In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, I started another blog: scratchingforchange.blogspot.com

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

jescordwaineratgmail.com

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gossamer

I submitted the following story to "Science Fiction Magazine". They rejected the story, which is what they're paid to do, but I thought it was good. That's why I'm posting it here, before I place it in my other blog; which isn't getting enough visitors at this time. 

Enjoy


***

“Captain”

Waking immediately, Captain Dawn Nguyen quickly responded: “Go ahead.”

“Captain, we need you on the bridge.”

“I’ll be there shortly.”

Looking at the time, she noted 2200 hours ship time, slipped from her bunk and was soon in uniform. Glancing in the mirror, she took a moment to examine her appearance, dragged a comb through her short hair and quickly washed her face. Hurrying, she brushed her teeth and spent a few moments examining her face. She didn’t like the lines around her eyes. Her friends told her it made her look distinguished, which only made it worse; she knew they were being kind and she didn’t like feeling patronized.

Dawn was third generation military, although her ancestry was full of those that fought. She even had a distant relative that fought during an infamous war in Southeast Asia, which fascinated her. Old photographs of the time revealed people she hardly resembled. Centuries of genetics had led to her; medium height, no epicanthic fold and green eyes. Her hair was black, but curly and her pale skin was the result of Nordic ancestors.

Leaving her quarters, it was only a short walk to the bridge. As she entered, her XO announced: “Captain on the bridge.”

In a moment, she noted all on the bridge. Finding things satisfactory, she quickly spoke: “What do you have, Commander?”

“At 2150, orbiting probes recorded a burst of ionizing radiation from T-1. At 2145, sensors picked up 20 targets rising from the planet. They’re now 800 kilometers below our position and holding steady.”

“Place them on the screen.”

She examined the screen for a moment and commanded: “Increase magnification to just one of the targets.”

The increase in magnification revealed an oval object somewhat rough in appearance. The surface appeared scorched. Nothing protruded and there appeared to be no hatches, or windows.

“Are there any communications?”

“Negative, Captain. There is some ionizing radiation above background.”

“Call Dr. Proust to the bridge.”

As she waited for the doctor to appear, she thought of the last 6 months and the events that led to this mission. She knew it was important, but she wasn’t happy with her command.

Fifteen years ago, she started her career at the beginning of the Canopus Insurrection. Like many of her peers, she achieved rank out of necessity. The attrition was terrible and only the best - or lucky - survived to take over the empty positions. She was part of the best and proved her skill in the Chadron assault.

The fleet came under attack, when she was on a reconnaissance patrol. Quickly returning, she assessed the battle, realized the fleet was outnumbered, and made a decision that changed her career.

Instead of rejoining the fleet, she attacked from the flank; with only the thought of causing enough confusion to give the fleet some time to retreat. Hindsight revealed it was a suicide maneuver, but Fate allowed her destroyer to remain unnoticed, until it was close enough to the enemy command ship for a full barrage. The result was more than she expected.

The heavily armed carrier was launching a second wave of short range attack fighters, which was a mistake the enemy must have made out of arrogance. Vulnerable, and obviously thinking the battle was soon to be won, they never anticipated her attack. The result was catastrophic to the enemy. As the carrier came apart; and before the enemy could regroup; the fleet attacked, scattered the attackers and won the battle. The ship received a commendation and she received a distinguished service medal.

Toward the end of her time on the Ulysses, the visit of a member of Congress led to the events that resulted with her current command. While she didn’t regret the event, she wondered why things happened the way they did.

The Congressman, like too many politicians, was glad handing the “troops” for exposure and political gain. While eating in the wardroom with the Captain, an Admiral and the senior officers, he made a comment about how he was pushing for peace and the rebels seemed interested in negotiations.

He went on to describe how he felt the rebels were operating in good faith, which led Dawn to make the simple remark: “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

The Congressman rolled his eyes and ignored her, which made her blood boil. Before she was through, the congressman stood at the table, looked at all in the room and left. It all went downhill from there.

The rest of the meal was quiet, but Dawn knew she stepped in it and the smell probably would never go away.

She was right, but the final result wasn’t what the congressman wanted. If it was up to him, she would have been busted in rank and placed in a useless administrative position on some God forsaken planet.

Since everyone else that attended the dinner agreed with her position - and her combat experience proved she was one of the best officers onboard - she kept her rank of Captain, but her future of command on a carrier ended.

Distracted by her thoughts, they were soon whisked away by the arrival of Dr. Proust.

“I hope you have a good reason for awakening me at this dreadful hour.”

She turned, stared at the doctor for a moment, hid her disgust and smiled as she replied: “Of course, Dr. Proust” her sarcasm thinly veiled, “I wouldn’t dare wake a person of your stature without good reason.”

The doctor only stared; she pointed her finger at the screen.

Dr. Proust acquired his typical arrogant pose, examined the screen for a few minutes and spoke: “I’ve never seen anything like that. Is it a craft of some type?”

Captain Nguyen started a sarcastic reply, but noticed the doctor’s arrogance was gone, he was obviously perplexed and her hope of a quick answer had ended.

“I was hoping you might know, doctor.

Turning to the on duty communications officer, she commanded: “Lieutenant, Dr. Proust needs to be briefed on everything we have up to this moment. Allow him the use of your console, and assist him as necessary.”

The young officer replied “Yes ma’am” stood and motioned for the doctor to take a seat. The doctor was soon seated, asked a few questions on operating the console, and was shortly engrossed in the data.

As Dr. Proust analyzed the data, he’d comment to himself with remarks. The analysis ended with a comment that the captain wasn’t expecting: “From the information we have, I can only conclude the objects are some type of living organism. They are obviously maneuvering together, yet there are absolutely no readings that indicate a fabricated vessel.”

Captain Nguyen asked: “Is there the possibility they’re ships for an alien race?”

“I doubt it. Any vessel, regardless of where it’s made, requires external appurtenances. These have none and I’m trying to ascertain how they’re even propelled.”

Turning back to the screen, Captain Nguyen resumed studying the objects. Turning back to the doctor, she found he was again pouring over the data.

She studied the doctor for a few seconds. In a different context, and if he wasn’t such a pompous ass, she might find him attractive. Near her age, not unpleasant to look at, and obviously in good shape, he could be someone to spend time with. Since her first experience when they met was so unpleasant, she could only think of him with derision and found him revolting.

They met, when he came aboard after she received orders to take part in a science mission. Since her cruiser was only a few years from decommissioning, the insurrection was on hold thanks to concessions she found unacceptable, and her superior officers wanted to make sure she stayed away from Earth, the Constellation was chosen for the mission. She loved the old cruiser, was proud of the ship and the doctor’s impression when coming aboard was more than insulting.

They were just finished with supplies; the engines were in the final stages of preparation; and she just finished a disciplinary hearing with a machinist’s mate assigned to the engine room. If the chief hadn’t been adamant about his qualifications, she’d have busted him and had him removed from the ship. She’d since learned he’d made the mistake of trying some exotic recreational beverages and was terribly upset about his poor decision. He was all spit and polish whenever she ran across him in the passageways. She could only imagine what special projects the chief assigned him to perform after he went out on a limb to keep him onboard.

When Dr. Proust came onboard, with his four subordinate scientists and eight assistants, she knew he would be a problem just by his look of disdain. His cursory glance around the shuttle bay, sour looks and remark: “Well, I guess this will do” only increased the anger that hadn’t ended after the intoxicated machinist’s mate complimented her on her breasts; right before he vomited in the engine room passageway. The dislike only increased over time.

The mission was to assess, collect data and hopefully observe a supernova of a certain star type. The doctor’s theory was that class star was instrumental in creating the element used for the interstellar jump. If the data proved his theory, the surrounding systems of those that went supernova in the past would yield the ore necessary for the existence of interstellar travel.

The star had an interstellar classification, but it was shortened to T-1 for security reasons; and it was much easier to use when referring to the star. They were in an eclipsing orbit behind a dense planet orbiting a red star. At four light years from T-1, there was enough distance to survive the supernova; as long as they held their orbit; and that was still only for a period of time less than an hour. A close planet jump was necessary before that time; and like all such jumps, foreign objects could create a problem with the mass of the ship and the jump could end somewhere unintended.

The science team collected enormous amounts of data during their stay, but the crew was becoming bored with the monotony. Crew members were starting the pranks, the chiefs were becoming surly and the morale was slipping daily. Captain Nguyen was not happy with the current status and almost longed for the days when the insurrection was in full swing. Every day was terrifying, but the exhilaration of the danger was much better than the lackluster assignment she now commanded. The addition of Dr. Proust’s snide comments, condescending air and obvious dislike of her ship only made things worse.

“Captain”

Captain Nguyen turned to find Dr. Proust studying the console.

“It’s time to launch the array.”

“You better be sure doctor.”

“If I wasn’t sure, I wouldn’t have spoken.”

The array was a single device when launched. After a short jump to a planned location, one hundred smaller probes were launched. They made a short jump and ended in a matrix several million kilometers in size. The matrix was designed to collect huge amounts of momentary data, since their existence would be very short in the aftermath of close proximity to a supernova. Before destruction, the data was jumped in communications probes a set distance from the initial launch point of the array.

The cost for the array was an amount that astounded Captain Nguyen. She was given this information before they sailed with the warning to avoid a frivolous launch. The "powers-to-be" would rather have it returned for a future mission, than see it collecting data for a non-event. Once launched, there was no way to recover most of the components.

Turning to her weapons officer, she commanded: “Lieutenant Chin, prepare to launch the array. Set the information return point to 500 kilometers out planet of our position. Wait for my command to fire.”

“I have to ask; why do you think this is the right moment?”

Dr. Proust looked up, gave her a look as though she was a petulant child and explained: “The current data indicates the last outburst has spectral lines of heavier elements. The amount is sufficient for me to believe T-1 will collapse shortly.”

“Lieutenant; launch the array.”

The Constellation was jostled at the release of the array. Too large for any weapons bay, it was fastened to the hull. As the jettison thruster launched the array, the “nudge” against the Constellation was sufficient to be felt by those onboard. The entire crew felt the movement and some on the bridge – especially the helmsman – had a shocked nervous look on their face after the event.

The captain soon commanded: “On screen”; and the array appeared. “Lieutenant Chin, you have one minute to check for damage.”

The next minute passed slowly and accented by heavy sighs from Dr. Proust. Anxious and tapping his foot, he couldn’t control his impatience and commented: “Captain; we don’t have much time!”

Now irritated, tense, and wondering if she was about to throw away the hours of many, many people, she commanded: “Report Lieutenant Chin.”

“All’s well Captain.”

“Complete the launch.”

Within a second, the pre-jump haziness surrounded the array; and it soon disappeared.

“Captain, we have movement with the targets.”

Captain Nguyen had almost forgotten the targets. The new information returned her concentration to the unknown objects.

“Course and speed, Lieutenant”

“One hundred thousand kilometers per hour; the course is outbound; parallel to our position.”

Over the next few minutes, she raised the magnification of the screen to watch the targets. In a line, they held the same distance between and were soon far from the planet that offered protection from the supernova.

“Dr Proust, I recommend you awaken your team. If you’re correct, you’ll soon have tons of information incoming.”

Dr Proust gave her a hateful glance and soon left the bridge.

“Lieutenant, I want the neutron cannons targeted on the objects. I don’t want any problems if they decide to interfere.

“It’s already done Captain. They’ve been targeted since they rose from the planet.”

“I’m impressed Lieutenant. I usually have to tell my weapons officer to do their job.”

The lieutenant smiled. She knew the captain couldn’t see her face and she knew the rare compliment was out of respect.

“Captain, I have a signal from a probe…and another. They’re arriving at the correct position.”

Pressing the P.A. button, Captain Nguyen announced: “All hands recovery team; ready for recovery. Dr. Proust; come to the bridge immediately.”

“Navigator; plot the course to the recovery position.”

“The course is plotted and ready Captain “

“Helmsman; ahead one third.”

“Aye Captain; ahead one third.”

“Lieutenant Chin; what’s the status of the objects?”

“No changes Captain; they’re still outbound and holding steady.”

Pushing the communications button, the captain soon called to the recovery team: “Chief, are you ready for recovery.”

“Aye Captain.”

“Start data recovery as soon as you have signals.”

The probes weren’t designed for long range transmission. Each probe was able to broadcast the data in pulses and the pulses would only last as long as their power supply lasted. Considering what they were exposed to, having faith the time allowed procrastination was foolish.

“Report Chief.”

“Data is arriving Captain. We have 75 separate communications and more arriving. The data is being transferred into the main computer.”

The arrival of the burst of energy immediately dimmed the screens. What light was allowed showed a brilliant halo around the planet as the thin atmosphere boiled away in the intense energy.

Dr. Proust soon entered, stopped near the bulkhead and stared at the screen. His mesmerized expression told he was awed at the event he’d only studied and imagined. He spoke after a few long seconds of staring: “Look at the star!”

Captain Nguyen increased the magnification on the star that kept a perpetual hold on the only thing shielding them from radiation more powerful than most in the universe. The outer atmosphere, now being carried away in the energy wind, gave it an appearance like that of a giant oblong reddish egg.

“Captain, I’ve lost all sensor readings on the objects.”

“Go to visual, Lieutenant.”

What appeared was amazing to all on the bridge. The objects were still in a line, but appeared to be growing. The harsh energy wind made them glow, but the glow was soon replaced by what first appeared as a haze. Thinking they were being destroyed, the captain watched as the haze grew in size.

The bridge was silent, until it was broken by a communication from the recovery chief: “Captain, we have 90 separate data sets. I think that may be all. I’ll keep you posted.”

“Can we physically recover any of the probes?”

“Negative. They’re too hot and we don’t have enough shielding in the recovery bay.”

“Carry on and keep me posted.”

“Aye Captain.”

In an amazed tone, Dr. Proust commented: “Look at that.”

Returning to the screen, the captain was amazed at what she observed. The farthest outbound object now had what appeared as a large envelope protruding away from the wind. As she watched, it grew in size, until it took on the shape like a large parachute, or sail. Knowing the distance, she could only think it was thousands of kilometers in size.

Like a sailboat on the ocean, the object was now pulling away from the others, which were taking on the same appearance. They, too, were soon following the lead object; magnificent in size; in a formation like some migratory bird; and strangely beautiful against the black background of space.

“What can you tell me, Lieutenant Chin?”

“Tracking shows a converging course, but their speed, and acceleration, will have them crossing across the starboard bow in three minutes. They’ll be far enough to not cause a collision.”

“What about you, Dr. Proust? Do you have anything to offer?”

Dr. Proust only shook his head. The look of awe on his face was an expression she didn’t expect. For once, his fa├žade of importance was gone, and his smile was that of a small child with a shiny balloon.

“Captain.”

Captain Nguyen turned to her X.O. and waited.

The commander spoke as he stared at his console: “The initial time for departure is not nearly as long as anticipated. We have fifteen minutes and that may be cutting it close.”

The captain was soon overtaken by a sense of remorse. Something she never anticipated was now a reality that demanded her attention but her time was too limited. As she sat quietly, she suddenly had a thought.

“Dr. Proust, I think you’re well aware of my orders.”

“I am,”

“Well, orders can be stretched and those objects are something I can use for just that purpose. We don’t have to return immediately, but I’ll need your help in convincing my superiors.”

Dr. Proust paused for a moment before he spoke: “I don’t have “orders”, but I answer to some powerful people that pushed hard for the information this research has now acquired. They’ll want me to return immediately.”

“I can understand that, but I think you can convince them; if you want. I can tell you’re just as intrigued as I am.”

“It’s not my specialty.”

“I disagree. You started your studies in biology, according to your file.”

“My file?”

“Surely you don’t think they’d send a cruiser off to the ends of the universe without some information on those that think it’s important?”

“I never thought of that”

“Your file is long, complete and I can tell by your expression you’re more than interested. Look at this way: You’ll be spending months with your data, years developing methods of finding ore, too many days lecturing and just writing your results will pretty well end your ability to make another research voyage again. Even if you have the time, if your theory is proven, they’ll never let you out of their sight again. You’ll be too important to lose in the far reaches of nowhere.”

The doctor slightly nodded his head and continued staring at the screen.

“So, why did you change your major?”

Dr. Proust quickly answered: “I loved the thought of studying biology, but realized I didn’t want to specialize and accept a career that wouldn’t be fulfilling.” Pausing, he soon continued: “I had no problem with specializing in my other favorite thing, so I pursued astrophysics. “

The objects were now at their nearest point. Their proximity revealed the sail was attached to the original objects by multiple cables. The entire sail was laced with a lattice that resembled the web of a tiny spider spun during the night; gossamer treats in the brightening morning; dainty structures hanging between blades of grass; covered in dew and sparkling in the morning sun.

Nobody on the bridge spoke for a minute. The sight was too fascinating and intriguing. As they watched, the gossamer sails accelerated, started shrinking in size and the moment was soon broken by the captain: “So, what do you say doctor?”

Dr. Proust replied: “The radiation might be too heavy for us to stay with the objects”

“I thought about that. I can divert some power from the drives to the shields and I think we can reduce it enough if we stay just in front…it’s worth a shot.”

“I think you might be right, but what if you’re not?”

“We’ll just make a jump. You might not be able to have babies, but I don’t think the universe could stand another just like you.”

Dr. Proust, shocked by the statement, turned to find the captain had a sincere grin. He laughed, waited before he replied and said: “I think I can write a report that will give us a few months of time.”

“It will all be on my terrible ship.”

Dr. Proust grinned and replied: “I forgot about that; can I change my mind?”

“No way”

“Lieutenant, plot a course to keep us 500 kilometers in front of those objects.”

“Aye, Ma’am”

“Helmsman, are you asleep?”

Startled by her question, he answered: “No Ma’am.”

“Why haven’t you reported on your status?”

“Sorry, Captain. We have full power and all systems on line.”

“The course is plotted, Captain.”

The bridge became quiet as the crew waited for her command. Deliberately waiting, she pondered on the start of what she knew would be her last adventure in command of a ship. Her career was winding down, her superiors respected her enough to keep her from the politics of higher command, but they knew they could never allow her to advance any farther.

“Flank speed ahead”, she commanded in a tone all on the bridge could hear.

Suddenly thoughtful, she added softly: “We have an appointment with destiny.”

The helmsman turned to the captain, offered an insubordinate smile and replied: “Aye Captain, flank speed ahead.”

Dawn quietly stared at the screen and the alien objects that appeared like huge, dainty flowers against the black background of space. Deep in thought of the future, and realizing the depth of her comment, she spoke quietly to herself: “Indeed, I do have an appointment with destiny.”

No comments:

Post a Comment