New Frontiers, Part Four

The Angeion, exploratory vessel, a hope to mankind and a vision of the future. But hope is a frail thing. When the darkness looms, what is it we will remember of the past? How did we get to this impasse?

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 and of itself, as to whether a story beaten down by rejection can find new life on the blogosphere.

(For Part One, be sure to catch up here. You’ll meet Jake, and learn a little more of what this flight really is…
For Part Two, witness the first threads of the horror Jake now faces aboard the Angeion.
For Part Three, a destination looms far nearer than it should, and the truth emerges: sometimes waking can be a terror greater than any other…)

The spacecraft New Horizons launched in 2006 t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Beaumont Tower, from Michigan State University.

I thought of college, of all things, in that moment. Technical school–I’m a mechanic, not a doctor. All those eyes on you, watching, scribbling, waiting for the moment you panicked, the moment you crossed the wrong wire or welded the wrong plate. You felt as though the whole world was on your shoulders, and for all the people all around you, it was only you that mattered. You. You. You. One mistake and the world itself would come crashing about your shoulders. Funny, when one is young, how they equate such mundane trials to such great disaster. Funnier still, how easily distracted they are from them.

We undertook large chunks of our real hands-on training up on one of the space stations. It was the best place to get a handle on some real ships. We still spent most of the time on the ground back then, though, where I could easily escape the mundane VR simulations and the classes three hundred thick and find refuge in real life–in the city, and in familiar faces. I thought of coffee shops along the river bank, and Jane, with her mocha and her laptop, my little hipster scientist. That was when she went through her writer phase. To think, then, I thought I would surely go mad without her.

And here I was.

The computer screen blinked back at me, waiting for my next command. The question led to the cause–the ship rumbled gently as it tilted ever so slightly. I thought of asteroids, tiny little asteroids, plowing through the hull in some insignificant spot I’d never see. Little green men pulled at the wires in my mind, damning us all to Hell with their cruel, anti-human intolerance, and all the while smiling like tigers to the kill. Bloody racists.

Perhaps, most elaborately, there came an intricate image of a spy on board, some saboteur that had been paid off. As I’ve said, I prided myself a logical man. That one went away quickly. After all, for such a man to willingly tamper with the ship in such a way was to damn himself as well. Then again, there were kamikazes. There were suicide bombers. Was this so different? Pay a man enough, or threaten the right people, promise the right things. . .he’d do anything. People didn’t wage war anymore. They stabbed one another in the dark, their battles of the shadows in the grimy halls of corporate espionage. I shifted in my seat, loathe to think of any of my colleagues in such a light.

Alien

Little green jerks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d have rather it be the aliens.

Yet it wasn’t any of those things. The ship brought up the schematics, showed me the time card that told exactly when and how it had happened.

Something had caused a power surge, simple as that. A circuit shorted, breakers tripped, the ship flickered into dark, and rebooted itself. The ship lurched, time held itself. Locked in our chambers, we never knew a thing. Still, the auto pilot rebooted. The surge passed. Yet in its wake, some of the rebooted systems didn’t actually reboot. Wires had fried, something had blown out in electrical. Chang would’ve known what to do. He was the computers expert. I was a novice at it. Hull work, the physical stuff–that was my end of things.

The numbers flashed at me again: 4 years, 2 months, 7 days operation time. 1600 hours. The moment of my waking.

Following procedure, the ship ran a system analysis and had attempted to wake essential crew. The command was issued first to the captain, then the first mate, then to me. But the surge had corrupted something in the system. It didn’t come back right–it didn’t come back all together. The system malfunctioned. Power faltered. Some of the pods hadn’t come back online. The captain’s was among them.

It got to Kate’s–but for whatever reason, that had led to her death, rather than her salvation. The ship couldn’t tell me why. The date repeated itself.

But that wasn’t right. If we had woken at the same time, there was no way. . .

I checked the time stamp. A chill prickled along my arms, ran down my spine. My shaved head bristled. 4 years, 12 months, 19 days operation time. 2400 hours, earth standard. Ten months had passed between waking procedures and the time I had actually woken. It hadn’t reached me, then. For some reason, I had remained trapped but alive, caught within the coldsleep, the computer unable to reach me. Yet it had reached Kate. Her door jammed. Or something gave out. But she was stuck, one way or another. She had woken, only to die–and God help me, I thought of her face, her once rosy face, and God I knew, that she had woken, only to starve to death in that steel coffin, trying to claw her way out of her own tomb. It had killed her in trying to wake her, to save us.

Why hadn’t it woken anyone else? Why not me? Why didn’t I wake? Why did some systems restore, others not?

The breaths came on, quicker and quicker. I was hyperventilating. My head spun. Ten months we had been on reserves. Ten months the ship had staggered toward its destination, hemorrhaging power, crippled, with no one to aid it. No wonder it was going dark–and as I watched, another section of the ship did just that. The cold stemmed from the heaters no longer having the energy or the need to continue on.

“Manual distance entered. Auto pilot disengaged. Captain and nav-i-gation officer requested on the bridge.”

Would I die as Kate had, locked around the orbit of a planet that I had no hope of reaching? I remained, like a gargoyle, locked to that chair. I had no idea what I was doing.

The computer scrolled on.

Non-essential systems deactivated to preserve power. 4 years, 5 months, 25 days.

Food storage. Primary lighting. Various programs the computer kept running. Heat, in some areas. Terminals powered off, functions diverted to main drives. Power was centered in the bridge.

I could not take the ship in on my own. I did not know how. I had never flown a spacecraft in my life, let alone navigated one, or landed one, or even learned the technicals of doing so. I could build them. I could give them life, give them the possibility of flight–but I could not make them do so. Without the others, there could be nothing. We would either die, caught among an endless drift, or plummet into the atmosphere of that which we had come to find, and burn in the midst of our discovery. I did not know how to work the heat shields.

I turned from the list, redirected the ship to the place of my rebirth. The commands scrolled out, the release was given. Wake them. I wanted to wake them all, to send me someone, anyone that could tell me what to do. It flickered, waited. Flickered, waited. No response.

Then: critical power loss. Vessel preservation mandated. Essential status revoked. Crew members Valdez, Torine, Chang, decommissioned for preservation of power. Reserve power redistributed. No response from remaining crew. 4 years, 11 months, 12 days.

Revoked.

Decommissioned.

Like one might talk to a machine. The words wrapped around my mind, bound up in a single, overwhelming presence, but I could not look at them. Just like that, the computer decided that rather than wake them, it would end them. People I had worked with years on end. People that knew Kate, people that knew Jane. I knew their kids. Their families. Chang had gotten us our first bloody apartment.

But the computer decided that in the face of certain doom, they were no longer “essential.” Yet others of us were. It ranked us. Some men were more important than others. It ranked us. The company ranked us. Were we numbers? Draw your straw, take your pick–don’t fret if you pull up short. You’re only human, after all.

Medical Officer. Ship Security. Technical Maintenance. One by one. Kate was dead. So was the Captain. Plug’s pulled early–you don’t ever wake. The heart, stopped, merely sags in the warmth, and the body decays. If you’re in the pod, it’ll still preserve you, perfect, like a mummy. But you’re dead. Were they all dead, than?

“Clarke, unresponsive. Dewallte, unresponsive. Dieters, unresponsive. Kalman. . . ”

A white gold wedding ring. Photograph taken by...

Wedding ring. Photograph taken by CLW and released into public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stared at death, and it stared back at me. It looked remarkably like my wife, even smiling as it took me by the hand, and behind it–the planet, this perfect sapphire on the necklace of her dominance.

“Jane. . . ”

The screen paused, mid-sentence. I typed and redirected it to the starboard cryochambers. I activated the camera, diverted power. I entered the command to wake them all. Deactivate the sleep. Give me life.

“Give me Jane,” I murmured, watching her through the monitor.

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