New Frontiers, Part Three

Prometheus-logo

Prometheus-logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Angeion, exploratory vessel, a hope to mankind and a vision of the future. But hope is a frail thing. Especially when there are so many little parts, all delicately woven together, on which it rides. It’s never easy when it’s not your hands at the wheel, is it?

As ever, feel free to share your thoughts, and enjoy the third part of New Frontiers, a sci-fi short set in the age of space exploration…and an exploration, in an of itself, as to whether a story beaten down by rejection can find new life on the blogosphere.

(In case you missed Part One of the story, be sure to catch up here. You’ll meet Jake, and learn a little more of what this flight really is… Likewise, if you missed Part Two, witness the first threads of the horror Jake now faces aboard the Angeion. Though my guess would be from the words “critical system error,” you can already put a few of the pieces together.)

New Frontiers

“A-pol-o-gies. Critical system err-or. Analysis denied. Chief Engineer Jake Felv-min woken at 4 years, 2 months, 7 days mission operation time for analysis and repair operations. 1600 hours. All personnel are directed to the bridge.”

Attempts to access other information were met with similar results. Access from the medical terminal was denied–for some reason, it couldn’t reach the information on the main drives. I was as in the dark as I had been before, only as I struggled with the machine, another rude awakening asserted itself.

Absolute darkness

Afraid of the dark? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Power levels, critical. System shutting down to preserve power. All personnel are advised to evacuate medic. . . .”

I roared my frustration, striking the monitor to no avail. The lights flickered, went dark. The monitor was following quickly after. Forcibly shaken from my senseless rage, I sprang for the doors in a new-found panic. If the bay was shutting down, the doors would lose power as well. If that happened, I would be trapped. Indefinitely. Just as Kate had been.

The doors slid half-open for me, but puttered out there, and I had to squeeze through them, hoping all the while the hydraulic catches didn’t give, and send them slamming shut again with me between them. Several hundred pounds of solid steel force carving through my precious flesh did not sound particularly appetizing.

Slithering from the medbay, I found myself among the eerily silent crew quarters. I was completely blind, but I knew the room. Reminding myself to breathe slowly, I felt my way to the lockers. I groped at them until one opened, and I pillaged it for anything I could. A flashlight was among my finds, and I quickly put it to use. When light greeted my eyes again, I saw that it was Ronesey’s locker. He never could remember to lock up. I said a silent prayer for small favors.

It choked on my tongue as my light swept the room.

Bunks lay straight, empty, though pictures of loved ones hung from walls and bunks and scattered among other mementos that lined the sheets. It wasn’t regulation, but we never cared. The lights didn’t turn on for me here, and I felt the cold all the more deeply then I had before–but still I lingered, caught by my humanity. It pulled me on, like a puppet on its strings.

An old Maxim poster–Tony’s, no doubt.

A picture of the husband–35th anniversary for Chang. A bottle of wine was in either man’s hand. Bright smiles denied all knowledge of what was yet to come. Chang’s husband was dead. He was here. I did not know what that meant.

Then I saw Kate. Brown hair, blue eyes, smile so wide you knew she was faking it, but no one could doubt the look she was showering on her kids. One at either arm, perched between her. Nine and seven, respectively. In the background, her husband flipping burgers–what was his name? It seemed a terrible thing to forget. Ben, maybe. The kids were in college now. That was the only reason she took this flight. Dan? They didn’t need her, but she needed the money, and she always wanted to see new stars. Denny–that was it. They had a fuller life than I.

The picture clung to her bunk. X marks the spot. Here be treasure. There be dragons. I recoiled from it, shaking my head as I tried to reconcile myself to the darkness. A door lay at either side of the room. I moved to the right, stepping around and away from her bunk, evading my own, trying to slip out and away from the madness of memory.

No response. I tried the keypad–nothing. Not even a whir. The door was as dead as dead could be. I ran to the other, tried again. It didn’t heed my voice, but the pad at its side slowly stirred at my touch. It was sluggish, like it had just been woken. It was dying. I worked quickly. The doors slid casually open, and I fled through them, not into the light I hoped for.

“Auxiliary engines offline. Final approach–approach vectors confirmed.”

That stopped me in my tracks. The words jumbled in my mind. I had to reconcile them. Approach vectors? What in the hell were we approaching? My mind fled with the details–four years. Not five. We couldn’t be at the planet yet, could we? Not possible. Four years, though–what did that mean? What had happened? I hadn’t seen any hull breaches. Given, there were rooms to either side of me I did not check–did not feel I had the time to check–but there were no signs of rupture. It seemed to me there would be signs. Things rattled. Items lost. Doors sealed by the bulkheads. Yet, everything was in its place. Only I was out of place–the living man, wandering through a tomb. Idly, I rubbed at the ring on my left hand, weighted myself with the gold.

If it woke me specifically, it was something ship-related. Not pirates. Not invasion. That wasn’t my area. Not any of our areas, really but–the Captain. It would’ve woken him for that. I panicked. Why was I standing? It was nonsense debating with myself. I ran on, the doors flashing by me as I ran, each a seeming porthole to a new and terrible hell.

Then the doors reared up before me. I feared, for a moment, that they would not bear open to me, but they, like so many others had failed to do, slid open at the barest sound of my voice. The thick, welded blast doors drew open with a little pop, as the all-too casual voice of the computer slid over the P.A.

“Welcome, Chief En-gineer Jake. Felv-min.”

It was as though I had entered a different world. Whereas the other sections of the ship were faltering and falling into darkness, the bridge remained the picture of health. All systems were go. The monitors flickered at me, one after another, beckoning me with promises of salvation. The lights came to full at my entry, though they remained the lucid white of the back-up generator.

What’s more: the viewport was open, and beyond it I perceived the impossible. Layers of glass gave way to the perfect blackness of space, but the view, and the ship, were centered upon a single point within that imperceptible darkness, a green and blue mass rising up before all the stars in heaven, and baring itself before our great intrusion. It grew, larger and larger before my eyes, and I could see that we were nearly to the atmosphere. That which we had come to seek now lay before me–final approach vectors indeed.

Jane would love it. It looked, from afar, every bit the vision of earth still lodged within my mind. I could see her there, with me, sleeping on the beach or picking rocks along the mountain base. She loved her rocks. It was her job, her life–the geologist. She made more than I did doing it, and she loved her job more than I could ever love my own.

She would pick this planet over, top to bottom, and squeal at all the signs of something new–or something old, long ago lost to harvesters on earth, praised by collectors a galaxy away. I would take bits of rock from her at her request, turning them over in my hand as she explained every nook and cranny, every subtle shift and turn of pace. . .and I would never know the difference, but still I would smile, and take her by the hand, and, listening to her stories, enjoy the world as only her eyes could see it.

Planet vendor

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet there was no one else to share this moment with me. On a deck that usually bustled, I was alone, but for the machines that had failed to do their part. I flung myself at the captain’s chair, my steps pounding out along the steel, echoing dimly in these hollow halls. The machines whirred for me; the computer came to life. I plunged into the seat and already it knew–knew who I was.

“Angeion, status report.”

The screen blinked once and windows on it folded into one another, reasserting themselves a moment later in a haze of red numeric calculations, arrayed against a black screen. The typing came on too fast for me to read, but the ship’s voice billowed forth just after, uttering the fate my eyes could not behold. A technical readout of the ship appeared along with it, the familiar red highlights illuminating disaster. Much of the ship now glowed as such, coarse and dark, like blood smeared across my home. My fingers dribbled across the screen, and it glowed beneath me, brimming hot against my skin.

Fuel levels were normal. There were no signs of trauma to the exterior of the ship. Physically, the Angeion was as it had always been: the model vessel, devoid of error. Yet internally, the ship was hemorrhaging. Power was out across the ship. The main supply was cut, gone. Reserves had been running for God-knows how long, and now that, too, was running out. Non-essential systems all over the ship had been disabled to preserve power, but that didn’t make any sense. Even supposing we had run out of primary power, the reserves should have been more than enough to carry us through to point without trouble. If I had only now been woken to deal with the problem, no error should have been so great as to so deplete us in a matter of hours, or minutes.

This wasn’t right at all, and now I knew what wasn’t right–but I still didn’t know why.

Even worse: I still didn’t know what it meant for the rest.

(BONUS: Extra credit to the person that can tell the class what Angeion means, without looking it up online!)

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