( From what I remember we were cycling though these chapters about every three days for about two weeks, then reality and other priorities caught up with us. There is a small easter egg in this chapter. See if you can find it. I’ll put up what it is in the next posting. Happy Hunting! 😉 )
An Angel? What is he talking about? “..ridge…..opy?” Elizabeth shifted her feet, and snuck a quick glance back at the captain. Devereux was working to hide an amused smile as she listened to the Chief. She turned back to the viewscreens and said, “Chief, what’s your status?” A strong burst of static drowned any reply.
If the Chief’s cracking jokes, Elizabeth thought, then they must be all right.
She moved her shoulder tenderly, then caught herself and rolled her arm like it wasn’t hurting. When I need to be at one hundred percent, I’m not. Her attention was brought back to the situation at hand as the captain spoke. “Chief, if you are hearing this, get yourself and Lieutenant Ferahim back here.”
Devereux looked over to Elizabeth. “Keep working at getting through the static. I’ll feel better when they are out of that interference.” Elizabeth caught the very faint French accent that crept into the captain’s voice.
I wonder if she’s as nervous as I am.
Elizabeth broke from her musings as the Science specialist spoke. “I think there’s a pattern to the interference.” She looked over to the lieutenant. “Show me, screen one display.” She waited as the display shifted, then showed a chart of the interference intensity.
The graph showed rapid fluctuations that appeared to Elizabeth to have no pattern. “Don’t look at the little spikes, look at the overall … wait, let me fill it in. The lieutenant tapped at his station, then the spikes were overlain with a solid color, and the pattern showed itself as a long undulating wave. “What is your opinion to the cause?”, Elizabeth asked him. Captain Devereux looked over to the science station as she waited for his reply.
Elizabeth was thinking furiously. A regular pattern isn’t seen unless it’s something like a pulsar spinning, then it appears to pulse. The only regular patterns are in living things or a She blinked as the realization came to her. “I think it’s a beacon”, she blurted out.
She saw Gho’s face shift as the implication of the pattern became clear to her as well. Devereux looked over to Hawkes. “Have the crew stand to stations. Prep the shuttle for launch. I want to be ready if we get visitors”, Devereux said.
“This is Shuttle one, voice check”, came lieutenant Pyrafox’s voice.
“Check confirmed, Elizabeth replied immediately. Start launch preparations.”
“Starting launch prep, aye”, came the lieutenant’s voice.
Devereux said tersely, “Tsu-tao, are you and the Jefferies receiving the Chief any better than we are?”
“We hear you, the Chief’s signal is very distorted. He’s hard to make out”, replied the Ensign.
“Are you receiving any telemetry from their suits?” asked Elizabeth.
“Some, reception is very erratic”, replied Tsu-tao.
“Acknowledged, stand by”, said Devereux.
“Sir, Jefferies and I could move further into the field and see if we can receive the Chief’s transmissions more clearly.”
Elizabeth looked over to the captain. Devereux looked to Elizabeth, then shook her head, then turned to talk with Hope again.
Elizabeth tapped the ‘transmit’ key. “Hold your position for now. We’re considering options”, She said.
What did he mean by an angel?, Elizabeth wondered. In spite of the tension on the bridge, her curiosity had her returning to what the chief said, and turning it over in her head. Knowing the Chief, it might be anything.
How did this get here, and , how in the name of Morris do I find what is projecting this image in all this floating junk? The debris field had been difficult to navigate. Pieces of rock, scrap, and unidentifiable debris floated in a loose cloud throughout the central area. Both he and Ferahim had to take it slow, making a number of small corrections to avoid some of the larger, and more dangerous looking pieces or wreckage. The large chunk of rock at the center drew at him. The white light that flickered against the dark, lightless background, struck him with images of a candle in a window, lighting the way home.
The flickering image floated close to the surface of the asteroid, with a large piece of what looked like a thick, irregular sliver piercing the image and embedded in the rock. The hologram was huddled, arms crossed in front of its face, as if it was trying to protect itself from something. The wings were feathered, white, and partly furled around the body, protectively, like the crossed arms. Rusty guessed the wingspan was somewhere around four meters tip to tip. The ‘hair’, or something like hair, shown with a bright copper sheen as his suit lights illuminated it, creating a halo of color around the head of the creature.
She. It, must have been caught in the blast and…he shook his head then snarled to himself. Snap out of it Rayna, it’s a Holo, not anything else. This looks like someone’s idea of an old rock music-slash-video vixen, or a kinky alien date. Maybe something a guy would dream up after a few too many.
Lieutenant Ferahim landed just ‘uphill’ from Rusty and the hologram. With her feet against the rock, she hovered at a near right angle to the chief, some five meters away. His feeling of unease at the tableaux in front of him was echoed by Ferahim through the comm. “Chief, wha …ou doing?” The interference was intense. The suit speakers were constantly crackling in his ears. His suit camera had “Just hold on, lieutenant. I want to look this over, I think we can take it back with us. We can use it for holo- night.”
He shook his head and chuckled, then began to look carefully around the image. If it’s a hologram vid, that means the projector’s here somewhere. The hand held scanner was useless due to the intense interference, so he turned a slow circle, scanning the cloud of small debris for something, anything that might be projecting the image. “Lieutenant, do you see any projector near here? I want to know what’s making this hologram.” “No …ief”, she said, “Noth …t all.”
Rusty sighed dramatically, then looked down at the image. “Don’t go away hun, I’ll be right back”, Rusty said to the flickering image. The two carefully searched the rock around the hologram for any activity. The scanners were useless due to the high interference, so the search was slowed appreciatively. After ten minutes of careful searching, they were no closer to finding the origin of the hologram. “Take a break, darling, while I think about this”, Rusty said with a roguish smile, trying to break the lieutenant’s ice-like demeanor. Ferahim didn’t react, turning and blipping her thrusters to move her up to the top edge of the rock.
“Chief…up here, now.” came the static-filled hum of the lieutenant’s voice. Her voice had him suddenly scanning the field for movement. He suddenly felt exposed, and alone. To cover his discomfort, he fired his thrusters to floating swiftly up next to the lieutenant, brushing against the sliver impaling the hologram. Once next to her, she pointed down the backside of the asteroid.
His eyes followed her finger down the rock, and to the unmistakable shape of a burn nozzle poking out of a cloud hanging debris. His mind whirred as he looked around him mentally noting pieces and striving to fit them like a giant puzzle together. “This isn’t a debris field”, he said excitedly, “it’s wreckage.” Ferahim was on full alert, scanning the area, her weapon unlimbered and ready for use. “Come on lieutenant, don’t tell me that old fossil has you ready to shoot then ask questions”, Rusty said disparagingly as he watched Ferahim study the field.
“Seeing trouble coming first saves more trouble finding you”, she replied, as her helmet turned to face him. “Hey, was that a dig?”, he chuckled. “It’s been a while, oh like about two hours, since anyone called me trouble.” The attempt at a roguish shrug of the shoulders was stymied by the zero-g suit and thruster nozzles. “You get to know me better and you’ll find I’m not near the mild-mannered engineer I appear to be”
Captain Devereux grimaced at the continuing lack of information. She shook her head, then looked over to her First Officer who was conversing with Gho at the science station. Elizabeth chose that moment to look up, and her cheeks reddened at the apparent scrutiny. She shifted the datapad from one hand to the other and rolled her shoulder. Devereux caught the slight hitch and wince Elizabeth tried to hide.
Toughing it out.
She turned to Hope once more. “Any ideas that come to mind, Hope?” Hope stared impassively at her for a long moment before answering. “It is extensive”, she finally said quietly. Devereux nodded. She turned to the communication station, where Hawkes and the science officer had resumed efforts to find a working frequency. He looked up at her, then shook his head very slightly before looking down again.
“Shuttle One, what’s your status?”, Devereux said, tersely.
“Shuttle One is one minute from launch-ready, Captain”, came Pryafox’s reply. His Cajun accent garbled by interference and the shape of his jaw and throat. “Cycling through the last check routines now. Downloading the latest updated maps of the field, such as we can get. That interference is going to make this interesting.”
“Keep it as uninteresting as you can, lieutenant. The Fleet would frown on me if I have to requisition another shuttle and Navigator”, Devereux replied.
“Can do and will do, Captain. Careful is my middle name.”
Everyone is a comedian, Devereux thought to herself, a small smile forming on her lips. The Chief’s rubbing off on the crew.
Hawkes stepped away from the communication station, and approached her. He straightened, then stated, “Captain, the interference is too much for communications. With its full spectrum of interference, we can only maintain contact for a few seconds on any given frequency. Cycling frequencies does not solve the problem either. The interference is continuously making random pattern changes.”
Devereux sighed, running her hand through her short, blonde hair. “Were you able to get any kind of information back when you did get a signal? “No, captain”, Hawkes said. She then turned to Hope. “Send a medic to the shuttle to join Pryafox, he should be ready for launch.” She shifted to face Hawkes again. “Lieutenant, keep trying to make contact, we may get lucky.” Hawkes’ carefully neutral face told her he didn’t expect to get lucky at all.
Hope nodded, and said, “I will go”. She headed to the shuttle bay, while Hawkes returned to the communications station. Devereux looked over to navigation, and then to the science, hoping that one might give her an insight to the situation. All she saw were earnest young faces, doing what they were trained to do.
She listened to the snippets of conversation, “Trying suite thirty-one to thirty-six megaherz” …”Keep the drift constant, we’re building a slow yaw” … “Try forty-one to fifty” … “mapping complete to twenty percent of centroid.”
“Shuttle One reporting. The Doc’s aboard, We’re just waiting for the extra medical supplies”, Pryafox said over the comm.
“Acknowledged, report ready when the equipment’s secured”, she replied.
Elizabeth looked up, then to the Captain. Devereux shook her head. I hate making them wait, but there’s no proof they’re in trouble yet. The Chief’s as resourceful as he is a pain-in-the-butt. I’ll give them a little more time.
She then looked over to Hawkes, who was still in conversation with Gho. “Anything new to report, lieutenant Hawkes?” she queried. “No captain, nothing successful as yet”, replied Hawkes. Christine nodded, then turned to the screens again.
Hawkes looked back to Gho. She looked up, then back to her board, and said, “I’m going to military channel-skipping, that’s my last gasp at finding a hole in all that noise. It’s just too strong and it’s too pervasive through the range we’re set up for. Theoretically, if we could transmit in the nano-wave range, or very long-wave, we might find something. Gho lifted her hands off the surface and placed her fists together, then pulled them apart, fingers splayed out. “Pfft, we’re deaf until they get back in range or the jammer, if there is one, is shut down.
Hawkes watched Gho’s frustration. He understood it, and didn’t remark on her dramatic gesture. He looked up to the screens, and closed his eyes as he took a calming breath. There is no standard response to a non-standard situation. What is needed is a non-standard answer.
In spite of the stress, he maintained the same impassive controlled demeanor he always did. There IS a method to defeat this. He reached his hand up to the side of his head, then stopped. His deliberate steps slowed as he turned over every method so far attempted, trying to find a flaw or a derivation that might give a way to communicate with Lieutenant Ferahim and the Chief Rayna. Every situation he could remember was considered for anything that might apply.
His focus had been on security, not rescue. He had cross-training implemented, and all of his tactical and security teams were able to fill in where needed in engineering, maintenance, emergency medical, damage control, and communications. Experience is only gained on the job, training works only for being trained. Hawkes’ pacing slowed until it looked like he was moving in slow motion, each step taking seconds to complete. His cheek muscles clenched, his head snapped up. Hawkes stood completely still, eyes locked forward as if peering at some distant scene.
After a few seconds of absolute stillness, he resumed a brisker pace, his tense muscles visibly relaxing as he returned to Gho’s side at the Communication console. The Captain and First Officer watched him as he moved to the Science officer’s side. When in doubt, ask the expert.
“What have we not considered as communications, Ensign?”, Hawkes asked her.
Gho looked at her console, clenched her fists, and then opened them. “What about pitching a rock with a note attached to it?”, she said.
Hawkes paused, then looked down at Gho. “That kind of accuracy would need a targeting assist”
Gho looked up into his impassive face, and seemed completely at a loss to how she should reply. The pause stretched out for a few moments, until Hawkes raised his eyebrows, and queried, “Ensign?”
She fidgeted uncomfortably, then answered, “I…I don’t know.”
“Try cycling the series with the apparent modulation cycle of the interference,” he suggested. Hawkes looked at the screen then down again. “If we match our signal to the intensity variation, we may be able to…” The speakers squealed with ear splitting feedback. Everyone on the bridge clapped their hands, filled or not, to their ears, trying to shut out the painful squeal. Gho quickly cut the speakers and fed the transmission through her console. The interference peaked then dropped back to a quieter hiss.
Gho shook her head and waited a moment to let her ears quit ringing. “Cycling attenuates it, sir,” she said in frustration.
He nodded, his mind focused on trying to correlate this latest failure with the other attempts. “Noted. Continue your study of the phenomena.”
Hawkes returned to Tactical. He began running a number of potential security exercises through the computer as he worked at breaking his obsession with finding a communications solution. He focused on his board as it returned potential scenario results.
He could hear the captain’s measured stride as she approached and stopped just behind him. “Lieutenant, who besides Lieutenant Ferahim has EVA experience in security?”, Devereux asked. Hawkes stopped, focusing on the request, then brought up a list of security personnel. There were six others with EVA experience, though two had more than the rest. Sergeants Sykes and Tuggle. “Sykes and Tuggle have a number of EVA missions, I recommend them as first choice for another EVA team”, Hawkes said as he turned his head to address the captain.
“Have them report to the shuttle, and kitted out for rescue. If the Chief’s and Ferahim’s estimated air supplies drop past a third remaining, I want them to be ready to go collect the two of them,” Devereux said. Hawkes noticed her face was pinched slightly. She’s worried. He straightened and turned fully to face Captain Devereux. “I will make certain they’re ready on time, Captain.” Devereux looked at Hawkes, then ran her hand through her hair, saying, “I’m sure they will be.”
Hope supervised the installation of the portable diagnostic table and the walk-through scanner in the cargo hold. Once secured, she used security officers Sykes and Tuggle to test the scanner, using them to check its functions and see if it needed calibration after the move. The tests showed no deviation from it’s baseline settings, so Hope set it to standby and checked the diagnostic table. Satisfied that both pieces of equipment were ready, she assisted the loading of the extra medical supplies: anti-radiation drugs, hydration packs, and tissue repair nanites for vacuum damage. She had also brought bone knitters, though chances of their use were low.
Once the supplies were secured, she walked from the cargo bay to the pilot deck, where Pryafox was sitting back with old-style over the ear headphones on. Sykes and Tuggle were at the back sitting in two of the crew seats, listening to the music. To Hope, the noise was a cacophonous mix of sound in a scale that was jarring and at odds with her senses. “That’s one amazing piece of music”, Tuggle said, a large smile on his face. “Something raw, and honest. Where’d you get it, Fox?” Pryafox gave Tuggle a openmouthed grin and tapped the headphones off, then lowered them to hang around his neck. “Tha saom good ol’ blooz rahk muzak. Got that fum a 2005 rad-eee-oh broadcast. Love det stuff”, he said, playing up his cajun accent, getting laughs from both Sykes and Tuggle.
“Is that tribal music?, Hope remarked. All three men blinked as one, and turned to Hope. She noted that their glances seemed to register astonishment at her observation. “Well, ah, y’see”, Pyrafox seemed at a total loss to answer her question. He finally gave up and chuckled. “Y’all maht be raht onna dat”, he said in his exaggerated Cajun accent, as both Sykes and Tuggle listened, chuckling.
She stood absolutely still for a number of seconds, then moved to sit down in the co-pilot’s seat. She buckled into the safety harness. “I am ready”, she said tersely. Pryafox shut the music off, and waited for Sykes and Tuggle to strap themselves in. He half-turned to Hope and saluted crisply. “Certainement! Shuttle one taxi is ready to go.” he grinned and checked his safety harness. He slipped the headphones back over his ears, and Hope could hear another dissonant mix of sound emit faintly from them. She wondered if it had any religious significance, and why a devil would go to someplace called Georgia.
Hope listened with detached interest to Jefferies excited discourse over the comm. “We need to go deeper into the field, get more core samples”, he said over the comm. “This really should be marked and studied. A full quarter of this debris field appears to be non-natural! I’m seeing what look like parts of a ship, or a number of ships. This is a treasure trove of data. This has to be a research priority. I’ve never gotten results like these before. There’s organics mixed with the metals, and silicon. It’s like … like nothing I’ve ever seen!”
As she waited for the shuttle to launch, she brought up Jefferies vitals on her portable screen. Her misgivings in allowing him to go EVA prompted her close scrutiny of his vitals. The baseline readings had not changed appreciably. Oxygen intake was half-again what a standard rate should be, along with elevated blood pressure, and slightly labored breathing. Nothing of immediate concern. She noted a new regimen for a dietary restriction on carbohydrates and extra time at physical conditioning, attaching the notes to his profile for the colony medical staff.
“Is there any way to identify who made it?”, Captain Devereux said.
“I’m a xeno-geologist, Captain. I wouldn’t know a Arctican ship from a Heftaur one. Rocks I know, and most of this field is not rock”, Jefferies replied. “Besides, most of this wreckage reads as organic. I don’t know anyone who builds a ship like that outside of old science fiction books”
“Understood, Devereux said. She stopped, for a moment, then said, “See if you can find samples of the wreckage small enough to handle, and bring it on board the shuttle”,
“Aye aye, captain”, Tao-tsu replied.
“Hope, make certain everything goes through decon procedures.”
“Yes”, Hope replied. Organics. Proteins. Some of these are artificial designs. This trace is a protein of a viral transfer coat. This is chitin, and myelin, and pure carbon traces. What race uses material like that for ships? Could there be something applicable to my experiments? I have to get some samples to study in detail. There was an odd familiarity to the material that disturbed her.
The shuttle was given the green light to launch. Pryafox deftly maneuvered the shuttle from its bay, using short, delicate pulses of the maneuvering thrusters. He let the shuttle drift about two hundred meters away from the ship, then fired a braking sequence so that the shuttle was rock-steady off the port side of Emerald Flight. Pryafox looked over to Hope. “Any closer, Doc, an’ we’ll be in the field, an’ that makes maneuvers a little tricky.” Hope and Pryafox unbuckled. Hope donned the zero-g suit, with Pryafox assisting her. While the suits could be worked by just one person, loading extra equipment on them was slow without help. “Thank you”, she said to Pryafox when they finished.
Pryafox gave the seals a second check, then grinned, showing Hope a thumbs up. He moved back into the cockpit, closed the airlock door, then began to depressurize the cargo area. The hiss of air escaping faded rapidly. Once the bay read zero atmosphere, the large overhead doors opened. Hope moved to the main bay, and switched the portable med table and walk-through scanner from ‘stand-by’ to ‘active’.
“Hey, how you all doing with the collecting out there?”, Pryafox said over the comm. “The Doc’s ready and waiting.”
“We’ve got the first piece,” Tao-tsu answered. “It looks like some melted stuff. Pretty light compared to some of the rocks mixed in. This looks like it’s pretty representative. What do you think, sir?”
Jeffries took a moment to reply. “It looks pretty much like most of them, burned and melted. I’m going to poke around a bit.”
“Check your tether first, sir.”
“Oh, yes, right. My tether.” Jefferies was silent for a moment. “How’s my tether?”
“You’re fine, though fifty meters isn’t going to let you near any of that other stuff, this is one spread out bunch of junk. Emerald Flight, just how big is this field, again?”, Tao-tsu asked.
“Our telemetry had it at five kilometers at its short axis, and eight on the long axis”, Eleizbeth replied.
“I wonder if all of this is one ship or more.”, Tao-tsu, said.
Hope tuned the chatter out and reviewed the sensor data. Tao-tsu and Jefferies were tethered a half-kilometer into the field. The radiation counter detected only the slight background radiation of deep space. Neither Jefferies or Tao-tsu were in any danger from radioactivity. The concern was the organics that were there. Among the traces were proteins that were found in viruses. The suits were proof against any disease or parasites, but only so long as they didn’t remove them. Full decontamination would be required as a safety precaution.
“Tao-tsu, how do I work this tether? Oh, got it. Let’s go to that big piece over there. I think we can push it back to the shuttle”, Jefferies said eagerly.
“You bring a big piece back, you take care gettin’ it in my shuttle. Don’t scratch the paint”, Pryafox said with a yipping chuckle.
“Everyone’s a comedian”, Jefferies said in reply, though Hope heard a small laugh in his voice in spite of the gruff sound.
“Shuttle overhead doors open, you can bring your souvenirs to the doc. She’s waiting”, said Pryafox.
“On our way. See you soon, Shuttle One”, Tao-tsu finished.