From the very foundations of the human race there’s been the idea of a union between a man and a woman in order to ensure the continuation of the species. Ancient texts give the first couple names: Adam and Eve. Fairly quickly, a social construct developed known as marriage, or a binding contract between a husband and a wife. Although this didn’t ensure fidelity, it no doubt promoted the production of children, and humankind thrived.
For many centuries family elders would prearrange marriages to guarantee not only the continuation of family lines, but to yield the highest quality offspring in regards to health, wealth, and intelligence. This was the standard until the modern age, and although there were rituals of courtship, the concept of individual choice didn’t truly take hold until late in the nineteenth century. In fact, the term “dating” didn’t take root in contemporary society until the early twentieth century.
Although arranged marriages still endured in certain locales, for over a hundred years, the majority essentially decided for themselves all aspects of their personal relationships. However, as modern culture developed new and amazing electronic ways to connect people, it also frequently isolated many into an abyss of anonymity. When fathers and mothers no longer arranged marriages, young adults often relied on friends to set them up on blind-dates, and in the same vein the twenty-first century was the dawn of computer dating services.
Initially computers would use the meta-data that clients entered regarding their likes/dislikes, careers, interests, and dreams to match people with a short-list of potential mates from which to choose. Nevertheless, all things progress, and ultimately, with the addition of DNA, psychological, and intelligence profiles, the computers could narrow down the selection to a single pick, thereby eliminating choice altogether. Once the reliability of this process was improved to near perfection, even the cultures still adhering to the tradition of arranged marriages accepted this new societal norm, and for nearly a century and a half, reliance on computer algorithms was the shared standard.
Kayne had wondered when the computer might get around to notifying him of his nuptial selection. In fact, yesterday’s directive came as quite a surprise to him, because since he’d turned thirty, he’d fundamentally resigned himself to the very possibility of remaining single forever. That was five years ago, and since then he’d managed to land a coveted crew assignment on the next interstellar colonization mission.
To prove the feasibility of such an undertaking, the space commission previously tried to colonize two closer bodies. The first was Proxima Centauri B, which was 4.25 light-years distant. It took about 12 years before the starship arrived to quickly determine the planet was utterly incompatible. Lucky for that crew, they were able to turn about and return. The second vessel had already left by the time the first starship returned, and it was bound for Tau Ceti F, which was 12 light-years away. Even with ion burst engines augmenting its solar light sail, it would take over 30 years to determine success or failure. Unfortunately, the mission was declared a failure when no word was received after 40 years. Like Kayne’s thirtieth birthday, that too was five years ago.
Kayne considered these two previous disappointments and tried to enjoy the view of Terra from the only formal restaurant on the lunar base station. He scratched his black goatee with one hand and stirred the ice remaining in his cocktail with the other, “Well, maybe she won’t even show up. Anyway, it’s probably for the best; my ship takes off in two days,” he speculated aloud.
“What ship? The shuttle back to Earth or the Starship Renaissance?” asked a slim Asian girl in a white lab coat. She had her long silky black hair tucked into a tight bun being held in place by a floral kanzashi hairpin. Even in uniform, she was astonishingly striking.
“The Renaissance,” he coughed uneasily. Kayne pulled himself together, climbed to his feet, and extended a hand to greet her, “Hello, I’m Kayne. Awan?” He did his best to not crush her slender fingers in his swarthy calloused hand.
She smiled politely as he guided her to the chair across from him, and once seated, she took his strong hand in both of hers and candidly observed, “Yes, I’m Awan, but if you’re going on the interstellar mission, then this date might be our first and last, as I’m not a part of the crew. I’m the ranking physician here on Luna Station, and by looking at your rough hands you must be a mechanic or part of the security detail.”
Kayne pulled his hand back, sat down, and shyly corrected, “I’m the mission’s chief agro-specialist.”
Awan raised a thin eyebrow in response but said nothing.
“I’m a farmer,” Kayne clarified awkwardly, unintentionally stifling the conversation. Because it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner, the restaurant’s quiet atmosphere added to the discomfort.
Before Awan could tailor a proper response, her name was announced over the base’s intercom, calling her back to the med-bay for an emergency. She stood up and straightened her lab coat, “I’m sorry, Kayne. Raincheck?”
“It doesn’t rain in space,” he starkly stated. Kayne’s disappointment was ostensible.
Awan nodded, and hastily withdrew. On the way to medical, she found herself in agreement with Kayne’s original sentiment that it was probably for the best, but she was surprised that she had to brush away a solitary tear of regret. She knew the Starship Renaissance was travelling to Kepler-186 F, which was 500 light-years out, and there was no coming back. At 45% light-speed, it would take a millennium just to get there, assuming the ship’s life-support systems could keep the crew safely in hibernation. She’d actually been attracted to the humble Nubian; however, in two days he’d literally sail out of her life…stupid computer.
Kayne had spent the last 48 hours trying to forget about his disastrous date by concentrating on reviewing his interstellar mission parameters. He was one of the first crewmembers listed to be placed into deep sleep, and he would be one of the first reawakened when they arrived to immediately begin his work to establish food production on Kepler-186 F, which most of his mates optimistically referred to as Terra-2. The nurse had followed all the procedures to get him hooked up to the machine, and now he was simply awaiting the ship’s doctor to administer a sedative before his thousand-year cryostasis.
Kayne wasn’t tired, so he found himself whistling a familiar tune to conceal his apprehension.
The doctor soon arrived and joined in, “Singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain…”
Kayne blinked his eyes in disbelief, “Awan? But you’re not the ship’s doctor.”
“I am now,” she beamed. “That emergency the other day was a mild heart attack. The patient is fine, but he’ll be unable to fulfill the requirements of ship’s doctor. Being the ranking member here on Luna, I was the obvious choice to replace him without delaying the launch.”
Kayne found himself mirroring her smile. “I wanted to apologize for that terrible first impression, and...and, and maybe…maybe we can…try it again?” he stuttered nervously.
Awan made final adjustments to Kayne’s stasis bed and said, “The computer allows three dates before it requires a decision. Let’s sleep on it for a thousand or so years and have a third date sometime on the planet.”
“Third date? But…” Kayne stammered.
“But what?” she asked, and pecked him tenderly on the cheek. “We sang, we kissed…consider this our second date,” she remarked as she engaged the final hyper-sleep protocol. “Sweet dreams…”
When he’d awakened from deep sleep, Kayne remembered briefly seeing Awan, but it seemed like once the medical staff had revitalized him he’d been promptly swept off planet-side with the rest of the essential crew to establish minimal habitation standards on Terra-2. Surely that didn’t count as a third date, he’d thought.
For many months, the land crew worked to build the necessary structures and Kayne and his agro-specialists worked to till the soil in order to grow sufficient edible vegetation to “feed the world.” During this time Kayne had identified several species of local flora which would be a good addition to the colony’s basic crops, and the security team had learned to properly protect people from some of the more dangerous fauna. Regardless, there had been three deaths to report: two had fallen to snakebites, and one had been crushed in a construction accident.
Meanwhile the ship-side crew worked to reestablish communication to Earth, as well as design and manufacture whatever the land crew was lacking before they would necessarily leave the Renaissance in orbit. One thing the ship quickly produced was an anti-toxin for the serpent dubbed the coyote-viper, so called because although it was clearly reptilian, it had the snarling face and pinned back ears of a rabid dog.
It was a full year before the captain finally ordered the starship abandoned, and the last of the crew landed on Terra-2. The first thing Awan wanted to do is find Kayne, and she didn’t want to wait until the dinner bell. She also needed to tell him the bad news. The captain had only shared the information with his senior staff, and he would break the news to the rest of Terra-2 after the evening meal, but she wanted to be the one to tell Kayne. The captain had played back all of the transmissions the ship had received from Earth over their long trip, and once done, he’d ordered his communications team to give up trying to contact home; Sol had prematurely collapsed, and Earth had consequently frozen solid. Ironically, global-warming was no longer an issue.
Awan figured Kayne would be out inspecting the growth of his crops, so she expectantly headed out into the fields to find him. Of course she’d seen video footage, but she really wanted to witness the amazing new agriculture for herself. Intermixed with various earth-based crops, was some kind of native plant that looked like a palm tree containing succulent red, yellow, and green fruit. She remembered that although it could be consumed by humans, it was poisonous to most local fauna, and it served to keep many different kinds of pests and scavengers out of the area.
She stopped and reached up to pluck a particularly delicious-looking red pod. It was shaped like a pear with the texture of a lemon or lime. She peeled back a piece of the fruit’s skin and put the pulp up to her mouth to taste it. Her incisors bit into the pod’s exposed soft middle and tangy nectar ran down her lower lip and chin as she swallowed in delight. These trees kept away some of the animal species, but not all, and Awan hadn’t noticed the coyote-viper slither up the branch from which she’d just harvested her treasure. Terra-2’s red dwarf sun was sinking behind the tree’s wide leaves giving the entire field an ominous burgundy tint.
The snake reared back, opening its gruesome maw in preparation to strike. Venom dripped from the jagged fangs that filled its mouth like well-oiled sawblades. Suddenly, a loud crack and a flash of ball-lightning split the evening sky, while a hair-raising screech like a dying bird instantly followed. Awan dropped her fruit and jumped backward when she saw the smoking serpent fall from the tree. It had been fried like morning bacon.
Kayne tucked his energy pistol in his belt as Awan turned to him and fell trembling into his protective arms. “Good thing I borrowed one of these standard issue shooters early on, that’s not the first one of those beasts that I’ve roast…” He couldn’t finish his boast because Awan’s citrus lips were smothering his. When their long passion was finished, he added, “…well, I guess we’ve had a third date…time to get engaged.”
Awan held Kayne’s hands in hers and with a sad countenance she informed him that the crew of the Starship Renaissance was all that was left of the human race. Terra was gone, and Terra-2 was the only hope for their collective future.
As they walked arm-in-arm back to the mess building, Kayne made an astute observation. “If we’re the only ones left, we’ve made a better start than we did the first time.”
“First time?” Awan questioned.
Kayne laughed heartily, “Yes. I shot the serpent in my garden, and I didn’t eat the fruit!”
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”