Adventures in Cartography

The hatch to cartography was shut. I reached down to spin the wheel to open it and it didn’t move. I pressed the intercom button next to the hatch. There was a somewhat muffled clanging noise. “Arie! Charlie! What’s wrong with the door?” I felt stupid after I said it. It was obvious that they were venting atmosphere. I hope they were able to get into the survival suits in time.

Janice was calling the bridge. The captain was trying to calm her down. She was talking so fast I couldn’t follow what she was trying to say and I knew more or less what that was. “Slow down,” I whispered at her. She took a deep breath and started again.

“Captain. This is Janice Fletcher. I’m in the companionway outside of cartography with David Mathews. The Hatch is sealed. We can hear the decompression alarm through the intercom. It is muffled. We need assistance.” Janice finally slowed down enough that she was understood.

“Very good, Janice. We’re sending help now. Both of you find a survival suit and get into it now. Be careful,” the captain said. I found the survival kit half way down the companionway. I drug two suits out and put one on. Janice pulled one on as well. We both decided to wait to pressurize them until it was necessary. They pressurized almost instantly.

I turned on the radio in the helmet. The channel was busy. Apparently a micrometeorite traveling at .8c had gone through cartography entering from the bottom of the module and exiting through the top. Up and down were relative. By convention we normally engaged the artificial gravity on the side closest the object we were orbiting. When we were in space, the aft of the ship was down. Everything was easily adaptable to which way was down at any given time.

It was strange that the meteorite had come from the planet side. It must have just grazed the planet before it struck the ship. It was also more than a little strange that it was travelling at such a high velocity.

The XO and the maintenance chief were climbing up the ladder at the end of the companionway. The XO stopped to fill us in on the plan. He and the chief were wearing EV suits. “You two go down the ladder we just came up and seal the hatch behind you. Pressurize your suits just in case. We’re going to equalize the pressure so we can open the hatch to cartography.”

We both nodded and pressed the button to pressurize our suits. We scrambled down the ladder, Janice first. I closed the hatch and sealed it. “We’re secure sir,” I told the XO over the radio.

“Acknowledged. We’re equalizing pressure now.” We could hear the pumps kick in. It seemed like forever but I had glanced at the suit chronometer and it had only been three minutes. The XO came back over the radio.

“Bridge, this is the XO. Tell doc to get ready to treat two mild cases of hypothermia. Arie and Charlie both got in their suits in plenty of time. It got pretty cold in there before we got to them. Chief says it will take several hours to patch the holes. If that’s what a meteorite the size of a grain of sand will do, we’re lucky it wasn’t any bigger.”

“This is the captain. Acknowledged. Did you get that doc?” the captain asked.

“Acknowledged. We’ll have the thermal stabilization blankets ready for them. Bring them on.” Doc answered.

We heard the pumps re-pressurizing the companionionway above us. After just a few minutes the pumps cut off and the hatch opened. Janice and I helped Arie and Charlie down the ladder. The XO said, “I’m going to go help the chief patch those holes.”

“We’ll take them to sick bay.” Janice said. Both of the patients were shaking. Their teeth were chattering. They could barely put one foot after the other. We helped them to sick bay and into the waiting blankets.

Randy, the nurse, said, “You both did a good job. We’ve got them taken care of now.”

“Thanks, Randy.” I said. Janice and I started back toward cartography but ended up back in the galley. “How about some hot tea?” I asked.

“That sounds good. Didn’t you think it was odd that the meteorite came from planetside?” Janice asked.

“It did seem odd to me. And even odder was the speed it was traveling. What natural object of that size travels at .8c?” We sipped our tea in silence. It was a comfortable silence. I could feel the adrenalin wearing off and I was beginning to feel drained. We checked back with sick bay but Doc said the patients had warmed up and been sent to their quarters to get some sleep. He suggested we do the same.

We got to Janice’s quarters first. “Why don’t you come in a minute?” she suggested.

“Um, well I … I mean, okay.” It wasn’t that I hadn’t dated or had girl friends before. I just had pushed thoughts of such things out of my mind. I had come on this mission to do a job, not take a vacation cruise. But then Janice was a scientist. And a woman. She was definitely a woman. There was no denying that. And I was a heterosexual man. But we were both professionals. Hell, I didn’t know what to do in this situation. I didn’t have any experience to compare this with. I went inside. She closed the hatch.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Dave and Janice Do Lunch

It had been ten days since we started investigating the planet below. There were twelve of us running three eight hour shifts. The captain had approved my temporary reassignment to Cartography. I was getting good at finding anomalies but no one had caught any IEs in any of the pictures that we had been taking. It was getting a little spooky. Arie had posted a bounty to go to the first person that correctly identified an IE on the planet. The captain matched it “just to make things more interesting.”

Most of us were concentrating on finding and marking anomalies but Arie and Charlie, his senior tech, had taken a different approach. For the last two days they had been looking for patterns in the placements of the anomalies relative to each other and other natural features, like oceans and rivers and mountains. No one had come up with anything yet but we were all still excited.

I had been scanning images for four hours as fast as I could without risking overlooking something. Janice, one of the other junior cartographers came over to where I was working. “Are you hungry?” she asked.

“Yes, now that you mention it I am,” I said. She smiled coyly and crooked her finger at me. I hit pause on the scanning program and followed her out the door. We raced to the galley like kids. When we got there, we discovered that we had the place to ourselves.

“What would you like?” I asked.

“How about a veggie fajita salad with guacamole and chips,” she said. I punched in her order and ordered a burrito and queso and chips for myself to keep in the spirit of things. While we waited for the autochef to prepare our meal I fixed two large lime waters.

“You do like lime water,” I asked. She nodded yes. As I set the drinks on the table the autochef chimed. I got our food and joined Janice at the table. “What else do you do around here when you’re not looking for IEs in cartography?” I asked.

“I am an anthropologist and a geologist. But mostly, I help the quartermaster keep tabs on our inventory. What are your other occupations?”

“Well, I’m a pilot/navigator so I normally pull a watch on the bridge twice a day. I’m also a physicist and an apprentice engineer so I get to help keep the ship’s engines in top running order.” She looked at me with an incredulous smile. “Actually, I do odd jobs for the chief engineer and sometimes he lets me watch while he keeps the ship’s engines in top running order.” I admitted.

“That’s more like what I heard from my friend Ellen. She is the clerk.” Janice said.

“I know Ellen. She proofs my reports sometimes. I am a terrible speller and she said she didn’t mind. The captain likes his reports flawless. He maintains it reflects on the integrity of the ship and its crew.”

“Is this your first survey mission,” Janice asked.

“Yes. I just graduated from Feynman University. I had a scholarship from the Star Service. I spent my summers learning to fly starships. How about you?”

“This is my second mission. I’m on the last interval of a geology internship. I will finish my dissertation when we get back and then I’ll be Dr. Janice Fletcher. Then I want to apply for a post as science officer on a survey ship.”

“Good for you! It takes longer to work your way up the command career path. I’ll probably be a pilot for a least ten years before I get a chance to move up.” We finished our lunch and placed our dishes in the washer. Then we headed back to cartography to get back to work.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Intelligent Patterns Emerge

There was a buzz of excitement in Cartography as I entered. It took a few minutes for it to sink in. They were talking about cities on the surface. They weren’t like any cities on earth. These cities were so integrated into the natural environment that they weren’t immediately obvious from orbit.

The cartographers were debating the features on a projection of a picture they had taken through one of the high powered telescopes. “See how these ridges are perfect sine waves and are perfectly parallel to each other for fifty miles. That has to be an artificial construction.” Arie, the senior cartographer pointed out.

“Why haven’t we seen any signs of the builders?” Susan, one of his crew asked.

“Perhaps we have. We are biased to look for bipedal mammals a meter and a half tall. Perhaps these artifacts are constructed by a different type of intelligence. We need to get as many eyes on these pictures as possible. We need to figure out what is behind these constructs. This may be a first contact situation.” We all knew the potential consequences, both good and bad, that might come of contact with an alien civilization.

Mankind had found four civilizations at a similar level of development as itself. Two of them had strict taboos against contact with alien races. One welcomed us with open arms. The fourth, well we were still working to disengage from one of the deadliest wars that mankind had ever known.

The Eleni were a fierce species. They were anywhere from 1.2 meters to 2 meters tall. They were the only other intelligent bipedal species that we had encountered so far. They had small feathers where humans had hair. They had two eyes with diamond shape irises, two holes where our nose was, a mouth that was bigger than ours full of sharp teeth, and membranes on either side of their bald head that served for ears. They had arms that had developed from vestigial wings.

Their race had always been flightless but they probably evolved from some kind of flying mammal. They gave birth to live offspring which were raised by an extended family unit. They breast fed their young. And they were fiercely territorial and didn’t believe in taking any prisoners. They had transdimensional drives similar to ours but not nearly as efficient. Their ships had a maximum range of about a quarter of what our least capable starships.

This was the context behind the discussion. If there were intelligent beings with any kind of advanced technology, we had to be very careful not to do anything to agitate them. If the didn’t have advanced technology we owed it to them to allow them to develop naturally without any interference from mankind. There was an old twentieth century TV show, Star Trek, that introduced the concept of the prime directive. Star Service HQ had adopted it as a standing policy after our first encounter with the Arnus, one of the races that shunned alien contact.

While I had been wool gathering, someone had called the captain. He came in followed by the ships doctor and the XO. “What kind of brilliant discovery have you made, Arie?” he asked. Arie pointed out the parallel sine wave ridges in the projected picture.

“We have seen other suspiciously artificial features in earlier pictures that we have taken over the last seventy two hours but this one is the most convincing. What do you think?” Arie asked the captain.

“I think we need to get you at least four more pairs of eyes for the next couple of weeks. See to updating the schedule, Eric,” the captain said. Eric was the XO. “And maybe we can get the doc and his staff to give you a hand if you get some pictures of potential IEs.” IE was what the Service called Intelligent Entities.

“Can we launch a small constellation of orbital sensors to speed up the scans?” Arie asked.

“I think that makes sense. Keep it down to less than half a dozen. Nothing bigger than a cubic meter. We don’t want to spook the natives.” the captain replied.

“Aye, captain. I’ll get you a detailed preliminary report by 1800 hours,” Arie said.

“That will be great. I look forward to it. We’ll get out of your hair now.” The captain and the other officers shook hands with the cartographers and the captain and the XO left.

The doc asked Arie, “Would you like some help from the biological perspective? Barb is an experienced xenobiologist. She would be happy to give you a hand.”

Arie said, “Thanks. I can use all the help I can muster.”

“I’ll be glad to help when I’m not on watch,” I volunteered.

Arie smiled. “That will be great Dave. I’ve noticed you here the past couple of days. You know your way around the scopes and have a good eye for detail.”

“Thanks,” I said. I sat down at one of the smaller scopes in the corner of the lab. It was going to be an interesting couple of hours.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Join the Star Service and See the Galaxy

I sat on the bridge of the small survey ship orbiting above the large blue planet. It looked a lot like another planet I knew light years away from this one. The continents were a little smaller and there were more of them. The oceans were a good bit larger and deeper at that. The biological survey team had already discovered two species that would dwarf anything alive on Earth today. One was a large mammal that swam in the oceans. The other looked something like an over-sized camel, twice as tall as an Indian elephant and half again as wide.

My watch would be over soon. I ought to get some sleep but the excitement of the unknown had me pretty wired. Maybe I’d have a look through the powerful telescopes in the cartography lab if they weren’t all in use. I could look for an hour or two and still get six hours of sleep before I had to be up in the morning.

On a ship this small, we all had three or more specialties. It was the only way that made economic sense. If  you sent a crew of eighty people to far flung planets light years away from anywhere, they had to be pretty self reliant. We were out on a three year tour and we wouldn’t get back to civilization until near the end of our mission.

The plan was to survey this planet for three to six months, depending on how rich or poor it was in features of interest. The science officer had already determined that it had enough interesting features to warrant a full time research outpost. That seemed to indicate we would spend more time here than we had on our previous stops. When it came down to it, we would spend as much time here as the captain thought prudent before moving on to the next planet on our agenda.

All together there were eight stops on our list each with a planet of potential interest and we had already marked two of them off. The first was a large, young planet still very hot and in the process of forming. We had finished our preliminary study of that one in just over six weeks. The second one was a tiny little planet about the size of Mercury and not much further away from the star that it orbited. We only spent a week on that one.

“Anything to report?” the captain asked from over my shoulder. He had walked in so quietly I hadn’t heard him. I think he enjoyed startling unwary junior officers.

“No sir, nothing too far out of the ordinary.” I replied, “I was just about to write up my watch report. O’Neil is supposed to relieve me at oh six hundred.”

“Good man. Are you headed to bed after your watch?” he asked.

“I thought I might spend an hour or so in cartography first. I can catch up on my sleep when we are between planets.” The captain smiled. He was proud of the enthusiasm of his crew. He knew each of us fairly well and made it his business to make sure that we were in good spirits.

“That’s a fine sentiment, son. Don’t push yourself too hard though. We’re going to take a long hard look at this one.” He sat down at his command console and started skimming the reports on his tablet. I busied myself writing my report and keeping my eye on the sensor dashboard of my watch station.

Ten minutes later, Bob O’Neil showed up to relieve me. I handed the watch over to him, told him and the captain good night and headed to the galley to grab a late supper before heading down to cartography.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Why, In My Day…

Where does use end and abuse begin? I am an internet user. I have what Apple so coyly terms a “digital lifestyle.” I read my email daily, several times a day, actually. I am online all day at work. I use the internet as a reference tool for my job. I develop web applications for my employer. Some of the information that I need to do my job is only available online.

I write a blog every day, usually in the evening before I go to bed. Sometimes it is an essay. Sometimes it is fiction. Sometimes it is worth reading. Often it falls short of my standards.  I strive to be interesting, informative, and sincere.

I frequently take pictures with my phone. At this point it is the only working camera that I own. I text and talk with my wife several times a day. I often play games or read on my phone when I have to wait somewhere, in the doctor’s office, waiting for a take-out order, etc. I do not do these things when I am with someone. I think that is rude.

In short, I use technology but not to the exclusion of people in the real world around me. I think that is an important distinction to make and a critical line to draw. Technology enhances my life. It doesn’t shield me from the world around me. I’m not sure that is true of many people in our society.

To the extent that I can stay in touch with people that I can’t be physically with, I think that online interaction is a good thing. For some people that live in places remote from the majority of their friends, the internet provides much needed support. That isn’t what I am talking about.

I am talking about the people that will sit and look at their phone when they are sitting in a restaurant with someone else! They will text with people that they are sitting across the table from! As far as they are concerned, it didn’t happen if they haven’t posted about it on Facebook.

I am hopeful that this phase will pass. We will come to our senses and remember to enjoy the physical world around us. Or maybe we’ll just be sucked in to the next big attention vacuum. Maybe we’ll all get wired up with direct brain implants so we won’t need external devices any more. We will become remote sensors for all our friends and family as they will be for us.

What do you think?

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.


The sky is beginning to turn pink on the horizon. The birds have been singing for a while now. I am counting my breaths. I breath in for a count of ten then I  hold it for a count of three and breath out for a count of fifteen. Or that’s the plan anyway. I do it perfectly for five or six times and then my mind wanders.

When I was little my father told me that to catch a bird all you had to do was put salt on its tail. The irony of this instruction escaped me. I sometimes think there is some irony that I am missing when it comes to the breathing exercise.

I close my eyes and try again. This time I establish a good rhythm. I keep it up for much longer than I had before. And then I feel the sun breaking over the horizon and shining on my closed eye lids. It is so profound that I forget myself again. I quit counting but continue breathing in and out slowly and deeply. I don’t know how long I keep it up. Finally, I open my eyes and hold my hand up to shade them from the sun.

I stand up and dust myself off. I walk briskly back to the apartment. I am greeted by joyous barks from the puppy. She is wagging her tail so hard I’m afraid she’s going to give herself whiplash. I pick her up and she licks my face. She puts her head on my shoulder for a minute and then starts to wriggle. She wants down. Who can stay still when they have this much pent up energy?

Fiction is best which starts with some universal truth and spins out from there. Sunrise, meditation, and puppy love. What can be truer than that?

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Practice Makes Perfect, Eventually

I used to sit and play my guitar. I would play one chord over and over. I would listen to each string as it contributed its tone to the ensemble. I listened to the way the tones beat against each other. It resonated with my soul.

It was also nerve racking for my parents. One time when I had been meditating on the esoteric qualities of an E chord for fifteen minutes or so, I remember my mom commenting, “I think you’ve got that one down now.”

I have had my children and done my penance. Not in exactly the same ways my parents did but in similar ones. I have more sympathy for them now. And I  feel gratitude that they let me explore the intricacies of those sounds for as long as they could stand it. It helped me to become who I am.

Now, I find myself exploring a different kind of art form. I am learning to weave words together to strike chords of emotion in people’s hearts. I am strumming the same notes over and over again and this time it is my readers that are being patient with me while I get the notes down perfect.

I can report that I did become reasonably accomplished on the guitar. I performed professionally for three years and have continued to play until this day. These days when I explore new sounds on the guitar it is less nerve racking. I hope to reach that point sooner than later with my writing as well.

In the mean time, I’d like to thank my readers for accompanying me on this journey of exploration. I am truly grateful to you all. And I have learned one thing. It will get better with practice. Everything does.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.