The Voyage Chapter 1

The quiet hiss and hum of the various computers and ventilation system are comforting and melodic friends. Late night flight operations on these new carriers seem meaningless and redundant these days. The computers manage the flight, course corrections, collision avoidance, and the new plasma shielding makes sure that even if we do hit something of moderate size it’s vaporized before it could impact the hull of the ship. But they tell us that even with advanced AI computers, the human element is still required to manage the flight. I usually spend these nights reading, or listening to music, but sometimes it’s nice to just sit and watch the empty vastness of space, while listening to the ship. Occasionally something interesting will be in view from the bridge of the ship, but for the most part it’s all blackness. Even passing a local star we usually are so far distant that it’s just a slightly larger spot of light. Nebulae are always nice to see, but without turning on the various filters of the display, they appear as small non-descript blobs. Most people view night flight operations as a chore or undesirable punishment, but for me, it’s time to be alone, and to marvel at the mysteries of the universe.
Our flight is just starting week 104 since we left Earth. I’ve spent nearly 2 entire years watching these monitors and controls on night shift. We’re taking a crew out to a potential habitable planet for terraforming. Such a stupid gamble if you ask me, but then again, who wouldn’t want to get away from the Earth these days? Five hundred scientists, engineers, and workers get to sleep the entire eight-year trip out, meanwhile myself and twelve other crew members get to run the ship, and make sure that we all make it where we intend to get to. The pay is nice, but sixteen years of your life to make one trip can be a bit much. To make these long trips a little better, the crew is split into two shifts, each shift takes a four-year tour, then gets to spend the second four years in hibernation. The first series of trips like this were made as dead heads, the ship went and stayed, if the planet turned out to not be habitable and couldn’t be terraformed, then too bad, so sad, at least you’ve got a ship to try to survive on. Now we have a new contract, the ships are deemed as being too expensive and too valuable to the company to sacrifice them this way, so we are supposed to stay one year at the site with the chartered crew to make sure that we are not leaving them to die. I’ve heard it said that not all ships tend to wait, in fact, supposedly that have been some that are rumored to drop the crew off before they’ve even entirely recovered from hyper sleep, forging the return documents. Sure, they could be sued, or lose their license over it, but considering they are shaving a year off the trip, they gamble that they can pick up another trip before anyone can get word back to Earth that they had been abandoned.
Earth, has become such a wreck in the last 100 years that terraforming has become big business. Once a land of beautiful green fields, forests, and oceans, now? A place you can buy a breath of fresh air that is delivered from a canister while visiting the last remaining forest, which happens to only be about 100 acres. Hence why I prefer space travel, there are no toxic clouds that hover over your cities dumping rain so toxic it can be fatal to the young and elderly, and if you don’t have at least 20 people dying per day in your city there’s a problem. Out here, there is only life, death, and occasionally, discovery. I think every trip I have seen something new, something that no one can explain, or brush up against death’s cold icy grip in one way or another. One trip on a mining transport to IO, our O2 generator failed, and we were forced to make the remainder of the trip using the CO2 scrubbers, and the remaining O2 we had in tank storage. By the time we were returning to the Arctic transit station half the crew were sleeping in their space suits because the air was so bad on the ship. The closest I ever came to death though, had to be the time we were transiting a star, SNP-421 (Stellar Navigation Point 421). It was a common star used to perform a gravity boost midflight to some colonies, it just so happened that the time we were getting ready to transit it, it decided to collapse. Fortunately for us it was too small to nova, but the collapse of the dying star produced a burst of radiation that completely fried 6 of the 8 computer banks aboard the ship. We also all received about a two-year dose of gamma radiation in about 2 minutes, some of the crew developed various cancers in later years that doctors had to cut out, and our hydroponics bay cooked, literally catching on fire, here’s a note, fire on a spaceship is a bad thing… Fortunately for us the captain of that ship was a quick-thinking genius and got us all out with a couple bumps and bruises.
Trips like this though, these are the trips that scare the normal person. Every trip I’ve ever made before this was a one, perhaps two-year jump. This trip will be my last, we are traveling further than most ships have ever gone. Our trip is being measured in time, instead of distance, we are already far beyond the rescue operations reach, and we’re only half way through my crews watch. We are truly on our own out here. Surprisingly, this thought is what comforts me. There is a certain level of ease and comfort you get once you know that it’s simply you live or you die. There is no concern for “Will the rescue services be able to get to us?”. If we take a wrong step, or if there is an accident, then it’s over, that’s all. Everyone aboard has a special capsule they can chose to take if this does happen. I’m not sure what’s in it exactly but considering the packaging, warning labels, and training we got on how to take them, “Break open the container. Tear the foil wrapper, then open the plastic capsule and remove the pill, then simply place it under your tongue. Death will come within 10 seconds, and will be peaceful, you will go to sleep, and simply never wake up, it will be painless”. It’s kind of disturbing to have a two-day class on how to take a pill to kill yourself, but then again, they place warning labels on mining lasers advising the operator that the beam did not care if it was cutting stone, metal, or humans. The passengers all have the pills available in their uptime gear, but their stasis systems are designed to simply not wake them up in the event of an emergency. If the ship is able it will attempt to continue to the destination and eject the passengers in a lifeboat ship that their pods are in. If the ship cannot manage to continue operations each passenger has a personal setting they programmed into their pod. Either to be euthanized in their sleep, or to simply sleep until there is no power left and they pass away in stasis. To my knowledge no ship has yet to have to exercise these options. A couple of early test flights to extreme distant stations did result in loss of the ship, or its main operations crew, but the passengers have always made it, so far at least. Our trip is going to be the second longest ever made, and we are going to the most distant location ever explored. In some ways I feel honored, in others I feel like I’m in a giant test tube being observed for future expeditions.
Adding to the confusion of the need for someone to be on “Bridge Watch”, I take the control tablet for the ship and head towards the galley. Nothing more than a 12-inch screen which is tied into all the primary ships functions; someone could effectively “fly” the ship anywhere they wanted to from this device. There are secondary systems that require other such devices or manual interfaces. Technically, I am not supposed to do this, using the tablet to go get something to drink while on watch, but it’s about the most common discrepancy of this duty ever witnessed. (Besides it was the ship’s Captain that showed me the trick.)
Half way to the galley the panel chirps at me, some unexpected transmission was being received. Checking the panel, I see that the signal is on an unusual band, and carries no specific ident code for another ship or colony. There are times that signals are received that have been damaged by interference, or bizarre random events in space that generate the appropriate signal to be detected as a possible communication. This one appears to be the later. Following protocol, I feed the signal into the computers databanks, and request that the signal is analyzed for communication markers. I make it to the galley and retrieve something that is supposed to be coffee, but considering there hasn’t been a coffee plant on the Earth for over 80 years, this is probably some cheap artificial flavoring product in a mixture of hot water and synthetic caffeine. There are still real coffee plants in the galaxy, but they are all on expensive luxurious resort planets that no one can afford to visit. I was on my return trip to the bridge when everything changed. As I was returning to the bridge of the ship, “Sheila” the ships computer announced to me that the message did indeed appear to be a genuine message from another ship, but that it was so damaged by interference that no discernable information could be gathered from it yet. “Time to message analysis complete” I typed into the main computer. There was a voice circuit that I could interface with the computer from, but I rarely did that. It always felt awkward having a conversation with an inanimate object, or at least a two sided one, I’ve made many a dissertation to my coffee cup on these late-night shifts. “I will have the message reconstructed within 18 hours and 23 minutes” The ships computer replied out loud to my query. “If I dedicate more resources to the message, I could complete the message in approximately 8 hours” the computer offered. Seeing as it was determined to have a conversation after all “Negative, resume normal computations, and operations. If the commander wants it sooner he can make the call” I was not about to wake the shift commander for a partial message fragment that could still be nothing. The next shift would be on duty in about 4 hours, which included the commander, so he could decide what to do with it. I spent the rest of my watch only noticing a minor fluctuation on one of the sensor arrays that is used to detect incoming object towards the ship. Nothing out of the ordinary really.
0600 hours relative time, my second favorite time of the day, it’s when the main day crew shows up and I get to go back to bed. “So, did you steer us in to a meteor storm or a black hole this morning?” Patricia Axelson prodded me as I was turning over the flight controls. “Nope, but just for you, I set us on a course into a star in the next system, just for you” I joke and return a playful shove as I get out of her seat on the bridge. Patricia and I quickly became friends when the ship’s crew met for the first time on training operations. I was already pinned for night shift, and I purposely set courses that would take us off into uncharted space or into rogue planets before I performed shift change. Little did she know it, but it was my way of flirting with her, to make her the hero of the ship that had to perform a lifesaving course correction some time during the day shift. “Skip’s waiting for you in the galley, he’s interested in hearing about the exciting night!” Alex Hoffman the ships navigator teased, not knowing that the night was at least more exciting than every other night shift on this voyage. I gathered the ships control tablet and headed to the galley after finishing a quick briefing of the relatively boring night I had. I decided not to brief the crew on the transmission yet, I’d let either the commander, or Sheila tell them of that.
“Good morning sir!” I managed my closest approximation of decorum I could. I’d served in the colonial landing forces for about 9 years, and had little military bearing then, much less so now. “Stark, good to see you, Sheila tells me there was a little ‘excitement’ last night?” Commander Griffin asked while handing me a cup of what smelled like gear oil, and tasted like it, so I knew it was fruit juice. “Yes! A rouge transmission, not sure what it says, if anything. I decided to let the computer chew on it, and if you wanted to increase the cycles for it, you could. No use in wasting the CPU time if it’s just more noise” I try to choke down the drink of simulated juice. “Interesting!” the commander clapped his hands together. Like myself this was his first long distance run. Also like myself he had served in the C.L.F. (Colonial Landing Forces), but his experiences were somewhat better than mine. “What do you think? space noise? Or legitimate traffic?” He seemed to be having as much trouble as I was with the juice, as he gave a second apprehensive glare to his cup. “Not sure really, the best Sheila was able to come up with as far as directionality limits its sources if it’s legitimate, only a couple colonies that heading, and most are well beyond communications distance” We both carefully place the cups of juice ostensibly of fruit down deciding not to attempt another sip. “I’d like to think it’s real, but I doubt it sir” I say as I notice the commander is reviewing the flight log from the night. “Well, if that’s all sir, you can see there was nothing really to report, I’d like to grab some rack time” I ask as politely as I can, even though my brain is screaming ‘Please let me leave!’. “Sure, sure, get some rack time, I’ll call you if anything important comes up from this” the commander is still reviewing the flight data as he waves me off.
As I’m making my way to my quarters, I see Dr. Harris walking down the corridor my way, “Hey doc, I’d stay the hell away from the fruit juice if I were you” I joke as I pass him. “Don’t worry Daniel, I’ve almost perfected the tastebudectomy” Harris chimes back cheerfully. While I have nothing against the ships medic, I must say that I have inherent trust issues of people who are always cheerful, and one of these days, I will succeed in stumping him on a comeback, just not today it seems. As I reach my quarters I pause at the hatch. There was something, some detail was gnawing at the back of my neck about this transmission, but I couldn’t figure it out. “fuck it” I muttered while punching in my access code to enter the room. One nice part of these ships, was the locks on each personal living quarters. Only the Captains code would unlock anything aboard the ship, not even Commander Griffin could open my door if he wanted to. Well not unless he went to the storage bay and got some of the mining supplies from the terraforming gear. It was about 5 hours later when the alarm sounded aboard the ship. I can sleep through just about anything, a learned trait from military service, but a ships alarm is one thing no one can sleep through. I’m pretty sure that if there ever were to be a zombie apocalypse it would be the dead getting up to shut off the fucking alarm. “All shifts, all crew to operations room, we seem to have a little… problem…” Commander Griffins voice over the PA system seemed flat and concerned. Such a foreboding announcement aboard a spaceship is pantomime to “Shit, we’re all going to die”.
By the time I manage to get dressed and make it to the ships operations deck I see Doc Harris arriving at the same time. “What’s this all about?” I ask him as we are entering the already full room. “Good you made it” the commander says as he looks back to the table that is one giant computer screen. “Sheila, could you repeat that for us?” the commander asks. “Affirmative, the unknown signal which we have been receiving for approximately 10 hours now, is originating from a source outside of Terra Corp controlled space.” The computer states, Terra Corp is the main body of space exploration, and holds the record for furthest flights in history. “The signal is damaged, so far I have not been able to decipher all much of it, but the parts that have been deciphered appear to have a single voice relaying a message. What this message is, remains unknown at this time, however there are signal markers that are associated with Terra Corp distress beacons” everyone is silent listening to the computer state these facts. “But, I thought we’re further out than anyone else has been?” Eric Petersen our ships engineer declares with shock if not mild horror in his tone. “Wait now, before we jump to any conclusions here, let’s get the whole story” commander Griffin says calmly, while looking to Alex. “Well, directionality of the message says that it’s more or less ahead of us, so whatever it is, is either coming from out there, or we are not the first to be this far out” Alex’s tone is flat in a matter of fact way. “I agree, we’re seeing main focal increase of the signal when we aim the ship’s communications array at a nearby system. SNP-842X” Patricia states, citing a nearby star that has not been explored yet. “What, fucking aliens?” Eric was trying to seem like a tough guy, like always, but you could see in his eyes, there was some serious fright there. “No one is saying anything, yet…” Commander Griffin chided, “But, if this does actually turn out to be a distress signal of some sort, then we all know what has to happen” Everyone in the room knew what the implications were. Any time a distress signal is detected any, and all ships that receive it must respond to render whatever aid they can. It’s an understandable rule, especially out here, further than any human has ever traveled, or so we thought. However in light of the circumstances I have to admit I’m not that fond of running off into uncharted space to see what’s making a beep noise in the dark. “Once Sheila has reassembled more of the transmission, we’ll know what to do. In the meantime, what are the ramifications if we star heading towards the signal until we know what’s out there?” Commander Griffin is doing a decent job of hiding his own anxiety over this, but you can see some cracks at the surface of his steady and sure manner. “Well, our next burn cycle on the engine isn’t for another week” Patricia states while looking to Alex for further guidance. “I don’t know, that area hasn’t been mapped. Or explored. We’ll have to ramp up the sensors and deflection array to full power, redirect all our angular projections, and who knows what kind of system that’s going to be. We could be flying into a cloud of asteroids, or some intense radiation belt, I don’t think there’s even been any survey probes sent this far out.” Alex seems afraid, and with good reason. Charting a new star system is one of the more dangerous operations in space, and our ship is definitely not equipped for the job. “Okay, it’s settled. I know none of you want to hear it, but we are going to check this one out. Alex, start making those projections.” As Commander Griffin is delivering his decision you can see several faces go pale. “Eric, I need you to get your team on ramping up the sensors, and deflection array now. If we are going to fly into a rogue planet, radiation belt, or cloud of asteroids, I want to know before they are breeching the hull, got it?” Eric nods in silence staring at the display of the garbled message. “What happens if this turns out to be real sir?” he asks not taking his gaze off the display. “Well, we’ll have to figure that one out as we get to it.” The commander is not excited about the prospects of having to launch rescue operations this far out in deep space. Rescue missions at this distance from the core systems tend to end poorly. “Stark, I need you to work with Nav, and Flight, to make sure we are going to make the best time possible.” I nod in silent acceptance, knowing that it’s probably going to be a double if not a triple shift for me at this point. “Look everyone, I know this is not what we signed on for, but if there is another ship out here, and they need our help, we have to do what we can to help them. I’m not crazy about the idea myself, but we’ll have to do what we can. Doc, I want you to start prepping med kits in case we have to take on wounded, and I want the main med bay brought on line. Once we have a clearer picture of what is happening, we’ll meet again.” Commander Griffin is settling back into the swing of taking command like he did in the service. “And Captain Shepherd?” I ask quietly, knowing that the Captain of the ship will have to be brought out of cryo sleep if we are to mount a rescue operation. “Again, we’ll have to wait to see what’s really going on here” For a moment I can almost sense animosity or anger from Commander Griffin over this question. “Come on people, we’ve all got jobs to do, get to it” the commander says as he turns and leaves the room. For a moment, everyone in the room lingers, looking at one another almost in hope of this being a dream and someone is going to wake them up. Seeing that this is indeed reality, we all depart the operations room and head to our respective duty stations to begin our assigned tasks.
“Who the hell could it be?” Alex asks Patricia, and myself as we head back to the stellar cartography lab. “Who knows, there’ve been plenty of ships that flew out and were never heard from again” I mutter while we walk down the long hallway. “Yeah, but name one that has flown in this direction in the last 80 to 100 years?” Patricia says in a dead pan voice. “Probably some military shit heads, got lost on the way to a colony and wound up jumping the wrong direction or something” Alex says not hiding his animosity towards the military and the C.L.F. specifically. “At any rate, if it’s a genuine signal, we have to help any way we can” I remind him, although I know he’s familiar with the laws regarding this situation. Once in the stellar cartography lab, we make our way to the main terminal. The stellar cartography lab is a large circular room, with a dedicated computer capable of the hundreds of trillions of calculations used in plotting a space ships course. Normally the flight path is determined on Earth, fed into the computer, and allowances are made for course correction, or adaptation to avoid unforeseen events. What we will have to do is plot the path we are on, the path to the signal, and the optimum route to take so that we don’t lose too much of our velocity. It takes nearly 8 months for the ship to build the speed and velocity we are at, by this point in the flight. To slow down, or heaven forbid stop outright, could add years to our scheduled flight. Alex goes to work with turning on the main display while Patricia, and I stand in the middle of the round room. There is a shimmering light on the floor and ceiling in the middle of the room, then suddenly the entire room fills with stars, and a yellow line representing the path we have been taking, and a green line representing the path we are plotted to take. “Okay, so if we give an angular burn for say 10 minutes heading, five eight hundred, mark two, two zero. Where would that put us?” Patricia has always surprised me with how quickly she can plot a course with minimal effort. Punching figures into the computer, Alex demonstrates the new path for the Horizon, with a blue line this time, and the green line adapting to its new position. The blue line takes the ship almost directly into the far side of the system labeled SNP-842X. “Damn! That’s close!” I declare looking at the plot. “Alex, try adjusting the plot to five seven hundred, mark two, two zero, and make the burn twelve minutes.” I say smiling at Patricia, there was an unspoken competition between us, to be the best at making plots for various maneuvers. Making the adjustments, the blue line shifts to the near side of the system, and the line passes the star in the system on our side of it. “Ahh, see, this way we can grav boost our velocity when we find out this is nothing but star noise, and we can get on our way. Probably only an extra two maybe three weeks total flight?” I smile while taunting the pilot of the ship. “Fine, you win this round asshole” Patricia laughs as she looks to Alex. “Nav, any flight considerations, or issues?” she asks. “None that I can see. We may get too close to the 4th planet, but that can be a stick flight correction.” Alex never seems to mind the pilot and co-pilot doing his job of plotting courses, but he seems to be more in it for the money anyway. At his age of what we believe to be late 50’s, it’s definitely time for him to hatch that nest egg; and start plotting his own course to some pleasant colony on the outer regions of the core systems. “Great! Plot it! I’ll be on the bridge!” Patricia snaps her fingers, as she heads for the door to the lab. “And it would be, *your* turn, to go hash out the fuel and burn calculations with the dynamic trio” Patricia was of course referring to our arrangement that whoever makes the plot, had to go work with the flight engineers to calculate, fuel, velocity, and so on. It was about this time I realize why someone so savvy with course plots got this one wrong, the engineers were always hitting on her, and using annoying childish pickup lines with the female pilot. She figured out a way to get me to take that duty from her. “You owe me!” I yell as she departs the room, “Can’t hear you!” I hear from the hallway as she walks away. “You really fell for that too easy this time Stark” Alex chuckles as he shuts down the computer. “Have a nice time with the tunnel rats” he sneers as he leaves the room. I stand there, wondering, why did I fall for her trap?
As I make my way to the engineering section, I wonder who I am going to have to deal with. I hope that it will be Petersen, the chief of the engineering section. I’ve found that since Terra Corp took over space flight operations; they initiated a new law, that all primary engineering staff have to be humans. Before this all the ships engineering sections were run by computer, and there would be one or two people aboard the ship that were able to manage engineering tasks, but the crew mainly was focused on flight, and operations. I think it was a move to transfer many of the unionized workers from colonies that were becoming more and more automated into the space fleet, and generally make the rest of the crews lives miserable. One thing you can always count on with ships engineers, one, they will ALWAYS develop some major catastrophe that they miraculously solve at the last minute, and two, they will always behave, talk, and carry an air that they are more important than the central computer itself. (Okay that’s two, but they qualify as the same thing). One of the reasons that they have earned the nickname “tunnel rats” has to do with the constant need that someone or some people, have to be rummaging around and climbing through the vast network of tunnels and ducts that spider web throughout the ship. Sometimes they claim it’s because there is a major leak in a fuel manifold (never mind the ship is powered by fusion generators), or that the PC-RX231 is malfunctioning, and the ship could be severely damaged if not repaired. On a whim, I once looked up the part index PC-RX231 in the ships schematics to see just what this device is, as it turns out they are fixing a small indicator light; within a control panel, that’s in a four-foot, by three-foot duct, that indicates if the heating system is turned on. I was not at all surprised. The one major drawback to the engineers onboard the ship, is that when you make an unscheduled maneuver in space, you need to coordinate with them for ensuring that the computer, course calculations, and engine burn times are within standard parameters. This used to be accomplished by nothing more than asking “Computer, are the plotted course corrections accurate, and acceptable to ships configuration” but again, corporate had union workers they wanted to send out as far into space as they could (I can’t blame them). Finally arriving in engineering, I see that Petersen is huddled over a table looking over old hard copies of the ships design schematics with Paul Templeton his “chief assistant to the chief engineer”. “Not now, Stark, we’ve got problems” Templeton mutters at me as I enter the room. “Look, this is only going to take a minute, I just need you guys to run an eval on some course corrections, and I’ll be out of your hair” I tell Petersen ignoring his lackey. “So, you’re going to go see what goes bump in the night?” Petersen sneers back “You know that we aren’t contracted as a rescue vessel” he adds not looking up from the schematic “We get triple pay for every day we spend on a rescue run.” Petersen looks up at me like I somehow have the checkbook in my hands. “Look, I have no idea what the hell is out there, none of us do, and you don’t get squat if you don’t perform your assigned duties. I am not crazy about adding a month to this flight myself, but it’s what’s happening.” I’m trying to keep my temper, but this whole `not what we signed up for` mentality always gets my blood boiling. “Just tell me, can the computer, engines, and core handle a twelve-minute, eighty-five percent, burn on a new complex heading?” the term complex heading referred to a heading where we were changing horizontal axis, and vertical axis of the ship. “Are we passing sixteen hundred in the turn?” Petersen seems to momentarily seem interested in his official duty to certify the maneuver. “No, we’re shifting negative seven hundred, mark two, two, zero positive, relative heading. We’ll initiate the burn once we have the new heading configured.” The directional change to a ship traveling at close to sixty-eight percent the speed of light can be tricky, immensely more so if you are changing the entire orientation and direction the ship is moving by over ninety degrees. “She’ll do fine.” Petersen mumbles after a moments thoughtful look. “Now, about that signal…” Petersen looks at me expecting some intricate details I don’t have. “Look, Sheila is still mulling it over, you’ll know when we know” I say as I turn to leave the room. “But, Sheila isn’t working on the message…” Petersen calls out to me as I start walking out of the room. “What?” this piece of news takes me by surprise, “What the hell are you talking about?” I walk back into the room and to the work table the two engineers are at. “Her CPU spiked for a little while when the message was received, but it’s all background noise now” Templeton said arms crossed in some smug satisfaction. “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that the main computer, is, what, lying to us?” I ask in disbelief. “She worked on something for a little while when the message came in, but she’s quiet now.” Peterson informed me while displaying the CPU usage graph on a nearby screen. “Also, there’s been a truckload of activity in the passive, and active sensor networks. Just what the hell are you guys doing up there on the bridge?” he added while pointing to several other graphs. As I walk around the corner of the table I look at the screen. The graph shows multiple line graphs, displaying normal levels, and current levels for the passive and active sensors on the ship; the current usage graph is currently sitting about 3 times the normal level. “I have no idea, I saw a small spike in the detector array when I was on shift on the bridge, but nothing like this.” I’m almost lost in the graph. It appeared like the ship was using every ounce of free energy it could to power the sensors like it was searching for something that was not there. “Could this just be a sweep scan of the area for the maneuver?” I ask Petersen. “Nope, this is all of the sensors, also it’s been going on for about two hours now.” Petersen seems to have lost some of the smug in his voice. Whatever is going on, he can’t explain it either, and that’s starting to bug him. “What about all the other systems?” I ask still looking at the readings. “Have there been any problems with stasis, life sciences, or anything like that?” my worst fears being that there is a fault in the computer and we could see a failure of some other key system. “Nothing as of yet, I have Anderson out checking the reading at the sensor networks directly, as well as other key systems” Petersen said referring to his other assistant onboard the ship. “Okay, have you told the commander yet?” I look over to Petersen. “Not yet, you want to do it for me? I don’t think he likes it down here that much.” Petersen says pointing to the major mess of parts and components around the room. “Yeah, I’ll let him know” I say, and leave the room “Petersen, let me know if there are any changes.” I say as I head out the door. “No, I’ll sit on them for a day or two, then tell you as the ship is exploding” Petersen barks back regaining his salty attitude.
I am puzzled and perplexed as I head back to the bridge, why was Sheila claiming that the message was damaged, and that she needed to work on deciphering it, but there was no activity to indicate she was. Also, there was still something about the message that was bugging me, I knew what it was, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. “Sir, course change approved by engineering…” I inform the commander and crew on the bridge as I arrive. “Very well, nav, plot the heading, pilot, start the maneuver once plotting is complete.” The commander seems happy to be doing something new for a change. “Um, sir, can I talk to you for a minute?” I ask pointing out to the hallway. “Pilot, you have the bridge” Commander Griffin was one to stand on formality and tradition, stating the obvious command to Axelson. “What’s up?” the commander asks as we leave the bridge. I give him a quick rundown of what transpired in the engineering section. “What? What exactly are you saying? That Sheila is lying to us?” Commander Griffin asks coolly. “I don’t know sir, but there was something about that message when it first came across the screen.” I wrack my brain about the message, but cannot remember what it was I was trying to remember. “I just can’t…” then it struck me, like a ton of bricks falling on me, I remembered what it was. “I need to see the duty log! NOW!” I yell running back onto the bridge. “What the hell?” Axelson cries out as I rush up and start typing on her console. “Sorry, just one sec.” I stammer as I try to type, think, and excuse myself at the same time. “Here!” I point to the screen. “So? So what?” the commander asks, perplexed looking at the digital copy of my duty log. “It shows, 0245 nonspecific ambient transmission detected by sensor array” The commander asks a hint of frustration seeping into his voice. “The transmission came in at 0223, I remember because I got up at 0220 to go get coffee, and the time struck me as funny since it’s the same as a weapon caliber” I say still pointing at the log entry. “What? Look, I’m sure that this is just a misunderstanding.” The commander starts to say thinking that I’ve just remembered incorrectly. “Sheila, what time did I depart the bridge this morning, and head to the galley?” I ask without breaking eye contact with Commander Griffin. “Co Pilot Daniel Stark departed the bridge with the COT, at 0220 and 21 seconds.” The computers voice replies. “And what time did the message flagged signal contact 21 arrive?” I ask still staring at the commander. “Message Sierra Charley two one, arrived at 0245 and 48 seconds” The computer replied again in a quiet level tone. “And what time did co-pilot Stark, return to the bridge from the galley?” I ask the final question of the computer. “Co-Pilot Daniel Stark returned to the bridge at 0230 hours and 38 seconds.” The computer replied in the same smooth tone. “So, sir, do you think I would remember a signal detection while I was off the bridge?” I ask in slow measured tones. “This has to be a mistake… that’s all” Commander Griffin says. “Computer, display video log, track subject Daniel Stark, as he proceeds to the galley from the bridge. Command authority sierra 21” the commander instructs Sheila. “Playing back video tracking of subject Daniel Stark, time index begins 0220 and 21 seconds. Displaying on main screen” Sheila prompts as everyone looks up at the screen, I can be seen exiting the bridge, with the COT (Command Operations Tablet) in hand. The video jumps as the angle changes to a different camera tracking my movement. Then suddenly I stop dead in my track, staring at the tablet, you can seem me start to punch in something on the tablet, looking at the time index it says 0223-32. A moment later I am again walking to the galley. “Stop playback” Commander Griffin orders Sheila. The room is deathly quiet, again the only sound is the hum of the computers, and the ventilation system. Everyone is staring at the screen which has returned to a nondescript view of space. Something just changed on this flight, something no one ever thought possible. Either a, the computer, an artificial intelligence, capable of hundreds of trillions of complex calculations per second somehow made a mistake about when an “unknown” message arrived on the sensor array. Or b, it was lying.


  1. Aaaahhh don’t clif hanger me like this! Chapter 2 maybe?

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