lamont persisted, gesturing to his recorder. “I have to call it something, even if it gets edited later.”
“At the moment,” Francis answered, lifting his chin thoughtfully, “I would suggest Epiphany.”
In his peripheral vision, Lamont noticed the surprised flash of Abigail Bishop’s dark eyes from her station on the right side of the console.
“Interesting,” Said Lamont, quickly tapping a few keys on his recorder. “I look forward to that discussion.”
“It makes sense, doesn’t it?” Francis asked, his tone betraying a hint of defensiveness. “There was a time when the word meant something good.”
“There was a time,” Lamont acknowledged impassively.
“Think of it,” Carter continued, gazing at the planet. “Here we are, on the eve of the 50th anniversary, striding boldly into the future of our species. A future in which we can no longer be threatened by a single cataclysmic event. When historians look back at us, they’ll see that the moment that nearly wiped us out was in fact the catalyst to our immortality.”
Lamont got the distinct impression that Carter was no longer speaking to him. It sounded more as if he was rehearsing some future speech. Dutifully, he tapped the captain’s words in shorthand before lowering his recorder to glance at the two technicians behind them. Both were staring fixedly at their instruments, Bishop with a sort of tense determination and Rex, apparently, out of genuine indifference to anything except his work. A moment later, the young man gave a satisfied grin and finally lowered himself fully into his seat.
“We’re ready, sir,” Rex said, looking up at the captain. “Control has given the greenlight to begin orbital maneuvers.”
“Excellent,” said Carter, snapped from his reverie. He looked over his right shoulder. “Bishop, anything we should know about?”
Abigail, who was holding the earpiece of a headset against one ear, shook her head. “I don’t think so, sir. The closer we get, the louder I’m hearing a sort of ambient static at high frequencies, approaching infrared. But nothing indicates a structured radio signal.”
Carter nodded, unfolding his arms and settling onto the bench that was molded from the front of the console. He crossed one leg over the other and folded his hands on his knees. “Very well,” he said. “Signal Control that we’re ready to initiate a survey orbit.”