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.

Passing Through

The door burst open and the winter wind howled through it. Three strangers, two men and a woman, hurried through the door and closed it behind them. Most of the patrons of the pub went back to what they were doing. The bartender watched the three as he polished glasses behind the bar. He hung a glass from a rack over the bar and greeted them as they approached the bar. “What’s your pleasure?” he asked.

“I’ll have a pint of bitters,” the large man with black hair and bushy eye brows said. The bartender nodded.

The other man said, “Make mine a pint of porter.” He was a few inches shorter than the first man at five eleven.

“And what can I get for you, young lady?” the bartender asked with a slight grin. The woman was no young lady, She was at least thirty, slender and tall with light brown hair.

“I’ll have a cup of coffee if you’ve got it. With just a nip of Irish.” She smiled and the tavern seemed to warm up from the glow she emitted.

“I’ll make a fresh pot. It’ll take just a minute to brew. In the mean time I’ll pull your drinks.” He turned and quickly started a pot of coffee brewing. Then he pulled the beers and set them on the bar in front of the gentlemen.

The man with the black hair nodded and said, “Thanks. The name’s, Mick. Could you tell us where we could find a couple of rooms for the night?”

The bartender replied, “Glad to meet you Mick. We have a couple of rooms upstairs. One’s got two single beds and the other has one. Bathroom is at the end of the hall. Would that suit you?”

Mick looked at his companions. They nodded. “I think that will do nicely. This is Charlie and this is Rebeca,” he said.

“The name’s Jerry since we’re introducing ourselves. Do you mind if I ask what you’re doing here in the middle of a dark, snowy winter night?” the bartender asked with an agreeable grin.

“We’re passing through. I thought we could make it to Spokane tonight but then we had a flat tire a few miles back down the road and it took us an hour or so to fix it and get back on the road. We probably couldn’t have made it to Spokane tonight anyway but now it’s obvious we need some sleep. Do you serve food?” Mick said. Jerry handed them each a sheet of paper.

“It’s not fancy and we’re out of the roast beef but Minnie is a great cook. If you want to have a seat, I’ll bring your coffee over in just a second, Rebeca was it?”

“Thanks.” Rebeca said and smiled again. The three took a seat at a table near the fire place. They looked around and noticed that they had been watched by some of the other patrons. A short, portly man got up and came over to the table where they were sitting.

“Excuse me. I overheard you talking to Jerry. If you need to get a tire fixed or buy a new tire, I have a garage here in town. The name is Carl Masters.” The man handed him a card and pointed toward the door. “My garage is just across the green from here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Masters. We’ll keep you in mind.” Mick said. Carl went back to the table where his drink and two companions were sitting. Jerry brought Rebeca’s coffee and took a pad out of his pocket.

“Have you decided what you want to eat?” he asked.

Rebecah handed him the menu and said, “I’ll have the stew and some bread and sliced cheese. Thanks.”

Mick spoke up, “I’ll have a hot ham and cheese sandwich and some fries.”

Charlie looked up from the menu. “I’ll have the fish and fries. And I’d like a cup of coffee since you’ve made a pot.”

Mick spoke up, “That sounds good. Me too.”

“Right then. Give us a few minutes and we’ll get you set up here,” Jerry said.

When Jerry had disappeared into what must have been the kitchen, Mick looked around the pub to see if anyone was still watching them. When he was satisfied that they were no longer the center of attention he turned to his friends and said, “Do you think anyone suspects?” Rebeca shook her head no and Charlie shrugged his shoulders. Before they could say anything more Jerry returned with a large loaf of hot bread, a bowl of butter and a plate of assorted cheese slices. “That looks delicious!” Mick said.

“Like I said, Minnie is a great cook. She baked the bread fresh just this afternoon. I heated it up a bit so the butter would melt nicely. The butter and cheese is from the dairy down the road. Best in the county.” It was clear that Jerry served the best of the local fare and was proud of it.

“Thanks,” Rebeca and Charlie said in unison. Jerry beamed and went to wait on another patron. Mick cut a piece of bread and buttered it.

“In answer to your question, I don’t think so,” Charlie said. “I don’t think I want to let that Carl guy get to close to our rover though. He might figure out that it’s not from this century.”

“Careful there. Voices carry. You’re probably right there. We forget all the little incremental improvements that have been made between now and our time,” Mick practically whispered.

In Which, the Author Rambles Perhaps a Bit Longer Than is Prudent

Sometimes when your writing things get away from you. A story that you were trying to take in one direction ends up going in an entirely different direction. At that point, you have two, no three options. You can follow to see where the story leads or you can go back and try to figure out where it jumped the tracks and have another go at it or you can do both.

I had a story in mind when I started writing Against the Cold of Deepest Space. It ended up going somewhere I wasn’t expecting it to go. I ended up liking where it went quite a bit. Enough so that I think I’ll keep following it to see where it ends up.

On the other hand, there is the poor dear that I started out to write. I think I’ll just have to go back and start over on that idea. It was a good idea but it will have to wait until I resolve the story that I did end up writing or at least started to write.

While I’m beating this poor horse long after it has given up the last breath, I’ll just say that when you are writing a story by the seat of your pants as I obviously often do, it is liberating. You don’t have to worry about things like consistency and all the parts of the story that you haven’t figured out yet. That’s what makes it so terribly difficult when you decide that you like what you’ve written and want to flesh it out some. You all of a sudden have to ask difficult questions.

Questions like, given the level of technology that you are describing, would what they are doing make economic sense? Or, what kind of engines are they using, how much fuel would it take for them to get where they are going to and back, and why would they need a crew of twenty or even one? Wouldn’t it make more sense to send a robotic resupply mission? Then you wouldn’t have to expend air, food, heat and fuel for the extra mass that you were carrying.

I think there are good answers to those questions and I am pursuing them as quickly as I can. Maybe I will have time to crank out that other story that I started. Maybe it is even in the same fictional world as the story that I began to write. You’ll be the first to know after I figure it out.

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

A Neo-Golden Age of Science Fiction

First let me assure you that I will write another installment of Against the Cold of Deepest Space. I like the story and intend to give it the attention it deserves. I often write my blog posts right before I go to bed. If I have to go to work the next morning that limits the amount of time I can spend working on a post before I must quit and go to bed. Consequently, I am limited as far as how much I can write in any one blog post and still meet my daily blogging commitment. That was probably more than you cared to know about the details of how this blog gets written.

I imagine that it is clear by now that I like science fiction. I cut my teeth on Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton. I soon discovered Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. After that I read any science fiction that I could get my hands on. But my favorite stories were always the Space Operas. The Tom Corbett Space Cadet series was an early favorite. E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series was another.

I recently read a book that reminded me of the Space Operas of the Golden Age of science fiction. Only this time, it was updated to reflect all the things that we have learned about actual space travel, space manufacturing, and building space habitats. It was called Seveneves and was written by Neal Stephenson. I highly recommend the book. It is, like all of Stephenson’s books, epic in scope. It is also extremely well researched and grounded in hard science. Stephenson work for a while at Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and had access to some of the premier minds in space science as a result. And, best of all, it is a page turner. I would tell you more about it but I wouldn’t want to spoil any of the numerous surprises that Stephenson cooks up.

Reading Seveneves is what inspired me to try my hand at writing Space Opera. The installment last night, Against the Cold of Deepest Space (Part 1) was so much fun that I’m going to do some planning and some research and try and get at least a novella out of it if not a full blown novel. November is right around the corner. I may do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again with this as my project. In any case, I will post more excerpts here as I write them.

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

Against the Cold of Deepest Space (Part 1)

I opened the hatch and dove into the chamber beyond it. Turning quickly I pulled it shut and spun the handle to seal it behind me. This intense feeling of deja vu swept over me as I cocked my head to listen to the announcement blaring from the speaker over the door. “Batten all hatches and observe containment protocol until further notice. We’ve been breached. If your compartment is losing air, remember to seal your suit before you help others seal theirs.”

We had drilled for this situation in training but this was my first time in an actual situation. We were two weeks from anywhere and that was assuming that the engines were still functional. This could get interesting fast. I was intensely curious as I fastened the last seam of my model 2700X3 emergency space suit. It was built for barest survival, not for spending hours on EVAs. It would keep your blood from boiling until you could cycle through an airlock but you’d be lucky if you didn’t have a bad case of frostbite.

There wasn’t enough room to carry complete EVA suits for everyone on a freighter like the Roger Miller. If it hadn’t been for the catastrophe three years ago, the fleet wouldn’t have been required to have emergency suits for everyone. I was relieved to discover that the compartment I was in was intact. It also had a full complement of emergency rations. I turned on the comm unit in my helmet.

“This is Al, from logistics. I’m in A6 forward. What can I do to help?” I said. The comm was totally silent for a minute.

“Al? Is that you? It’s Steve, the cook.” That certainly wasn’t a voice I expected to hear right now.

“Hey Steve, where are you?” I asked. We were taught to identify ourselves and give our location when signing on to comms during an emergency.

“I’m in the galley, of course. Where else would I be. Do you know what’s going on?”

“No, and we should see if anyone else is on comms. You start at the top channel and work down. I’ll start at the other end and work up. We’ll meet back on this channel in five minutes. Agreed?” This was also standard protocol but since Steve had forgotten to say where he was, I felt justified in reminding him.

“Will do. Talk to you in five.” I heard the click as Steve changed the channel of his comm unit. I did the same and started scanning for other crew members on the lower channels. I found Jim the ships medic on four and told him about the rendezvous on channel ten in three minutes. Out of twenty crew members there was only three of us on comms, that I knew of anyway.

We met up on channel ten at the assigned time. Steve had found Kay, the exec on channel eighteen. She was in the captains ready room. Jim was in sick bay. Kay gave us the situation as she knew it. “The bridge has lost atmosphere. I have little hope for Greg or Ralph.” Greg was the captain and Ralph was the navigator. “The rest of the crew were in their quarters. We assume they sealed their hatches and put on their emergency suits. I can only hope that they are okay. They should have been able to turn their comm units on though. I am in command unless or until the captain is found to have survived. Everybody with me so far?”

We were. With her and a hair’s breadth from panic. “Yes, ma’am.” I replied. Steve and Jim also acknowledged her.

“Okay. Who has an EVA suit?” The comms were silent. “That’s not good. Isn’t there one in sick bay, Jim?” she asked.

“Rodrigo was upgrading the radios on it.” Jim said.

“Here’s what I’m going to do. I can make it to the fore airlock in this emergency suit. If you lose contact with me, Jim is in charge. Here I go.” I heard the sound of the air being pumped out of a chamber as Kay got ready to open the hatch to the companionway. Her teeth were starting to chatter. “Damn! It’s cold. I’m almost to the airlock.” We held our breath as we waited to hear whether she had made it or not.

The next thing we heard was the sound of the pumps bringing the airlock to full pressure. “That’s as close as I want to come to freezing to death.” Kay said when she was warm enough her teeth stopped chattering. We could tell she had found the EVA suit because of the clangs of the fasteners as she opened them and started putting it on.

“I’ve got a PAL here. I can move around among pressurized compartments using that.” A PAL was a Portable Air Lock. It was made out of air tight plastic and had a small pump and a cylinder of air attached to it.

“I want you all to check the inventory of the compartment where you are. We may need to do some consolidation until we can restore atmosphere to the whole ship.”

“What happened?” I asked since no one else had bothered.

“I think we were hit by an asteroid. That’s the theory I’m going by until I find out otherwise.” she replied. “Radio check. Can you hear me on this suit’s comm unit?”

“Roger that.” Jim replied. “Be careful. You’re the only officer left. We need your experience.”

“Thanks. I will. Al, take notes. I’ll narrate my exploration of the ship. I don’t want to have to repeat it unnecessarily.” I heard the clang of the airlock transmitted through the walls of the ship as she opened the hatch to the companionway.

“I’ve got my pad recording. I’ll take notes as you give them.” The pad could record audio for weeks but it wasn’t that good searching speech. That took processing on the level of the ship’s main computer. As far as I could tell it was offline. I would take notes in plain text. That would be easily searched on the pad.

And here ends this installment of this story. I like it. I suspect I’ll continue it.

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

Happy Fiftieth Star Trek!

Science fiction at it’s best shows us who we are in the reflection of a time and place removed from our current circumstances. It allows us to reframe the important issues of the day in metaphors that illuminate the essence of what it means to be human. I am, of course, talking about the legend that is the Star Trek franchise. Gene Rodenberry took his vision of a future that was better than things are now and reinvented the medium of television into a canvas that would accommodate that vision.

It is a rare franchise that fifty years on is still inspiring spin offs and fan fiction and conventions like Star Trek. It has dealt with space travel of course but that hasn’t stopped it from also exploring time travel, telepathy, telekinesis, parallel universes, artificial intelligence, matter transmission, a unique spin on virtual reality not to mention hundreds of alien societies. I can think of no other show that has dared to explore such a wide range of topics and premises.

So, on the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek I proudly proclaim that I am a Trekker forever and I thank Gene and all the marvelous actors and writers and directors and crew members that have given us such a rich and wonderful world full of some of the best dramatic literature ever written. May they all live long and prosper.

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