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discovery

To see a sunrise. That was Joah’s deepest desire. He had seen them in movies, of course. But he wanted to actually experience one. He had heard you could actually feel the warmth of a sun on your skin, but found that hard to believe.

In fact, he had given up hope long ago. As you grow up, you abandon your childish fantasies. But recently hope had been rekindled. Joah worked as a telescope operator. In fact, he has been assigned to the main array, a network of smaller telescopes.

Joah had been working on the main array for some two hundred kilo-rotations, or ‘krots’ as people called them. But he had quickly discovered that it performed only at a fraction of its potential. It must have been that way for a while, and no-one seemed to care. But Joah was a tinkerer. Working overtime, fooling around with the array, he squeezed a hundred times higher resolution out of it.

Joah’s job description was to scan for rocks that would collide with the ship’s course. But even at an improved resolution, the scans showed nothing to alarm him. They were traveling through a somewhat dense interstellar cloud, seeded by recent supernovas. That meant that the Interstellar Matter Collector was cranking. Even uranium was in abundance, so the ship has plenty of power. But the biggest space-rocks Joah found were roughly the size of a fist. Nothing to worry about, not even in the case of full frontal impact.

And so Joah started hunting for stellar eclipses, which happen when a planet crosses in the star’s line of sight. He could easily do so, as his colleagues rarely showed up for work. Nevertheless, Joah was never alone. The place was crawling with security. But these officers did not have a clue what Joah was actually doing, nor showed any interest.

The only thing that seemed to worry the officers was Joah’s tendency to work overtime. He had been questioned about it, and Joah had explained that his marriage was rocky. He did not exactly look forward to spending time at home. That was something his security-officer seemed to relate to, and it has allayed his worries.

It happened already after scanning only a few hundred stellar eclipses. Joah could not believe his eyes. He scanned the star several times. His monitor clearly showed the spectral lines of oxygen. There was no room for error. He was looking at a planet with O2 in gaseous state.

Of course, Joah knew the implications; every kid would know. Humans might be able to live on this planet. In fact, the ship’s destination planet Mundomelior was supposed to have green plants, which create oxygen for humans to breathe. But that was only a prophesy. And the ship’s clock indicated that Mundomelior in the Andromeda galaxy was still 942 megarotations away.

At nine megarots Joah was the youngest person working in the observatory. It was his first job, right out of engineering school. Even before graduating from engineering school, he had married his highschool sweetheart Tama.

The newly weds had applied for a child-license. It had been turned down. One could re-apply after three hundred krots, being the pregnancy term for a human female. They had been turned down again. And again.

The last time had been a bitter blow. By now, both spouses held jobs. Joah was even an engineer, albeit unranked. But to no avail. It was frustrating to Joah. But his wife took it harder. Tama had been growing withdrawn and depressed. Like many others, Tama’s aunt and uncle had never gotten a child-license. That prospect scared her.

And then the blame game had begun. Joah felt that Tama had settled for a menial job, cleaning officer’s apartments. That did not help. Tama had higher hopes for Joah’s career. Other graduates had gotten policy jobs at the ship’s maintenance. Some even worked at the communication and command center. All were positions with considerably more status.

Joah suspected something else. Tama’s family has been on the wrong side of the Pezik rebellion. Of course, Tama never talked about it, but it might just be that she was blacklisted. Joah did not pay much attention to politics, but even he had noticed that ideological purity was currently en vogue.

But now, Joah was staring at a planet that might be reached in a few hundred kilorotations. And if Tama and he could indeed survive on this planet, who was to stop them from having a child? Who was to stop them from having several children?

But things were not so simple. That planet was not supposed to exist. Through the ages, countless telescope operators had been looking for the spectral lines of oxygen that define an inhabitable planet. But so far, they had only been encountered in scripture and mythology. There, they were called ocips, short for Oxygen Carrying Inhabitable Planets. But while the real universe had planets in all shapes and sizes, no ocip had ever been found. And now Joah had found one after a handful of scans.

Personally, Joah found the prospect of an ocip irresistible. He would gladly volunteer to land on such a planet, even if his chances of survival were unknown. He just wanted to experience a sunrise. And he wanted a chance of having children.

But Joah was no fool. He realized that reporting his find to his superiors was not so simple. For one, Joah had gone outside his job description. What’s more, he suspected that his ocip might not be as welcome as it was supposed to be. One indication was that his colleagues’ failure to show up for work was met with impunity. Another was that no-one had been bothered by the pityful resolution of the main array.

This might be the most important moment in his life, and Joah needed more time to consider the right course of action. And so, he was forced to perjuring himself on his debriefing. His supervisor, a rank three scientific officer, was a generally hostile persona that made Joah feel most uncomfortable. On top of that, Joah was a terrible liar.

Any observations that need to be forwarded to Navigational Command? No. Any unusual or otherwise significant observations? No, sir. How would you describe your health and work experience today? Just fine. Anything else to report? No, sir. Okay, then sign here. Thank you, and see you next krot sir. Okay.

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