( Here’s chapter 10 As I said earlier, there was a small easter egg in the writing. Here it is: Sykes and Tuggle – James Caan and Roger Aaron Brown of ‘Alien Nation’)
“This is Shuttle One, we have Jefferies and Tao-tsu aboard, with their souvenirs”, Pryafox said with a chuckle.
“Understood, Shuttle One. Send scans and dimensions, we’ll make sure there’s room in cargo”, Elizabeth replied. This is exciting! Wreckage! Not just a bunch of rocks, but actual material and tech that might not have been seen before!, she thought.
“Commander, where are we at for ‘go point’ on the EVA team?”, Devereux said. Elizabeth turned to look back at the captain, who in turn had her attention on the view screens.
Elizabeth pulled up the estimated time left on the Chief and Ferahim’s air supply. “Based on the Chief using his reserve faster, they’ve got another two hours before the meter’s at fifty percent”, she said confidently.
Devereux continued to look at the screens as she spoke to Elizabeth. “Tell Sykes and Tuggle they’re on for search and rescue in two hours if we don’t hear from the Chief or Lieutenant Ferahim.”
“See about arranging space in the cargo hold in case the Chief comes back with something too big to tuck under an arm”, Devereux finished.
“Yes, Captain. I’ll get Chop on the job”, Elizabeth said. She tapped the tablet in her hand, opening a direct channel to the chief supply officer.
“Supply”, came a gruff voice. Elizabeth smiled. Petty Officer ‘Chopper’ Ratko was a built like he sounded. Short, barrel-chested and bald, with a neat black beard under a pug nose and eyes, one blue, the other brown, that gave him a slightly piratical cast. ‘
“Chop, this is the XO, the captain wants cargo moved to make room for some samples that might come back with the Chief.”
“Hah! Chief gone a little salvaging hey? Lemme seeeee…” he said. Elizabeth could hear him over the channel walking towards the cargo bay, the hard soles of his shoes tapping on the floor. The walking ceased, and she could almost see him in her mind looking around in the hold.
“How big is this souvenir he’s bringing home?”
“I’m not sure, Chop. I’m gonna estimate twenty meters square”, Elizabeth said. There was a low whistle on the other end of the channel.
“Four hundred cubic meters, that’s a lot of space to clear. I can do it. Lucky for you I’m aboard. You’re gonna owe me one, XO.” The channel went silent again for a few seconds. “Give me three hours and we’ll have you the space.”
Elizabeth smiled at the tablet. “Sure thing, Chop.”
Elizabeth turned off the channel, then took her own look at the viewscreen. I am so glad I’m here and not out there. I wonder what the Chief is doing right now. There was no trouble going in, so, this isn’t a time to borrow trouble. She pulled up the chief’s estimated air supply and set it in a corner box on her tablet for ease of locating when the captain asked for the information again.
“Chop says he’ll have four hundred cubic meters available in three hours, captain”, she said to Devereux.
“Very good”, Devereux said, then looked over to Elizabeth. “By the way, what made you choose that volume?”
“I checked how full we were before I chatted with Chop …err… Petty Officer Ratko. We’re at three quarters capacity, so one eighth is six hundred cubic meters. And knowing the lieutenant, he’ll give us a full six hundred and be done in sixty minutes. He always knows we never ask for enough room, and finishing early makes him look like a miracle worker.”
Captain Devereux smiled. “Good job, Commander. Pass my thanks on.” Elizabeth looked down to her tablet and smiled, basking in the praise. “Thank you, captain. I’ll do that.” Elizabeth said.
“What do you think, Yvonne, cut that sliver and take her back, or cut around the base and see if we can take the whole thing?”, Rusty said as he used his thrusters to lower himself for a better look at the hologram, and the material penetrating through it. For all his grace in maneuvering, he still resembled a bulky four-limbed spider desperately trying to find a purchase.
He didn’t wait for an answer, continuing to talk as his mind worked furiously trying to determine the origin of the projection. “What if the sliver’s supposed to be in the middle, that it’s projecting the hologram from a central point? No, that’s just wreckage,I can see broken edges and tubing. There’s got to be an origin point for this holo.”
He looked up at Ferahim. “Well, what do you think?”
“I think, the best sample would be the largest we can handle without a cargo sled”, Ferahim replied. She was silent for a moment, then said, “We should be finding a way to communicate, or return towards the ship. My reserves are at eight-point-four hours. We’re almost four hours in spacewalk with no contact with the Emerald Flight.”
Rusty stopped searching the sliver, stood, and faced Ferahim. “What? Go back early, and miss all this romantic ambiance? Spoilsport.” He blipped his thrusters and returned to trying to determine the source of the hologram. He coughed suddenly, firing the thruster hard when his hand clenched involuntarily. grabbing at the surface to keep himself from spinning like a Catherine wheel away from the wreckage.
Ferahim reached out and timed her grab expertly, snagging his ankle and suspending him in front of the sharp metallic sliver. Rusty bounced once against the wreckage, then floated up. Ferahim held on, and slowly resisted the momentum. Rusty slowed firing his jets in short blips. Once they both stabilized, she released him and resumed her overwatch.
“Was it as good for you as it was me?”, Rusty said with a chuckle.
“Only that it gave me something to do while I was bored and waiting for something to happen”, she replied dryly.
“Well I’m…hey, move over here with that cutter, I think I see a seam or something”, Rusty said excitedly. He pointed down at the base of the sliver, a few inches from it. “Cut here, go clockwise, and try to keep the same distance.” He pointed again at the location. “Right here. I think it’s hollow underneath.”
Ferahim looked where he pointed, then asked, “Are you certain?”
“Pretty sure”, Rusty answered. “When I bumped it, it gave a little, solid doesn’t give, hollow does.”
Ferahim hesitated a moment, then turned on the cutter, slowly bringing up the power until the target started peeling back from the heat. She then slowly began to work a circle counter-clockwise around the sliver, keeping a meter away from the structure and the impaled hologram.
“Just why are we cutting it now?”, she asked him.
“In a few hours, when we reach the halfway point in our air supply. I’m guessing they may send people out to check on us, since we’ve heard a big nothing because of the Morris cursed jamming”, Rusty said nonchalantly. “I’d like to have something dramatic to show Cap, so I can have more time digging through all this treasure out here.”
“So, this is all for drama’s sake?”, Ferahim said.
“It’s for having the ‘wow’ factor maxed out. Hasn’t anyone told you about a sales pitch before? You want to sell ice water to eskimos, make it BIG.” He gestured to the hologram, “That is ‘wow’ dialed to eleven.”
Rusty said with a smirk “Drama, it isn’t just drama any more.”
“I’m sure it will be quite dramatic”, Ferahim said drily, as she continued to burn a cut in the material with the laser.
“Angel on a stick”, Rusty said with a chuckle. “Hard to find something more dramatic.”
“Indeed”, Ferahim said drily, sounding exactly like security chief Hawkes.
Really gonna have to find a way to get that old fossil to loosen up. All these security people have no sense of humor…
Devereux ran her hand through her hair. It’s not like we’re running out of time. Even at half-supply they’re good for another four hours minimum. The part I hate is not knowing for certain.
She moved over next to Elizabeth. The First Officer was looking at her tablet and quickly pulling up data on drift, distance, and relative velocity of the shuttle and Emerald Flight. Devereux noticed a box on the tablet that showed engine output and alignment between the tandem slipstream drives. She misses getting her hands dirty, She mused. God knows I do.
“How are we on cargo space, Commander?”, Christine asked.
“Chop’s got twenty minutes left and he’ll have us six hundred cubic meters, sir”, Elizabeth replied crisply.
Devereux suppressed a small smile. The First had called it almost to the minute. “Inform me when the shuttle’s docked, I want to take a look at what they brought back.”
“Yes, Captain. I’ll do that”, Elizabeth said. Devereux thought she could hear a faint bit of pride in the Commander’s voice. She’s doing well, all that cross-training has really helped her settle into being the First Officer.
She watched Elizabeth tap her tablet and the box opened to show Lt. Aruna. “Commander? If we’re staying in place for another hour, I’d like to cycle and filter the coolant for the slipstream cores. It’s not critical, but cycling and filtering would give the new hands in engineering some experience.” Elizabeth looked up towards her, and Devereux gave her a smile and nod. Good idea, it’s not difficult and with nothing else to do, it keeps them from worrying.
“Go ahead, Commander, Bridge okays the cycle and filter. Make sure you’re done in one hour”, Elizabeth said.
“Yes, Commander, we’re on it”, Aruna replied, then cut the channel.
She looked over to Gho, who’d put on a pair of over the ear headphones, cutting out the ambient noise. Her face showed concentration, and frustration in equal measure. Devereux moved over towards Gho, noting that she seemed very absorbed in her work.
She stopped by the communications board, then watched Gho’s fingers tap commands out like a concert pianist doing Beethoven. She recognized a few of the algorithms as basic sound filters. Everything else was a mass of numbers and figures she had no notion of.
Continuing on, she walked past Hawkes’ security board, noting the simulations running. Hawkes appeared deep in thought as he watched the displays flicker their information at the iron-haired lieutenant. Where Gho had been a fiery frustration, Hawkes was ice and control. His focus was intense, and devoid of any feeling. When he gets like this, I’d swear an ice cube would have more emotion. I wonder what in his life made him like this?
She ran her hand through her hair, giving a frustrated sigh. Everyone was doing their job, it was up to her to stay out of the way and let them. Time to be the square-jawed, heroic captain, instead of a nosy one. She walked back to command deck with deliberate, unhurried strides that proclaimed her to be completely unruffled by the situation.
Give them a show and.. her musings were cut short by the communication officer’s sudden movement, tearing her headphones off then slamming them onto her cradle. Gho looked up sheepishly at the captain. Elizabeth arched an eyebrow, then waited for the Ensign to explain herself.
“Captain, the interference is getting stronger. It’s beginning to impinge on the shuttle’s communications with us, and they’re only a couple hundred meters from the ship. The power is pegging the filters, I doubt anyone could hear us any more.”
“Understood ensign. Keep trying to get through it. I’m sure you’ll find an answer”, Devereux said.
“Shuttle one has Jefferies and Tao-tsu aboard, with about two hundred forty eight cubic meters of debris for study”, Elizabeth informed her.
“Good. Have the shuttle return and secure the samples in the hold, and make sure the rescue team is ready to go”, Devereux said to Elizabeth.
Hawkes finished the fifteenth hostile boarding simulation, saving off three for future practice. He looked over to Captain Devereux, who was making a circuit of the stations. Starting another simulation, and leaving it to run, he strode over to Gho’s board, and looked at the data boxes. They showed a steady increase in strength over the last ten minutes, going from controllable with filtering to now interfering with all transmissions, and the level was still recorded as rising.
Hawkes tried to extrapolate the effects of the interference, then realized his experience was inadequate to the task. “Lieutenant, If the magnitude of the interference continues to rise, what are possible effects?”, he asked her.
Gho looked up at Hawkes, her frustration sliding away as she turned the idea over in her head. After a long moment, she finally said, “I’m not certain, let me do some checking on that and I’ll get back with you, sir.”
Hawkes nodded, then returned to his own simulations once more. His mind was spinning with the new information, trying to fit it to what he already knew. It stayed a vague sense of foreboding. It’s like trying to find my way in a thick fog.
“This is like trying to see in a pea-soup fog”, Gho exclaimed in frustration. Hawkes blinked in surprise.
Gho looked over at Hawkes, seemingly puzzled for a moment by his odd look, but she recovered herself and reported, “I’ve got a few simulations done, Lieutenant. I don’t see any problems other than we’re going to be really deaf to traffic as long as we’re in the field, which is continuing to strengthen”, the ensign finished.
“Do you have any theories as to why the field has changed from stable to this?”, Hawkes asked her. “Maybe it doesn’t like us?”, Gho said irritably. She then looked up at Hawkes. Perhaps I have been too insistent on this problem.
“Sorry, sir”, Gho said with a frustrated sigh. Hawkes nodded to her. “This is a unique problem”, he said.
Gho straightened her shoulders, then focused on her board again. “Forget conventional, I’m going to find..”, she trailed off, then punched up the fleet quantum effect channel. The resulting squeal of interference had Gho snapping the speakers off with an angry stab of her finger against the comm board. “That’s impossible!”, she said disbelievingly. “Quantum entanglement isn’t something you can jam with interference, there’s nothing to jam”, She said, and took a deep breath.
“Explain”, Hawkes said.
“Quantum Entanglement doesn’t work typically at faster than light speeds, it’s limited by the collapse of the quantum state over distance”, Gho said, warming to the subject.
She looked up at Hawkes, who nodded. She returned the nod, and continued. “Our communications takes advantage of stepping out of phase with this dimension, like stepping through a door to hand a note to someone. We shouldn’t have any interference unless there’s something out of phase nearby, then it’s like two people trying to fit through door at the same time and getting jammed tight.”
The jamming indicates another source is close enough to create this?”, Hawkes asked, his whole being focused on her.
“That’s the only way we’d get this kind of interference”, Gho replied, “But where it is I have no clue. Theoretically, it could even be out of phase and still affect communications.”
“How would you identify such a source, within the jamming it produces?” , Hawkes asked her.
“That I don’t know for certain. There’s theories, but I haven’t read of anyone figuring out how to make one in the first place. I don’t know even if near means, well, near. It’s beyond anything I know.” She chuckled bitterly as she turned back to the comm board and began trying new sequences of filters. “Just when you think the universe is figured out”, she said and put her hands together, then splayed her fingers out. “Pffft! It blows everything crazy.”
Hope watched the samples ushered in through the overhead doors into the hold. Can this be evidence of a new race? I must see these organic parts. There may be something I can use in my own research. Fortunately though, the medical bay did have enough equipment to study and test the supposed organic components. I will request a piece for study. The captain will approve it, she told herself. Her jaw twitched slightly. She turned her head left to observe sthe Sergeants Sykes and Tuggle.
Both men were sitting in their seats, strapped in and,, to her eyes, to her eyes, sleeping soundly. Humans are confusing. There is potential danger, yet they sleep. She glanced away and out a port side window as she pondered how sleep seemed so easy for humans, when she sat upright, her attention focused. Both men sat up simultaneously, instantly awake and looking about.
“I perceive movement”,. Hope said as she continued to look out the window.
“I don’t see anything, Doc”, Sykes said, “Where are you looking?” The two men crowded next to Hope, trying to see what had caught her attention.
“That rock”, she said, pointing with her hand, “See?”
“Ma’am, no I don’t see anything”, said Sykes, an awkward tone in his voice. She continued to indicate a point out in the field.
Pryafox was looking back, and Hope thought she heard some kind of whimpering noise. She thought it might be more laughter from him. He is uncomfortable close to me. No matter, not my concern. Her focus was on the small dot of lighter black moving against the deep black background of deep space. “Have you got any binoculars in this crate, ‘Fox?”, Tuggle said.
“Look in that wall locker behind your seat, Tug. I think there’s one in there, or one of the other lockers.” Hope didn’t turn, and kept her eyes focused on the moving speck. “It is approaching”, she said, as she heard Tuggle rummage in the locker. “Found ’em. Now let’s see what the Doc thinks she’s seeing”, he said as he moved back to the window and raised the magnifiers.
Hope raised her arm, hand aimed at the moving speck.
“It is there.”, she said.
“I see some movement,”, Pryafox said over the comm. “Telemetry’s still blind as a bat. It isn’t picking up anything out there.”
“I don’t…wait yeah, it’s something moving all right. I’m going to dial this up bit and see…. it’s suits… the Chief and the Lieutenant. I’m betting money on it,”, Sergeant Tuggle said.
“Looks like we don’t have to go searching for them after all”, Sergeant Sykes said, then sighed in irritation, “I can hardly wait to get out of this suit, damn thing makes me itch.”
“Lose weight”, Hope said absently without looking back. What is that third object? It’s nothing like the other two. Is it leading them? “Hey Doc, what’s the big idea saying I’m fat?”, Sykes said in a shocked voice. Pryafox and Tuggle chuckled. Hope ignored them, and the background noise faded away as she focused on the moving specks.
“There are three”, she said finally. “Yeah, a light one leading the other two”, Tuggle said. Hope shifted to make herself more comfortable looking out the window.
Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the bright lights, and noticed the figures had altered course directly towards them now. “Opening overhead doors”, shePryafox said, andas Hope unbuckled from her seat. HopeShe put her helmet back on and sealed it, then headed for the airlock.
“I think that front one has … wings?”, Tuggle said.
“The Chief did said say something about an angel, before everything went buggy”, Pryafox said over the hissing comm,. ”You think he’s bringing it back? Is it even them? This static is messing all my telemetry up.”
“I don’t know”, Tuggle replied, over a faint crackling static. “But whatever it is, we are going to find out soon enough.”
Once the airlock cycled, she moved to the center of the bay, and waited as the overhead doors opened. Her eyes searched, and spotted the movement immediately against the dark background. The specks moved closer and gradually enlarged enough to be recognized by Hope as the Chief and Lieutenant Ferahim. As the figures moved closer, the third figure did look vaguely like an angel, impaled like some sacrifice on a jagged piece of material. Unease began to fill her as the figures made their way to the shuttle. Why do I feel…tense? There is …anticipation? Fear? I don’t understand this sensation.
The interference flooded everything with its hissing, crackling presence. Radio communications in their suits had slowly degraded over the last fifteen minutes until communications were only possible over about twenty meters or less. Beyond that range, all comm channels drowned in static.
Sergeants Sykes and Tuggle joined Hope in the bay, waiting for the Chief and Lieutenant Ferahim to arrive. Both men had anchored their rescue equipment back to the bay walls, ready for use if needed. Lt. Ferahim entered the bay just ahead of Rusty, both of them blipping their thrusters to bleed off velocity. The Lieutenant landed awkwardly, her momentum off-balance from the large chunk of interlocking tubes and wires. The Chief Engineer was much slower, firing his thrusters in rapid spurts to bleed off velocity. He deftly maneuvered the meters long jagged spike with the hologram at the end to a gentle landing on the deck.
The hologram pulsed, becoming opaque, then nearly transparent in rapid flashes. Hope walked forward, seemingly mesmerized by the flickering picture. I…feel this one…I feel her. She is…in pain. Hope reached her hand out towards the hologram, feeling as if she was under some compulsion greater than herself. I want this..and I am afraid. Her hand trembled as it curled to grasp the wrist of the hologram. “What in the name of Morris are you doing, Doc?”, Rusty said. Hope only registered his words as a soft buzzing in the background of her perceptions, so intense was her focus on the image in front of her.
Her hand brushed the image, and her mind was flooded with a white hot blast of sensation and received a blast of pain that staggered her.. Against her will, her hand gripped a now-solid wrist, and pulled. Her hand closed, and, on instinct, she pulled, trying to get away from the source. Her entire being was on fire, She felt a tearing sensation, as if her body was being torn open. She pulled harder, desperate to escape the sensation. She screamed, or thought she did, as raw agony tore through her, only to wash over her again, like the heated breath of a volcano. Her hand was locked on the wrist now, and she began to pull. I must do this! I must … The pain roared back into her, and she felt her blood boil, then snuff out, only to burst to steam in her veins, then go cold as space. Oddly, her heart slowed, its beat flowing through her, stifling the pain . It must be done. This is written, and there is no failure. She pulled with her whole being. There was a tearing sensation, muffled by her heartbeat. She felt it as if through a soft haze, aware of the pain, but only as a slight pressure on her mind.
The pain suddenly quit, like a light being turned off. She collapsed backwards, falling to the ground,. She took making her take Taking deep gasping breaths, as she tried to remember/focus on the rapidly fading memories and sensations. A sharp cramp in her hand made Hope realize that it the sense of holding something in her hand still was curled around something, solid, and warm. Hope opened her eyes to find she had hold of a wrist. She traced from her hand along the arm, to the body. A limp figure in white, with white wings and flame red hair lay on the deck at her feet. She’d dragged the hologram/creature off the spike.
“By the Morris! What just happened?”, Rusty said disbelievingly.
“Shuttle One, come in. The interference is gone at our end., Can you receive?”, came came Ensign Gho’s voice over the suit comms.
“Yes, we hear you”, Pryafox said. “Never mind that, Emerald Flight!” Rusty shouted. “We’ve got a, Morris take me …, we have a survivor! , she’s here!”