23 April, 2010

On the New Frontier...Chasing Darkness: Part I

(This is yet another new story. It came to me while watching episodes of the anime series Outlaw Star and the new season of Doctor Who. It is a science fiction story of course. Nothing like being faced with an impossible choice. I am going to wind up writing this in parts on the blog.)

     Sitting on a rock, I waited impatiently.
     Never known for patience on the best of days, this was not the best of my days at all. My friends would laugh I suspect if they could see me right now. Cursing loudly and muttering, looking for all the worlds like a murder suspect gone wrong.
     A fortnight ago, I would have been in a position to have my friends laugh at me for seeing this display. A fortnight ago I set off on a simple flight, nothing more exciting than running out to the frontier to inspect equipment to buy. A fortnight since my ship hit an unexplained spacial disturbance, putting me someplace else entirely.

Day 1
     The blaring alert klaxon scared me right out of my bunk. Scrambling in my bare feet, I skidded straight into flight control. Landing in my pilot's seat, I started punching up the full 360 detectors and vision. I powered down the hyperatomic motor of my ship, the Stellar Rush. Scanning everything, I could see why I was awakened.
     Directly ahead and to 30 degrees port and starboard, space seethed with energy. I could barely spot it visually, but the detectors bounced madly with readings. Looking them over, I frowned. One moment, the readings bounced off the scale. The very next, nothing.
     I spent 20 minutes going over everything in the database trying to figure out what was going on. I held hope I would learn something, as the Stellar Rush was an old Type-4a long range transport. In a stroke of luck, I had managed to get her unmodified when she was decommissioned from active Alliance service thanks to a friend.
     At the end of those 20 minutes, I had nary a clue. Nothing in the database matched remotely what I was seeing. I ran a quick science search through the datalinks with all news services. Nothing returned from that. Disappointed, I reached over to send a message and drop a navigational hazard buoy.
     The buoy dropped flawlessly. Communications, however, were scrambled beyond eggs. Hammering at the communications board accomplished nothing, prompting me to think. In a moment, I opened a channel to the buoy, transmitting all my sensor info and a brief narrative of events.
     "2-October-2315. Stellar Rush outbound from Rigel for Iceon Four. Encountered unusual area of energy activity. Sensor readings erratic, conforming to no known phenomena available to ship databanks. Long range communications disrupted. Navigational hazard buoy dropped per standard Articles of Notification. Attempting to plot new course and report incident once out of range."
     Closing the channel, I leaned back in my pilot's seat. Loathe to leave this little discovery, I couldn't wait til another ship happened this way. I sighed, content in the knowledge that I had done what was necessary. I turned my attention to getting on with the show.
     Checking the readings, I realised that the erratic nature of this was going to preclude flying through. Flying around would take serious time and care. Doubling back would take time, perhaps causing other complications. I fretted through this mess for several moments.
     Finally, I punched my navigation controls and reversed course. I pondered how best to make up for the delay as the ship turned. As she turned, I decided upon speed testing the engines and save the visit to Asimov station for the return trip.
     Jumping out of the seat as the warning klaxon went again, I powered the shields to full. Glaring into the detector readout, a tirade formed for the person or persons who scared me. Space piloting rage was a hallmark of mine.
     The energy effect seethed in front of me again.
     Blinking, I double checked the nav controls. Seeing they were right, I exercised a slow 90 degree turn on thrusters. Blinking again, I saw to my dismay that the energy effect was before me. I powered up the hyperatomic motor, picking a z axis descent. Smiling as space cleared I let the ship creep up to 70% sublight.
What happened next will be hazy for all my life. The warning klaxon started, and I shunted emergency power to the shields. I reversed course under full power, trying to kick into hyperspace. The last thing I remember seeing was the ceiling of flight control rushing at me.

     I felt my head throbbing. Every last thing in me ached mightily and then some. With effort I pulled myself up using the pilot's chair. My eyes noted quickly that all seemed working. I slid into the chair and punched commands for a damage report.
     In seconds the readout appeared. Running through it, nothing seemed damaged at all. I huffed a serious sigh of relief. I checked for the energy disturbance in case it was lurking nearby. No sign of it prompted a shrug from me.
     That's when my eyes caught the main viewscreen. Blinking a few times, the sight before me remained unchanged. I hammered the visual detector controls, then linked the exterior detectors into the visual display. I looked again and again, searching for a fault and finding none.
     Knowing the route well, I stared at the viewscreen. As I stared, I linked the databanks into the sensors, looking for known markers. Reaching out and flicking switches, the detectors and communications relays fired to life, searching. Fidgeting in my seat, the answer arrived in about 11.34 minutes.
     Position: Unknown. Detectors: No buoys, markers, ships, planets in range. Communications: No signals of any kind detected.
     Losing track of time, I have no clue how long I sat there. I have no clue of how many times I checked again everything. In short, I have no clue how long it took me to realise what I was seeing, was no illusion.
The long range detectors pinged suddenly. Turning to them, three ships entered detector range. Waiting for the analysis to come in, I decided to go for broke. Tying in the translation system, I opened every channel I could.
     "MayDay MayDay...Ship in distress...repeat ship in distress."
     I held my breath, watching the detectors. Without knowing for certain how the translation came out, I could be telling those ships anything. Perhaps something completely mean. Perhaps something completely nice.
     I received several bursts of something in reply. Routing that through the translation system, all I could do was hope. Taping I foot and keeping a wary eye on the detectors, I received more bursts of something.
     "Attempting to translate your transmissions. Sending pulse ping for locating purposes. Will send more language information as required."
     Slapping the shields on emergency full, I fired up the ion pulsers. The unknown vessels detector system was not as good as mine apparently. The directional pulse, however provided all the direction needed. I found the three ships streaking for my position, some sort of projectiles firing from all three, then energy weapons.
     Turning 70 degrees starboard, the first cluster of projectiles missed by a good bit. The second batch missed by a few yards, causing me to turn into the third group. The shields managed them handily, I noted happily as I turned, looking for a clear lane out.
     I noted as I shoved off at 90% sublight the three ships closing port side astern. Bafflement caused hesitation as more projectiles streamed forth from each vessel. Moving a bit slower, I had enough time to get a good look at them.
     Slapping the fire control, the plasma cannons filled space with streaks of magenta. Thanking my luck on getting this ship unmodified, the targeting computer nailed all the projectiles. Firing one last volley, I managed to jump to hyperspace.
     In the end I made several totally random jumps, hoping I didn't manage to plow into anything. After the last one, I found myself within range of a binary star system. Running the detectors at full, nothing in the way or life or artificial structures returned in the data. Heading for it, I found myself thinking again.
     Running the long range detectors again against the stellar catalog, no recognizable objects returned. Frowning at the repeat of this development, I felt the icy grip of panic grab a hold of me. What was I to do? Where was I to go? How do I survive this?
     Upon entering the system, I noted the spatial and magnetic interference would mask my ship. Finding a valley on the fifth planet I settled down under the cover of an overhang. Powering down everything but life support and the sensors I decided to force myself to grab some sleep. A creeping feeling told me I might need it.

Day 2
     Nothing disturbed me during the 10 hours of fitful sleep I got. Awaking, I showered and reviewed my situation. No new revelations poured forth, so I excited to my flight controls. Powering up all systems, I feed all the communications data into the translation program. Letting it run, I ran through preflight checks and blasted into the inky sky.
     I gingerly made my way through the binary system. My eye caught a reading the flashed up. An erratically twisting asteroid had shifted enough to allow me to see something I missed yesterday. A metallic mass was laying on the surface, partially buried. Curious, I altered course for a closer look.
     I hovered 200 yards over the wreck. What I thought was one large spaceship turned into a pair. The detectors told me the wreckage was 40 years old. A creeping sensation feel upon me, as I noted two things.
     The first, that the ships look like they had collided. The second was the design off one of the ships.
     After a minute and with the computer's help, I realised it was a Westinghouse D40a freighter. Along with that realisation came the knowledge that they hadn't collided, but the alien ship had rammed her. A shudder passed through me, causing me to check my detectors. Upon seeing them clear, I made a decision.
     It took more time than I wished it to, but I managed to match the asteroid and touch down next to the wreck. Setting the remote functions, I marched to the airlock. Once safely in my spacesuit, I exited my ship. Bouncing along carefully, I made it to the wreck. The sensor wand detected no remaining power, hardly a surprise.
     Looking about, I spotted a large enough hole in the hull of the D-40a. Jumping into it, flashing my torch as I landed on a wall, I barely even made a noise. Smiling that I managed that, I began trekking through the ship. Thankfully the D-40a was mostly just a cargo container, and from scans it was intact.
     After marching on the wall for 50 yards, I came to the cargo access door. I dropped my laser torch, as the door already showed evidence of being forced. Pushing through, I flashed the torch about the cargo hold. I actually was astonished at how much was still in the room. I spent a good 90 minutes in that hold, picking through antiques.
     I picked up a few things in the hold along the way before exiting. Another 10 minutes had me in flight control. Damage appeared extensive, but I located the data recorder. Prying it out I scanned the room for anything else. Nothing of interest seemed floating about.
     I made my way out and stood upon the hull of the D-40a. Staring at the alien ship, I debated going into it. After a moment or so, I turned for my ship. Deciding I would be unable to locate anything useful in alien technology, it was time to roll.
    Safely home in the Stellar Rush, I linked the data recorder and waited. In minutes I reaped an unexpected reward, star charts for the general area. Looking them over and feeding them through to the navigational system. The text display of the log yielded little science information.
     The strangest part was a line from the captain of the vessel. Noting they had met with representatives of a faction, the captain stated some thing about telekinetic powers. That would merit mention again during the last log entry about a hostile encounter.
     Scratching my head, I leaned back in thought. Concluding the captain understood less science than I, I dismissed it from my mind. Deciding to work on a plan, I set the automatics and thought.
     How was I going to get home?