The Voyage Chapter 2

The bridge crew was silent for a long time. “What does this do to our course change” Axelson finally asked. “Nothing. We make the course change on schedule, in 3 hours” Commander Griffin’s words seem hollow as he still stares at the screen. “Start making ready for the transit path. We’ll need to secure the ship for zero gee” the commander seems to be regaining some of his confidence and stature as he orders us to secure the ship.

Normally the ship uses an artificial gravity system that provides about 1/2 normal gravity. It makes movement around the ship a little easier, it also slows the atrophy of muscle experienced in zero gee, or micro gravity environments. The one major drawback, is the power requirements, and the effect it can have on the ship during a course change at just over half light speed. Since the ship normally has the artificial gravity online we always must secure the ship for zero gee since we don’t want papers, liquids, or equipment to float around and perhaps damage some other components.

No one was talking as we went about the ship and locked up gear, put papers away, and made sure the ship was ready for the upcoming maneuver. “Update, significant finding within signal contact two one.” All throughout the ship everyone jumped startled by the computers voice over the p.a. system. “The signal is indeed a message, I am still unable to decipher any voice or data transmission. However, I have confirmed that there is a Terra Corp distress signal within the signal.” Sheila’s update which normally would have been received with a renewed sense of urgency about the situation, only served to cause more confusion and concern. How much could we trust anything she reports at this point?

“Sir, I think we need to wake up the Captain” I say to the commander in hushed tones on the bridge. “I know, I know, we don’t have time right now. Once we are on the new course we will.” Commander Griffin agrees looking over the pre-course change checklist. While a capable commander, and more than qualified to manage the ship all the way to its destination. The apparent fault in the computer requires the captains review and decision on what to do about it. “It’s your course, you’re running the right seat in this one.” Commander Griffin hands me the checklist and points to the co-pilots seat on the bridge.

Some of the newer ships in the fleet have gone to a touch screen interface system for all the ships controls, but not the Horizon. About 90% of the ships controls and interfaces are still manual, and most of those are even analog for the sake of maintainability. The seats at each of the stations are long head to toe cushioned chairs that help protect the crew from gravitational forces when conducting certain maneuvers like the one we are about to do. The two piloting stations are at the front of the bridge closest to the main screen and display that show’s what the cameras outside the ship see. There are also open ‘windows’ of a transparent metal material. The Nav station is to the left and slightly behind the pilot’s station, science station is slightly behind the co-pilot station and to the right, the captains station is behind and slightly above the pilot’s station next to the life science station. Each station has a series of monitors and overhead controls, making them almost cavernous to climb into, but since they still use manual switches, dials, or buttons, there’s a lot of panel space at each one. The pilot and co-pilot stations also feature control sticks and throttles capable of flying the ship manually, although this maneuver will all be done by program. For the time being Petersen will fill in as the science officer since our science officer is still in stasis. Doc Harris is seated in his station next to the commander. Everyone was in their respective station, checking their consoles and running their prescribed portions of the checklist for this upcoming maneuver. “Check, check, this is C.P., all stations report ready for final checklist and flight path maneuver” I say into my head set letting everyone know that we are about to begin the maneuver. “Science” I call over the network to Petersen who is manning the science station, “Science is go, scan field is clear, reactors are nominal, and systems ready” Petersen could be a pain in the ass at times, but when it came to actual on the line work he was a good man to have on the job. “Nav” I call out to Hoffmann who is just finishing the data entry into the flight computer. “Nav is go, data entered, path set, systems reporting ready” Alex reports from his station. “Life Sciences?” I ask Harris his state for the maneuver. “Life Sciences is go” Harris responds making sure the life support systems are at peak readiness. “Roger, Command?” I ask the commander if he still wants to execute the course change. “Command is go, set final conditions, and transfer to flight on ready” the commander declares. “Affirmative” I say as I begin the final checklist.

“AGS”, I ask referring to the artificial gravity system, “Check” Petersen responds as he flips a switch on his console. As he does everyone can feel a sudden shift in their weight as the gravity ebbs away instantly. “Reactor” I follow up, “Holding two three, projected peek eight four” Petersen locks down another control preventing any sudden change to the reactor load in preparation for the flight. “TCF” I ask, “Check” Hoffmann responds switching the transfer command flight to Axelson’s station. “DAC” I ask about the status of the deflection array control. “Check” the commander confirms that the deflector array is configured to focus forward of the ship should there be any unforeseen debris in our flight path. “Confirm all stations, set and ready for flight. Locking all subsystems” I say as I toggle several switches securing the current conditions. Once the toggles have been set, I pull down on a small locking bar which will prevent any accidental toggling of critical systems such as AGS, or Reactor control that could damage the ship while in mid maneuver. “Flight, you have primary systems. Execute on your mark” My final portion of the checklist complete I let Axelson know that she is now in control of the ship. “Affirmative, flight has control. Executing orientation maneuver now” Patricia toggles two switches enabling the directional thrusters, and presses an execute button executing the first portion of the maneuver pointing the ship in the new direction. After a short moment, we can see the orientation of the star field before us change, a nearby star now more or less directly ahead. “Orientation set and locked, Nav?” Axelson asks the navigation officer to confirm the heading is correct. “Confirmed, orientation is good, ready to execute engine ignition” Hoffmann double checks all the data on our current position and the forecasted path we will take as we begin the new flight path. “Very well, Initiating C.E.S. and primary E.S.I.” Axelson states that she’s begun the cold engine startup, and the primary engine status initialization. The ship will now reroute primary power from the main reactor to the engines generating a powerful plasma stream to propel it forward on its new trajectory. It will also begin to flow liquid fuel to the liquid fuel engines in case they are needed for emergency power. “E.S.I. complete. Firing engine in 5” Axelson pauses for a moment looking at the green button on her console. You can see the uncertainty in her eyes as she’s about to hand over total control to the ships computer to fire the engines for 12 long minutes. Visibly shaking off her concern, she continues “4, 3, 2, 1, firing” she presses down on the button. For a moment, you can hear a vibration shudder through the ship, then as suddenly as it was heard it was gone, but now we can all feel the force of the massive engines firing, pushing us back into our seats. The ship begins a different shuddering and shaking under the strain of the maneuver creating gravity on a fuselage designed for low gravity maneuvers. “Engine startup is good, we are on the glide path. Time to E.C.O. eleven minutes fifty seconds” Axelson says watching her displays closely watching the engine cut out timer count down. Should anything go wrong she will have mere seconds if that to decide if she will alter the flight path, engine power, or do nothing. If we stray too far from our programmed path, we could wind up adding months if not years to our flight, if the engine burns too long, or too short a time we could again, be adding vast periods of time to our overall flight. Everything must go perfectly, and everyone is concerned about the questions of the computer’s ability to execute the precise timings. “Path is zero by zero, arc at zero five eight, eight.” Hoffmann calls from the navigation console. Telling everyone that the flight path is on course and from our forward momentum our path is still arcing 0.588 radians. Once we are on the new flight path that arc will be zero, but the scary part is we can only estimate how long that will take and what this glide path will include as far as open space.

“Flight! Contact!” Petersen’s voice cried out from the science terminal. “I’m showing, something, I can’t tell what it is!” Petersen’s concern and fear not even remotely hidden in his voice. “Flight, this is Command, I’ve got it too, some sort of haze or cloud ahead on our flight path” Commander Griffin confirms. “What the FUCK!” Axelson yells, toggling one of her displays to the forward sensor array. For a moment, she could see it too, some sort of a cloud or mist on the display directly in the path of our flight. “Sheila, identify object ahead, and time to intercept” the pilot’s cool composure holding true while she evaluates all her options at this point. “Object appears to be a cloud of possibly osmium or Trepaphine meteors, the ship will interface the cloud in forty-two seconds.” The computers calm voice almost seemed mocking considering this deadly news. Trepaphine was a material that had only recently been discovered, mainly on accident as it ripped a local transport to pieces within the core system. It was 4 times denser than what was believed to be the densest naturally occurring material at that time. It was marvelous to examine, and study in a lab. It was also deadly to a space ship, as it was roughly like firing a rifle at a thin sheet of paper. If the cloud was osmium, the deflector, and plasma shield should protect us from harm, if it was Trepaphine, we were in for a serious problem. “Why didn’t the scanner detect this before we started!?” I could hear the commander yelling. The speed we were moving at, and the parabolic path we were taking was causing an artificial gravity to take effect and it was already twice the normal gravity on Earth. Considering the length of time, we’ve spent at ½ of Earth’s gravity it was like being crushed under a pile of bricks at this point. “Unknown” Sheila’s voice was still calm and collected. Of course, it was, it always would be. The computer while programed to have artificial intelligence to better its ability to comprehend or perform tasks, but emotion was only a simulated part of its programming. “The sensors may have not been able to detect the cloud from the angle or relative position during preflight checks.” Petersen postulated in the chaos. “Likelihood the material is Trepaphine?” the commander asked the computer between braces against the crushing gravity. “Based on high frequency scans, the field appears to have a thirty-five percent chance of being at least partially composed of Trepaphine. The ship will reach the cloud in approximately thirty-eight seconds” Sheila’s assessment cut like a knife. “Flight, go free stick!” the commander called to Axelson. Having already anticipated the situation Patricia was already switching over several systems for manual flight control. “Sheila, display gradient density field overlay, highlight lowest density of the cloud” despite the horror of what is about to happen I must take a moment of admiration for how Axelson is handling herself. Watching someone so focused, so determined, can ease your own anxiety. That is until the memory of what is about to happen sets back in. Within a moment of the pilot’s order, the main screen flickers with a new view of the approaching cloud. This one in a deep color gradient showing how dense and how thick the cloud is in various locations. “Nav, what’s the approach at interface?” she calls out to Hoffmann. “At interface, we will be zero by zero, arc zero, zero, three four” perhaps the only good news of the situation being that we will be heading nearly directly into the cloud, giving the plasma shield and deflector array the best chances of preventing a hull strike by any of the meteors. “Sheila, seal all bulkheads, and shut down all non-essential systems” the commander orders. The hope being that if the various computers are offline they will sustain less damage should there be a hull breach. As the ship begins to have a direct and straight path again the shuddering slowly fades away and weightlessness sets slowly back in. It seems almost instantly that we reach the cloud of meteors, most about the size of your fist, some the size of small buildings. The telltale glow and flecks of light flash on the screen and out of the view ports on the bridge as the meteors strike the plasma shield. Alarms begin to screech out across the ship. “Emergency, reactor state reaching critical overload” Sheila’s voice alerts everyone. The strikes on the shield is drawing more and more energy from the already taxed reactor and beginning to overload its circuits. “Transferring shield energy to secondary reactor” Petersen calls out over the noise of the siren. “Primary reactor at one hundred five percent, secondary at eighty five percent!” Petersen calls out. “E.C.O. eight minutes eight seconds” Axelson updates while attempting to fly the ship through the least dense areas of the cloud. “Main shield coils starting to overheat” Petersen updates as he’s attempting to keep our only means of survival online. The severe reaction and power draw can only confirm our fears that the meteors we are encountering are at least partially composed of Trepaphine. “Transfer complete, primary reactor reducing, now at ninety two percent, secondary reactor at one hundred three.” Petersen informs us calm returning to his voice. Pressing a series of controls Commander Griffin silences the alarms. Everyone’s gaze is transfixed on the main screen as Axelson maneuvers the ship around the largest of the meteors. “Field interface at 5 seconds!” Axelson updates everyone. It seems like we have been flying through this cloud forever. Now we only five more seconds and we will be clear of the cloud of meteors. This is when the unthinkable happens.

The ship shudders with a violent crashing and a whole series of alarm lights light up on everyone’s control panels. The main shield coils have just exploded under the strain of the meteor strikes, and the shield only has precious seconds of life left in it before the plasma is spent. A new series of alarms and signals are sounding, a combination of three different alarms sounding at once. “Shields dropping!” Petersen cries out, all the calm and collection in his voice gone. Looking up I can see that the yellow orange haze that is the plasma field is fading to a dark orange, then red, then gone. As the shield disappears before our eyes, we can hear a series of pops, and loud cracks as the remaining meteors that cannot be deflected start striking the hull of the ship. The ship shudders and a fourth alarm sounds “Emergency, hull breach detected in section two deck A. Alert, fire detected in section three decks A, and B.” Sheila reports. Commander Griffin is working furiously at his terminal trying to get the alarms to silence, and seal the effected sections before any damage can spread throughout the ship. Then another shudder and crash “Alert, alert, hull breach detected, section two Deck C, multiple fires detected” Sheila reports. “Fire suppression offline, severe damage to cryo-stasis systems C.S. 2, 5, 6, and 7.” Sheila reports. “Drop all atmosphere shields and containing bulkheads between the fire and the hull breach! NOW!” Commander Griffin orders. “All shielding dropped, fires dissipating. Alert, liquid fuel lines ruptured, fuel leaks maintaining fire in section 2 deck C. Fuel outflow control not responding” Sheila informs us that the liquid fuel used as an alternate propulsion system is leaking. The liquid fuel used is a combination of hydrazine, and fluorine, creating a self-sustaining reaction. “Back flow the fuel!” Hoffmann calls out to the commander. “What! If the combustion continues back to the tank, you’ll blow the entire ship up!” Petersen counters. “Sir! That’s the stasis bay! We don’t have time for anything else!” Hoffmann states the horrible truth that we face. In the time, it would take to get to the fuel lines, and seal them. The entire stasis bay would have been destroyed, along with all those within. “Sheila, back flow the liquid fuel storage” the commander calls out to the computer. Everyone, even Axelson who’s carefully trying to make the last maneuver to exit the cloud of death we are passing out of, is visibly shaken by this order. “Backflowing liquid fuel to main storage tanks now” Sheila replies. I hold my breath, and close my eyes for a moment. If the combustion of the fuel flows back to the tanks then the entire ship will explode in a giant fireball. It all depends on how damaged the fuel lines are. If the fluorine and hydrazine are kept separate, then we live. If the lines are bleeding into one another we die. Watching the various lights flashing on the control panels above me, I watch as the liquid fuel activity light flashes for a moment, then turns off. Everyone is holding their breath “Fires in main stasis bay have been extinguished. Sealing compromised bulkheads again” Sheila’s report gives everyone a start. “More good news, we’re clear of the cloud, but judging from the panels, we’ve got a lot of damage to repair…” Axelson informs the bridge crew. “Nav, course status?” she says quietly into the mic. “Wait one… Course is two mark three, arc zero” Hoffmann reads off the updated values now that we have cleared the cloud. “Good enough, we can make a course correction in about a week. Commander?” Axelson switches the control back to the computer, and carefully let’s go of the flight stick. It’s about that time I notice that there is no color in her hand from how firmly she had been holding on to it. “Sheila, report status for crew stasis chambers…” Commander Griffin’s voice is flat, and hollow. I’m not even sure he’s heard any of what anyone has said. “Stasis pod status, S.C. two, Captain, Shepherd, Adam, deceased. S.C. five, chief science officer, Thompson, Melissa, deceased. S.C. six, engineer, Ericson, Michael, deceased. S.C. seven engineer, Baker, Marcus, deceased. S.C. eleven, pilot Parks, Aaron, deceased. S.C. twelve, co-pilot, Palmer, Marshal, deceased” Listening to the computers report of the casualties everyone is frozen in the horror of what they are hearing. “Remaining crew status…” The commander asks in the same lifeless tone. “S.C. eight, surgeon, Alyona Petrov, status critical, stasis systems failing. Attempting system control handover to backup systems.” Sheila’s report of the situation strikes a crushing blow on all sides. Friends, crew mates, and relief crew, all dead save one. “Negative!” the commander yells jumping up out of his seat. “Initiate stasis pod eight wake up procedure!” he yells at the computer as he runs from the room. “Shit, Doc! Go with him! Petersen, you too!” I call out, but everyone is already moving. “Axelson, you and Hoffmann have the bridge, direct us to the damaged areas on coms, and keep an eye out for more surprises!” I yell as I get out of my seat. “Leave the A.G.S. offline for now, it’ll help us move about the ship easier!” I call back to the remaining bridge crew as I depart. Tapping a control on my headset, I turn on the ship wide p.a. Anderson! Meet me at the inner bulkhead to section two deck B, have all the patch kits you can carry!” I yell into the mic as I propel myself down the hallway in microgravity.

“Doc, crash cart!” Commander Griffin yells as the trio enter the stasis bay. As they enter a heavy smoke bellows out around them into the hallway. The smell of burnt plastic, electronics, and metal is heavy in the air. Flying across the room using the microgravity, the commander reaches out and grabs onto pod 8, the clear glass like cover showing distortions from heat and soot settling on the surface. “Sheila, emergency open pod eight!” he calls out. Doc Harris arrives shortly after the commander with a large medical kit in his hands. “I am sorry, but pod eight is not responding. I am unable to open it” Sheila’s calm voice having no such effect on the situation. “Stand back!” Petersen yells, as he arrives with a toolkit in his hands. Immediately he goes to work tearing a panel off the side of the stasis pod and exposing several circuit boards within. A holographic display of the trapped surgeon’s vital signs lights up on the burnt window to the pod, several stats are beginning to flatline. “Hurry!” the commander barks at Petersen. “You’re breaking my concentration.” Petersen responds in a melodic tone all the while working feverishly at the circuits. “All. Most. There!” Petersen exclaims as the pod hatch hisses to life opening. No longer in the stasis environment Petrov starts to gasp and breathe heavily. “She’s going to breathe in too much smoke! Get that mask and start giving her pure O2!” Harris yells out to whoever happens to be close enough to the med kit. His hands working at lightning speed prepping a syringe and injecting it into Alyona’s neck. Commander Griffin reaches into the kit pulling out the mask and places it over her mouth and nose, turning on a small gas canister in the kit. The hiss of the gas flowing through the mask muffles her slight gasps and moans. “Okay, she’s as prepped as we can get her here. Someone grab a stretcher from the cabinet and let’s get her to the med bay!” Harris orders while fastening the mask, and starting to take a set of vitals.

“What the HELL happened!” Anderson yelled as he came around the corner, carrying a stack of small boxes in his hands. “We’re not sure, somehow the scanners missed a meteor swarm as we began the maneuver” I say as I grab one of the kits from him. “Sheila, what’s the condition of the environment in the next section?” I ask prepping to open the hatch to the damaged section. “Environment is semi stable, there is a puncture in the exterior bulkhead, but temporary shielding is mitigating the breach” Sheila had successfully activated the temporary patching system. A network of small plates and sealing compound that automatically will attempt to seal a breach to the hull. They don’t always work, but they usually as in this case work well enough that it is safe to enter the room and patch the breach without taking the time to get into a space suit first. As the hatchway opens a brief gust of air blows past us into the room, and a loud hissing sound emanates from the far wall. As we enter the room, we can clearly see a large hole about the size of a softball in the wall and two similar holes in the floor in the middle of the room. Looking around we can see there is another similar hole in the ceiling of the room leading to the deck above us. “Leave me two extra kits, I’ll take care of this room, you go up to A, deck and try to patch the exterior hole there” I instruct Anderson, who leaves me the two kits, and heads out of the room. As I get closer to the exterior hole in the bulkhead, I can feel the air sucking past me out into the vacuum of space. Opening the kit, I remove a thick roll of film and an applicator of adhesive. Applying the adhesive around the hole, I unroll the film over the adhesive, the vacuum of space immediately pulling it tight against the wall. Immediately as I patch the hole the flow of air in the room shifts up to the ceiling, and the hole that must be on the A, deck. “What the hell, just happened…” I mutter to myself. I can feel the fear, and pain of the loss of our crew setting in on me. “Anderson, I’m heading down to C deck, I’ll let you know if I need help once I am there.” I’m fighting the pain and fear with everything I have. “Roger, just sealing bulkhead on A, deck. It looks like whatever it was that took a swipe at us punched its way all the way down to C” Anderson reports back to me.

Setting the shattered body of the surgeon down on an operating table in the sick bay, Petersen immediately turns and bolts from the room. The ship is about as damaged as the poor doctor, and while there is nothing more he can do for the surgeon, there is plenty he can do to help the ship. “Anderson, Templeton, I need you both in engineering. We had a catastrophic failure in the shield coils, and we have to get that system back online NOW!” Petersen called out to his crew while propelling himself down the corridor from med bay towards the engineering section on B, deck. “Got it, on my way!” Andersen called back over the radio. “Templeton! I need you in engineering!” Petersen called again but still received no response. “Sheila, biometric scan, locate engineer Templeton” Petersen instructed the computer to locate the absent engineer. “Petersen… I’ve found Templeton” I call back over the radio. Standing over the lifeless body of the engineer, evidently maintaining the impressive luck that the ship has had over the last 20 minutes; as the piece of meteor passed through the ship, it met with and continued to pass through the hapless engineer who was in the lower engineering section of the ship. Almost as a punctuation to the tragedy Sheila responded at the same time, “Engineer Templeton is in section three engineering on C, deck. Life sciences reports that Engineer Templeton is deceased.” The engineering crew at this point had a litany of problems to address, not the least of important being, how to get the shield coils back up and running. Normally the energy from the reactor is fed into a series of condensing coils that are then used to generate massive levels of energy to generate a field of plasma that literally vaporizes any object that would otherwise impact the hull of the ship. This happens every so often with pieces of debris from planets, comets, or meteors, drifting around in space. There’s another system that lays beneath the plasma shield, that generates massive electromagnetic fields to literally “push” larger pieces of this debris out of the way, this shield also helps prevent dangerous levels of radiation from penetrating the hull of the ship and injuring the crew and key ships systems. Both key shielding systems depend on this series of coils. Due to the extreme exertion against the shields from the field of meteors the ship passed through, both the primary, and secondary sets of these coils were taxed well beyond their maximum rating. Because of their extreme use, the coils have all either melted, or exploded under the stress of the energy surge needed by the shields. Without the coils to condense the energy to the shields, they were now operating at less than five percent strength, basically only generating enough shielding to prevent the deadly radiation of deep space from penetrating the hull. Without these shields, survivability, especially now that we were on a new course that would pass us through an entirely un surveyed star system was effectively impossible. “All hands, there will be a meeting in the operations room in 3 hours to assess our situation. Prepare all damage reports, and assessments for this meeting.” The commander’s voice sounded dead and hollow over the ships PA system. Everyone aboard the Horizon in that moment took a second to reflect on the hazards that we had just endured, and what still may be in store.

“Well, I think everyone knows the general situation…” Commander Griffin said as he entered the operations room. “How’s Aloyna?” Axelson asked looking up, eyes red ostensibly from the stress, but we all knew it was from the rash of tears that we all shared. “Resting, not good, but hopeful. I’ve left Harris to watch over her. We all know what happened, but what, the, fuck, happened?” the commander asked taking a seat at the table. “Well, again, the scanners didn’t pick up the field, I just can’t figure out why” Hoffmann responded looking over the reports from the computer of the pre-maneuver readings. “I know, I was looking at the runtime log, and, well…” Petersen trailed while looking over his readings. “Somehow, and DON’T ask me how, but the field attenuation was set ten thousand times background” Petersen paused to let everyone contemplate the information. “Ten thousand!?” Hoffmann asked in disbelief “For fucks sake! We could have flown into Titan colony and not seen it at that level!” Axelson said while staring off at some unknown space the shock, sadness, and pain of our situation setting in. “Yeah, and that’s not all” Petersen followed up. “Evidently, several systems have been off center, and significantly so. The shield field power matrix was nearly three times the normal field strength” Petersen’s report causes a stir, “And… the solid fuel outflow controls were functioning fine, I have a lot of checking to do to confirm it, but by the reports from the subsystems, fire control in the stasis bay was functioning as well.” The report from the chief engineer strikes every one of us like a gunshot. “I would have more to report on, but we’ve been mainly focused on trying to get the shield coils dealt with. More good news, on that front too” Petersen sets down the readings he had been looking over “What’s the expected time line look like?” Commander Griffin asks. “Well, the coils all have to be replaced, we have enough replacements in storage to replace the effective need, but not enough to get the shields back to one hundred percent, further, repairs are going to take at least seventy-two hours…” Petersen’s report trails off, like he has more news, that no one wants to hear. “And?” I ask, “And, because of the damage from the fire, hull breach, and secondary explosions, we’ve lost two, maybe three subsystem computers. Sheila has picked up their functionality…” Petersen’s implication couldn’t have been clearer. The computer which by all indications is malfunctioning, has now taken over even more of the ships functions. “What systems did we lose?” Commander Griffin asks sullenly, no one wants to think about a faulty computer running ships systems. “Well so far, it looks like, life sciences, AGS, and communications, but some other systems could fail causing more of a load to be taken over by Sheila” the engineers report was a frightening prospect. “What are we going to do about Sheila?” Hoffmann asks the obvious question. “We have a course correction in about twelve hours, and I’m not sure I want her to make the calculations” Axelson concurs with the concern. “We could reduce the level of the AI control, we could also fire up the secondary core and run it as a static system” I list the options as I see them now. “Well, what’s the course chief?” Commander Griffin looks to Petersen. “Yeah, I like that option, we can set the second core to manage some of the overload, but we need the AI to compute some things, like the message fragment, also it should have a voice as it were in course management. No offense Pat” Petersen says thoughtfully. “None taken, honestly, I haven’t had to make a manual plot in about as long as I can remember.” Axelson responds. All pilots are required to plot a manual course like what we are about to do in the classroom setting, and occasionally during recertification. But this was real life, and a miscalculated course here didn’t mean a second try, it meant possible death. “We’ll probably need to step up the course checks to once per shift, but that’s not a problem” I add my thoughts about a manual course management. “The place it’s going to hurt us the most is going to be, exit, and transit back out to our destination” Axelson states the most daunting portion of the course we have yet to plot. “Petersen, we need to get those shields up, can you hand off the computer to Stark?” Commander Griffin asks looking at what remains of his crew. “No problem” I say almost absentmindedly, “Yeah, no problem, I’ll get back to the coils, if you don’t need me for anything else?” Petersen says getting up. “Yeah, sounds good. I’ll be in med bay if anyone needs me, the doc and I have some tasks to handle” The commander adds while getting up himself. Everyone knew what he was talking about. The disposition of the remains for the deceased crew members. “Axelson, Hoffmann, I want you two on the bridge, get that course plotted. Stark, adjust, Sheila as you see fit. Let’s make it happen guys…” the commander directs us as he leaves the room.

The crew went about their assigned tasks, Axelson and Hoffmann working a manual course plot, Petersen, and Andersen working at replacing the destroyed shield coils, and I off to the main server room aboard the ship. For the sake of redundancy and safety, the ships main computer is split into 3 different redundant computers, each in separate sections of the ship. Fortunately, they can all be controlled from any one of the locations. The most difficult part of my task was going to be effectively lobotomizing the ships computer. The general AI functions of the mainframe could be managed in any one of many different ways. The tricky part was going to be, to let it still use the AI for some of the higher functions, but not the lower more important functions. The other part that was difficult about these tasks was that the computer, while having an equivalent IQ of around 240, being a computer, also had an almost childlike innocence in its understanding of the world around it. “Please explain, have I performed inadequately?” Sheila’s soft voice asks me from the console. “There have been some problems, that we cannot account for” I find myself trying to somehow not alarm the computer, as I disable the the emotional subsystems for the computer. As I was shutting down the computer’s ability to form emotional responses, I found myself almost, angry, I suppose would be the correct term. Here Sheila was going to continue, never contemplating the loss, the damage, that we have endured, and yet I will still have to watch seven friends and comrades float out of an airlock into the unknown depths of space.  It seemed wrong to be envious of a computer, but there I was. “The deaths of the hibernating crew, may have been a result of computer faults” I say dryly, I know that it’s just a computer, and that the emotion it would have displayed would have been the result of algorithms and simulation. But somehow, it still feels easier to say knowing that the emotions have been turned off.  “Understood, would you like me to re-run diagnostics of these systems?” Sheila asks, voice still human sounding, but somehow colder, more matter of fact in intonation. “No, we are going to be aligning the secondary CPU to manage those systems, I need you to continue to attempt to get any and all information you can from signal contact two one” I state while finishing the transfer from Sheila to the new computer for essential systems. “Would you like me to continue to work with the original fragment, or should I begin with the new data?” Sheila’s lifeless tones ask. “New data? Explain…” I stop what I am doing and look up at the main screen for the computer. “Ever since we began the new course, sensors have been receiving a stronger signal. This is presumably because the sensors are better aligned with the source. There however has been a development, the signal appears to be on a much broader spectrum than originally anticipated. I have been attempting to gather as much data as possible, but the signal spectrum appears to go well beyond standard communications frequencies” Sheila relays the information calmly, as if the computer were telling me how to make a pot of coffee. To me however, the information is of staggering importance. “Explain” I manage to get out, eyes fixated on the display which is showing a steep peak of radio noise against the edge of the screen. “Standard communications are between one hundred twenty-one, and, one hundred fifty-one terahertz” the computer drones out the standard communications frequencies. “The emergency beacon band is at one hundred, sixty terahertz. Signal contact twenty-one was at two hundred terahertz, accounting for signal drift, and speed compression of the signal, this frequency would be within guidelines for a distress beacon. However, with the course correction the compression ratio for the signal has not been constant, and I have detected what appears to be additional data reaching up as high as two hundred ten terahertz. This is the upper limit of my sensing capability so I am unable to discern if the signal exceeds this limit” Sheila informs me. The speed compression for the signal relates to with the speed of the ship moving towards a signal being broadcast from some source. The faster the ship moves towards the source, the closer the wave bands would be to one another, which in turn would make the signal appear to be on a higher frequency. If this were the case, when the ship oriented towards the signal, the shift in this compression would change by the same ratio of our angle to the signal. However, the information the computer was displaying showed that what should have only been a couple hundred gigahertz at most, was actually a couple of terahertz. Whatever was sending this signal was using a signal band, well above what humans were using at the time. Had this news not been such a surprise I may have noticed one other thing that was almost as frightening as the communications frequencies, Sheila was contracting numbers. Something the AI does as a means to sound more human. However, these features are tied to the emotional subsystems which had been turned off. Sheila was still using AI, which had been disabled.

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