Elves were leaving the Middle-Earth. The war was won and the need to keep an expensive forward base has disappeared. A planetary base is populous, and its exodus is arduous. But now, only the last small group was boarding the last transport ship, floating through the airlock of the docking adapter and filing down a zig-zag staircase into assigned pax quarters. Taking elevators would be too inefficient, and their alternating acceleration was uncomfortable for pax while in zero G.
Voronve, the ship's captain, held position at the doorway of a docking post, looking down the airlock. From there, two young looking elfwomen emerged and parked themselves across Voronve. Then, a figure appeared in the airlock, garbed in a simple white jumpsuit whithout insigna or a device, and floated in with deliberation. It righted itself against the braces gracefully, the intricate braids of golden hair swishing around the beautiful face, and quickly returning in place.
"Welcome aboard the Harlon, Princess," said Voronve in a steady voice, casting eyes down for a moment.
"Thank you, Captain." The V.I.P.'s voice was melodic. Especially for someone 3000 years old.
"Please follow me to your quarters," said Voronve and pushed off the door frame to float into the stairwell.
Having gotten rid of Galadriel, Voronve hastened to the bridge. The shuttle which delivered the last party also had a little water and oxygen onboard, which he has ordered already to pump to the ship before undocking. The craft was to be left in the orbit for several years, until the residual atmospheric friction spelled its death. Not a big loss, considering the amount of infrastructure already left behind.
Elariel, the first mate (or, officially, Executive Officer), an experienced pilot elfwoman, was on the bridge watching the boarding by video, and flashed him a careful smile. She was his stand-in while he performed ceremonial duties. She also was alone. The Flight Officer, Anwe, was helping to guide pax.
"Here, I'm taking it", said Voronve, buckling in.
"Aye, aye," said Elariel.
"I think they are handling it. No need to meddle."
He keyed in and called the undocking checklist on the central screen just to be ready. They sat in silence for a while. Last pax ingressed and the First Engineer, a cheerful elf named Amroth, sealed the airlock. The ship health program on the left screen indicated the air volume separation. "Captain, we are ready to undock," called he on the wall intercom.
"Good. How is the pax manifest?" asked Voronve.
"All accounted for."
"Good, good. Proceed to your station and be ready to do the departure checklist. I'll have Elariel running it in a minute."
"Going, Captain," said Amroth and cut off.
Voronve made sure that transfers were finished and started running the undocking checklist. All piping sensors indicated good plugging. He called the undocking program and in a few seconds he felt a tremor as locks disengaged and pistons pushed the shuttle away from the ship.
Anwe returned from the pax deck and seated, puffing.
"How are they?" said Voronve. There were just too many pax for every elf of the crew.
"Not too bad. A couple of bruises, but nothing serious. Nobody puked so far, amazing. They seem calm. Actually, some have experience, not all were born at the base."
"Glad to hear that. Elariel, please start the departure checklist. Anwe, check that the shuttle clears and verify lock-down. I'll go for The Walk, Elariel has the ship."
A Captain's Walk was, of course, a float rather than a walk. Voronve began from the lower Pax B & Pax Hall deck, quickly going from alcove to alcove. Everything seemed in order and not even an occupied toilet anywhere. Elves smiled, nodded, or bowed slightly to him. He went up a level to Pax A.
The Pax A was subdivided with non-structural bulkheads into approximations of rooms. The number 4 housed Gandalf and a special curiosity - Gandalf's friend and Native Knowledge Carrier, Frodo Baggins. Voronve strongly suspected that the former was more important than the latter in getting Mr. Baggins onboard. He tapped the door to slide and entered.
Gandalf and Frodo sat properly buckled. As Voronve came in, Gandalf put down a book he was reading and smiled to him. Gandalf looked older, much older than at their last meeting. His hair became completely white, like one of an albino. Frodo looked a little dazed and watched a visual feed of Middle-earth moving slowly some 230 miles below them. The planet was the same as always. The fortunes of war largely spared her, with only one scar from a kinetic weapon strike, now at the bottom of the ocean. Concentric circles of shallow water were plainly visible under a sprinkle of clouds where a target once was.
"Greetings, friends. Are you content?" asked Voronve first.
"Quite content," said Gandalf and turned to his companion. "Frodo, this is the captain of the ship which will take us to the Undying Lands."
Frodo tore his gaze off the screen and looked at Voronve.
"I am happy to meet you," said he in a voice which sounded unwell.
"Master Olorin, is anything wrong with my guest?"
"Frodo is tired and he is not used to heavenly ships. It is nothing serious."
Voronve shook his head. Boosting someone into space with no preparation looked like a bad idea to him. But Gandalf knew better. Always.
"I wish you a pleasant journey," said Voronve and left.
Once the door slid open, Voronve pushed off the arch frame and flew over the Elariel's head directly to the captain's seat, grabbed its frame and let the momentum to land him into position. Before the body bounced off, he pulled on the straps to arrest the movement and buckled up. He keyed in and set screens to ship health, course/nav, and whiteboard, left to right.
"Captain to crew, comm check, reverse-order, please!"
"Engineering Deck Eye" - "Quarters Aye" - "Aye" - "Ex-ou Aye".
Their voices sounded relaxed. Good.
"Anwe, is the shuttle clear?"
"All done, in lock-down."
It was his line to ask about lock-down, but Elariel always anticipated him.
"Proceed with the countdown, please."
Voronve split the right screen and opened the schedule monitor where colored event tags rolled up as time went by. Boost ignition was red and 3 minutes away. Seconds dragged. Voronve put his hand on the abort button's cover. He felt adrenalized. On the left screen, pressure started to build up in the fuel system. The 7-second gong wailed and engines started thrusting, G-load rising. Items settled in drawers with dull knocking and shuffling. Anwe let out a sigh. The next leg of their journey has begun.
In about 10 minutes, Voronve called the 2nd watch as he wanted to be on the bridge just for the piece of mind. Anwe went to crew quarters to sleep without a word. Elariel lingered, checking something on control boards and looking as if she wanted to strike a conversation, but when Voronve caught her eye, she looked down, keyed out and left.
His launch apprehensions turned unfounded and in 8 hours, after being relieved by Anwe, Voronve went to the crew hall and fetched a crew ration. The hall was empty. He was about to pull on an extensible table lock when he changed his mind. With ration in hand, he went to the lift and punched the deck 6 - Pax B & Pax Hall.
The hall was lit in night mode, with local lights over the few occupied tables. Nobody was singing. Amroth was sitting at a table with two ranking elves from Elrond's household. As Voronve went up to them, they rose.
"May I share your company?"
"Pleased immensely," said Amroth a little formally.
"We shall be honored", added the taller of the land elves. He sounded young.
"Amroth, please introduce me to our guests"
"This is Glorfindel, this is Erestor, elves of many accomplishements", said Amroth with a gesture. "This is my captain, Voronve. Elves still argue if he has more fire or wisdom in him."
Voronve pondered an answer for a moment but said simply, "Pleased to meet you."
"Happy to be in your care, Captain", said Erestor in a gruff voice.
Voronve sat down, and the company followed suit. Amroth returned to a pax ration, Erestor and Glorfindel - to wine.
"Did I intrude on a story?" asked Voronve.
"Not at all. I was apologizing for the cuisine, which is, indeed, lamentable," said Amroth with a grin.
"An achievement and a price of high technology", said Voronve philosophically, aiming to open the ration.
"Technology is evil. And perhaps less necessary than thought," said Erestor.
"Maybe so. But the one without a sword will fall to the sword of the enemy."
Erestor did not answer, looking indifferent. Voronve went on.
"I do not think technology is evil by itself. I strike and kill with my hand as easily as I command the weapons of my ship. Wisdom is there to guide us to good with technology or without."
It was Glorfindel who answered.
"You say that because you trust your wisdom. It is natural for you. However, we saw how craft multiplies corruption in the people of Middle-earth, men."
"Men? I know they were on both sides. But surely you cannot hold it against them. It was but an ignorance. They only have to learn."
"It is worse than that, alas," said Glorfindel with a small sigh. "A large kingdom of the Middle-earth was on the path of wisdom once, only to be corrupt by the evil in a span of some 100 years. They ended a target for the spacefleet attack. One kinetic weapon strike wiped them all out."
"Men are short lived. Most of them have no time to learn the wisdom. This makes their tribal memory fragile. Essentially, the Enemy captured their education system and one generation later, they all went astray."
Erestor nodded. Voronve wanted to argue, but the whole business was too gruesome and laid heavily on his mind. He listened how Amroth tried to pull land elves into a small talk without much success, finished his ration, excused himself by a need to sleep and left not picking any wine.
The next few days of initial boosting, Voronve thought about the technology and men a lot. Unsedated periods of in-system boost and its long watches were conductive to the thought. Between watches, he even talked to other land elves. Most of them seemed strangely unconcerned, let alone excited, about a younger old-root race. This bothered him. The decision to leave men to their own devices just seemed dumb. The prevailing opinion was that men would wilt or be destroyed by a freak asteroid before they grew any spacefaring capabilities. But even so, it was a waste. It was like leaving a child in the woods.
Then, they came to the end of the boost with the ion engine and started the cutover to the photon drive, and he was too busy to think idly for a while. The ion drive had to be shut down properly, its fuel system drained, then radiators carefully unfurled, reactor brought up to full power, all medical systems prepared and checked out for hibernation. Voronve replotted star fixes and ensured that computers were in shape for autonomous operation. The thawing of radiators was an especially worrisome process. He also gave a little good-night speech to the pax. Eventually, everything was done, pax put to sleep, photon engine thrusting at its 0.05G, last entries made in logs and last commands given to the navigation cluster.
Voronve and Elariel were last to hibernate, by tradition and by regulation. Before keying out, governed by an impulse, Voronve opened an external visual feed window and locked it to the course fix for Middle-earth from the nav cluster. Slowly, he added the resolution. A little white crescent appeared and grew in the middle of the screen, with tiny green cross-hair superimposed between its horns by the computer. Elariel landed softly behind his seat in the gentle acceleration of the photon engine and looked at the crescent, too.
"I didn't know you were sentimental, Captain."
"How many hops did we make together?"
"You know as well as I do. Twenty one."
"Is anything wrong?"
"When we make a hop, we have to pass a reconstruction, because of all the entropy and radiation defects. But this is essentially a new life. We die and rebirth, yet we remember everything. Wouldn't the short lived men be able to do the same? How do you think?"
"Medically, they can, they are our relatives, after all. We carry a hobbit at this very ship. He's going to be reconstructed as well."
"If so, they can use the same technology to extend their lives in the Middle-earth, and this would give them time to learn wisdom, wouldn't it? In time, they might become wise, travel in space, and come to us as our brothers."
"Or minions of Morgoth."
"No, I believe in them. They are better than that."
"There is a reason land elves never reconstruct themselves. It is only a necessary evil. If men develop such technology before they are wise, it is going to be a disaster. They will destroy themselves."
"It is going to be a gradual process, and you cannot survive the technology without getting wiser simultaneously. They will manage. Or destroy themselves, as you said. But if they survive, they will come to us as brothers. Better yet, elves may come back. We will help them with guidance. Our children will meet their descendants, and descendants of Arwen."
"Our children, you say?"
"Our children. Actually, I was going to take a break from this work. Find a way to finance a permanent base in Middle-earth, but maybe have children, too."
"Do you have a particular maiden in mind?"
Voronve turned around and looked at Elariel.
"Perhaps," he said. "Depending if she wants to take a break from her work."
She blushed slightly.
"Let's talk about it after the hop," she said.