Ship in the Void – Pt. 8

Welcome back to my sci-fi short story! If this is your first time visiting, I recommend starting with part 1. You can find all of these posts on the Dream Journal page. 

The story continues…

My search for corresponding time stamps in the system logs came up empty. Not only “empty,” but telling in the absence of ANY findings. The problem I now faced was that I had no idea what the missing data might be telling me. 

When looking for a simultaneous trigger for the light turning on and the door unlocking, there were zero corresponding occurrences. In the sixty seconds before and after, no one from my unit, on any floor, in any section, passed by a sensor. 

“If no initiating signal was sent, then why was one received?” I asked myself as I headed back to the malfunctioning-light room. 

My heart kicked up a notch as I entered the hall in which I first saw the light and mysteriously cracked door. This time, I saw no light, and the door remained locked until I reached the appropriate distance to trigger the automation. 

Despite the perfect system response, the click of the lock made me jump. I muttered under my breath about fools and movies. 

Taking a bolstering breath, I stepped into the room with my toolkit and got to work dismantling the two problem areas, starting with the door lock. I tested circuits and traced connections back to the motion sensors. I was hoping—and not hoping—to find a faulty piece somewhere along the line.

Finding it would provide an answer, a specific issue to explore further. Unfortunately, with the breadth of the documented problems, faulty hardware would mean a quality issue of disastrous proportions. The entire ship would be deemed unsafe, and the initial flight would be delayed until a complete retrofit could be executed, perhaps even indefinitely.

As much as I wanted to find the cause of the glitches, I didn’t want it to be a pervasive hardware issue. This ship, this mission, was the foundation upon which my dreams were built. I grew up watching the idea become a reality. Without Inspiration, I’m not sure what I would be doing with my life now.

I traced the lines, hoping as I did so I would find nothing. 

The door came back clean, then the light. Sitting in the center of dismantled panels and electrical parts, I breathed a sigh of relief before realizing I found myself back at square one. My head tilted back, knocking against the wall.

I made a mess and still found nothing!

“Bitsa,” came a voice over the coms, “Isis here. Flash asked me to set up the watch-bot you requested.”

When I explained my theories to Flash, I asked if he could arrange for a programmed bot to watch for any additional instances of “incoming calls without a corresponding “outgoing call.”

“Hey, Isis,” I said. “Thanks for setting that up. Would you let me know if you get any hits?”

“Yeah,” she said, drawing out the word, “that’s why I’m calling. Your bot just pinged.”

I bolted upright. “What’s going on?”

“You caught a big one. Every docking-bay door just received orders to seal and lock.”

“All of them?” I asked, sitting forward to grab hold of my datapad and see for myself.

“Every single one,” Isis verified. “I’ve confirmed no orders were issued to the bay doors.”

“Can you countermand the orders?” After a brief pause, her voice came back on sounding concerned, “Negative. Controls are locked to the core. Bitsa, I’m bringing in Flash and Tryss.”

As Isis brought our leaders up to speed, I dug into the orders received by the doors. They were simultaneous and all contained the same order code.

I felt light-headed when the details on the code came through, the blood draining until my face felt numb. Before I could say anything, Isis cut through again.

“We have a second ping on the watch-bot,” she said. “Inertial dampeners are initiating centralized gravity.”

I dropped the datapad, levered myself up, and took off running.

“All hands, “Tryss said over a universal comm channel, “brace for gravity shift.”

“Tryss,” I shouted as I ran, “you need to get to central command! Now!”

“On my way,” she replied, then followed it with, “Bitsa, explain.” 

“The orders have a common command code this time, “I said, not yet winded. “It’s for the sequence to initiate the interstellar drive!”

Tryss swore, using words of which my mother would not approve, but I understood the sentiment.

“HUD shows me fifteen minutes out from central command,” Tryss reported, then I heard her mutter, “Why is this ship so big?”

“Isis said reversal commands unresponsive,” I noted.

“I heard,” she said before addressing another member of our unit. “Carnival, you’re our drive expert. How long do I have?”

“Not long enough,” came Carnival’s voice, full of resignation. “Once confirmed, the whole sequence takes ten minutes, and we’re already almost three into it.”

“How did this get initiated in the first place?” asked Flash.

I took a corner too fast and bounced painfully off the wall, stumbling back into a sprint. Get to the stairs, ten floors, then another half mile, through a coded door, across the room to a control console to enter the code. In seven minutes?

One of us could probably cover the distance flat out, but stairs and doors would slow us. We still needed to try. Tryss could give someone the code if they made it.

“It shouldn’t be possible,” Carnival answered Flash. “Initiating the sequence has the same restrictions as shutting it down. I’m looking at the footage, and there is no one there to enter a command code.” A pause, “Interstellar core is powering up.”

“Interstellar core is powering up.”

“Block Head here,” another member cheeked in. “Ground Control cannot override. They are working to reestablish control.”

“I’m trying to hack it from here too,” Flash called out. “No luck yet.”

“Seven minutes out,” Tryss said. I looked at my HUD, impressed to note she had made up close to three minutes. Checking my estimate, I said, “Bitsa here, two minutes away.”

My breathing became labored, I had a stitch in my side, and my shoulder throbbed, but I kept running. One more long hall to the door.

“Sixty seconds to drive initialization,” Carnival called.

No, I thought, breaking out of the stairs into the final stretch.

“Forty-five seconds.” 

I hit the door, punching in my code. 

“Twenty-seconds.”

The door didn’t open. “It is not taking my code!” 

“Fifteen seconds,” Carnival said at the same time Try ss called out, “Forty-five, eighty-two!”

My vision tunneled and my hands wanted to shake as I entered her code. The keypad light blinked off, then back on.

“Ten seconds.”

“Red,” I said. “It’s still locked.” 

“Five.”

“Four.”

“Three.”

“Two.”

“One…”

Vertigo. I felt it in my head and gut as the drive kicked in, but there was no additional g-force like a shuttle take-off.

Tryss arrived, sweating and out of breath, and tried multiple codes in the door with no results. It was not until the twelve-minute ride ended that the lock disengaged and allowed us into central command.

“Let’s find out where we are,” she said with more calm than I could muster, striding to a consol and initializing the hologram display.

At first, it showed only the ship. Tryss zoomed out. 

Artist: Aurian Millan (age 11)

An enormous nebula, darkness radiating with blue and purple, served as the backdrop for an alien solar system. A red gas giant swirled with storm clouds, while its blue partner appeared to flow like an ocean. Two of the planets had rings. One of these had multiple sets of rings orbiting the planet on perpendicular planes. 

It was all so foreign. I had no idea where we were. Light-headed, a little in shock, I slid down the nearest wall, staring into space.

The End (for now).

This is the point where I woke up. Much of the detail presented in these stories has been me embellishing the dream fragments into a more cohesive story, but I have a rough idea of where I might take Tryss and team in the future. 

As there has been limited interaction with these posts, I’m probably going to put additional installments on hold for the moment. If you have enjoyed them as they have been released, or you find them randomly in the future and want more, feel free to drop me a comment to let me know. 

As always, thanks for joining me on this journey!

Ship in the Void – Pt. 7

Welcome back to my sci-fi short! If this is your first time visiting, I recommend starting with part 1. You can find all of these posts collected on the Dream Journal page. 

The story continues…

I spent hours in front of the terminal sifting through data pulled on both the light and door glitch and the gravity shift. The initial conclusions Flash relayed held up under deeper scrutiny: all systems reported normal operations. Everything came back clean when reviewing the programming, and it was the same story with the interfaces. All systems appeared fine and responsive. 

“I’ve run through the life-support logs for this section for the last month,” Magic said, breaking our companionable silence. “There are no recorded anomalies.” 

“That’s encouraging.” 

“I would find it more encouraging if we knew what caused the other issues,” he said, tilting his head for emphasis before stretching his arms out and back. 

I was feeling the strain of too long at a comp screen myself, but the sling prevented me from executing a similar move.

I huffed out a laugh, “You and me both.” 

“What about you? You got anything?” 

“Maybe,” I said, twitching my nose in consideration. “Come take a look at this. It might help me to talk through it out loud.” 

As Magic settled in behind me to look over my shoulder, I tried to organize my thoughts. Some things were not lining up, and I wasn’t sure which version of events to believe. 

“This is the log from the automated lighting,” I said, pointing to a few lines of the data records. “You can see here how the light receives a signal to turn on from the motion detection system, here.” I flipped through to another wall of data. “Same here for the door. Aaaand here for the gravity shift from the docking bay terminal.”

“But no one was in those locations to initiate the signals from our team,” he said. “Do we have a stow-away intruder?”

“See,” I said, pointing a stylus in his direction, “I had the same thought along with wondering about aliens.”

Magic snorted as I continued.

“Until…” I pulled up yet another dataset. “I looked at the records for the systems where the signals originated and cross-referenced the timestamps.”

“And?” he asked as I paused dramatically. 

“No input received, “I said with a smug grin. “No signal sent.” 

He shook his head and peered at me sideways. “What do you mean? You just said those were the sources of the signals.”

“Yes, The signals were received and recorded with all relevant data, including source, but there is no record of the signals being sent. We have incoming calls with no corresponding outgoing calls.”

“Huh,” he said, leaning back in thought.

“Exactly,” I agreed with the sentiment. This was basic operating stuff. Send, receive. On, off. We both frowned at the comp screen, thinking. 

“So, what are you looking for now?” Magic finally asked.

I sighed and bit my lip before swiveling around to face him. 

“I have two current theories,” I began, holding up a finger. “One, an unknown entity or entities is aboard and has messed with the systems or data to cover their tracks. I need Flash to look into that one. The skill needed for a hack so nuanced is beyond me.”

Adding a second finger, I continued, “Second theory, there is something like an electrical short connecting in ‘TBD’ ways triggering signals. Somehow, those ‘TBD’ ways are mimicking what would be sent by the alleged source systems.”

Magic gave me a teasing grin. “It sounds like you’ve narrowed it down to either aliens or robots.”

I blinked, momentarily distracted by the smile, and felt a blush blooming on my cheeks.

He is so yummy.

Pushing that unnecessary thought aside, I cleared my throat and responded as though I was not imitating a cooked lobster. “Har-har. while aliens remain a possibility, I’m putting it far down the list. I also think an intruder is a less likely alternative. There is little reason for someone to hide their presence in the area where I found the light on.”

“That leaves you with ‘TBD’ option,” he said, making the air quotes.

“Yes,” I said with concern. “And the ‘TBD’ is unlikely to be easily determined because of how the signals are recorded. We need to manually track down the source, which fits the definition of needle-in-a-haystack. It means we need to find an electrical short in a robot the size of a small moon.”

“So, what’s your plan?” 

I took and released a deep breath. “First, I’m turning Flash onto theory one. He can figure out who is checking the programming for manipulation. I will hunt for the short, beginning with a thrilling search through timestamps!”

“You have fun with that,” Magic slapped the back of my chair. “I have plenty of life-support system records of my own to review.”

I smiled and shook my head as I called Flash to report my findings. Then, I started a run on all system activity with the same timestamp of that first anomaly.

To be continued…

Ship in the Void – Pt. 6

Welcome back to the ship! If this is your first time visiting, I recommend starting with part 1. You can find all of these posts on the Dream Journal page. 

The story continues…

I floated in cotton. My mouth was dry, and my head stuffy. 

Muffled voices drifted toward me. “Do… any leads… shift?” 

“No, sir.” That was Flash, so the muffled person must have been Tryss. 

My hearing cleared up at the same time the pain returned. It was only an echo of what put me out, but I groaned as my eyelids fluttered in wakefulness. 

A hand rested gently against my forehead. “Easy, Bitsa. How are you feeling?” 

I blinked my eyes open to see one of the most cherubic baby faces on or off the planet. With big, blue eyes and a cap of golden-blonde hair, Magic Hands appeared like a grown-up version of a Rennaisance painting angels. 

He was the unit’s medic, and I had the biggest crush on him. It was no secret among the unit. I’m pretty sure even Magic was aware, but we kept things professional, and both ignored my uncontrollable blushing. 

“Arm hurts,” I said, smacking my parched lips. 

He held a cup and straw to my mouth. “I can give you a stronger pain killer, but it will put you off duty for 24 hours. That’s my recommendation, but it’s up to you.”

Pain and help the team, or get loopy and bored for a day? I thought.

This latest glitch increased the threat level. Too much more risk and we would need to abort the mission. If I went off duty, we would be stuck until my status changed. In the end, it wasn’t a tough choice.

“No.” I shook my head slowly. “I’ll stick.” 

Magic sighed and pursed his lips. “I can’t say I’m surprised. Let’s get you up and put the sling on.”

My head spun only once before settling, and I looked over to where Tryss and Flash stood watching.

‘Did you find Juicy? What happened to him?” 

“Juicy is fine,” Tryss answered with a smile. “He was clinging to you when help arrived, but Party and Block secured you both with anchors, giving us time to correct the gravity shift.”

I let out a gusty breath and felt tears well in my eyes. In my head, I failed him. He fell to his death when I couldn’t lift him high enough or stay conscious long enough to save him.

My breathing was shaky as the relief flooded through me.

Tryss squeezed my free hand, “You did good, Bitsa. You saved his life.”

I closed my eyes against the tears and nodded sharply. Letting out a deep breath, I was relatively calm again when I opened them to look back at Tryss. 

“Do we know what caused any of the malfunctions yet?” I asked.

She turned to Flash, who had already shaken his head in response.

“No.” He released a frustrated breath. “All preliminary tests are returning ‘systems normal’ responses.”

“But the gravity shift was recorded and responded to commands to revert to the prior settings,” Tryss added. “which indicates the errors are not related to reporting or interface assets and programming.”

Flash shook his hand in a “maybe”‘ gesture. His twitching eyes meant he interacted with his HUD as he spoke to us. “Likely, but it does not eliminate the possibility of problems with those systems. I’m pushing them down the priority list for now though.”

Magic finished hooking up my sling as Triss acknowledged Flash’s point. Her focus then returned to me with enough intensity to have me leaning back slightly.

“I reported our situation and initial encounters to Command. Our mission stands, but they’ve authorized a medical drop if necessary. It’s up to you.”

“My recommendation as your doctor,” Magic offered, “is to take the drop.”

“Can they do anything for my injury you haven’t already done?” I asked him.

He pursed his lips and snorted in frustration. “No, but with your injury, you are most at risk of further harm up here.”

Regulations required at least five people in a medical drop to ensure optimal assistance for the injured person on the descent. It would mean Tryss would lose more than me, and we would not even be on the ground to assist for twenty-four hours. It was not an option.

“Noted, but I’m staying.” I stood before my unit leader, pretty sure I hid the wince of pain as I rose. “Where do you want me?”

She pointed to a terminal across from where Magic worked. “Right over there,” she said with a jaunty wag of her eyebrows. “You get to keep Magic company in the infirmary. The data from your prelim runs is on the terminal. I want your assessment on those glitches.”

Lovely, I thought. I’m benched and given homework. Well, at least I would get to spend the day with Magic. Maybe I could finally convince him to fall in love with me.

“Yes, sir, “I said, and got to work on both missions.

To be continued…

Ship in the Void – Pt. 5

Welcome back to the ship! If this is your first time here, I recommend starting with part 1 and continuing from there. You can find all of these posts on the Dream Journal page.

The story continues…

“Why ‘Juicy?'”

I looked over my shoulder and smiled at the current owner of the name in question.

“Few units choose call names,” I replied. “What makes this one so bad?”

Sighing, Juicy followed me through another door into a wide hallway. The lift was to my right. To mix things up, I intended to walk down to the ship docking bay at the far end, accessed from this central floor, before we made our way through the rooms on the opposite side.

“It reminds me of that underwear company that came back in style when I was younger.”

I had to wrack my brain for a minute before what he was talking about came back to me. Laughing out, I stopped and put a hand on his arm.
“The ones with the words across the butt?”

“Yep.”

For a moment, the image of Juicy with the word “juicy” written across his backside flashed in my mind. A grin split my face. When Juicy saw it, he pursed his lips, rolled his eyes, and shook his head at me.

With a final laugh, I started walking again. “While hilarious,” I said, “That is not the origin of the ‘juicy’ name. The original unit commander had a thing for old movies. It’s from some monster movie from back in the day and means you are new like a freshly made corpse.”

He stopped and stared at me, blinking in confusion. “A fresh corpse?”

“Yeah,” I paused. “You’re still juicy.”

“That… I’m not sure that’s any better.”

I laughed again, but before I could form a response, the floor tilted beneath our feet. My head slammed against the floor as gravity shifted, sending us sliding down the hall, picking up speed as it continued to shift from horizontal to vertical.

“Bitsa!” Juicy yelled as he clawed at the carpeted floor.

Activating my boots had no impact. Instead of generating a charged connection with the floor, I continued my slide down. That meant the structure no longer carried a charge.

The automated doors in this hallway were flush with the walls, meaning there was nothing to grab to stop our descent. At the end was either a long fall through the force field and out into space or to the bottom floor far below. It depended on the direction of the pull once we left this hallway.

“Bitsa, the boots aren’t connecting!”

But the gloves might! I thought.

“Gloves!” I called out. We had less than 30 seconds, “use your gloves!” Even as I said it, I grabbed mine off my belt and put them on.

“I left them in the room,” there was terror in Juicy’s voice. “Bitsa, my gloves are back in the room!”

Ten seconds. I rolled closer to him. “Grab my hand! Juicy, grab my hand and hang on!”

Hands grasped wrists. As we shot off the ledge, I activated my gloves through the HUD and slapped my free hand down on the floor. The built-in sticky property activated at full power, and our combined weight tore my arm away from my body. I couldn’t tell if the suit was the only thing holding me together.

A scream ripped from my throat and tears fell. “Mother firecracker,” I whisper-moaned as we dangled there. “Juicy, stop moving.”

He looked up at me. “Are you okay, Bitsa?”
“No,” I said through clenched teeth. “I’m going to either puke or pass out, so you need to hold on.”

I activated the comms. “Mayday, Mayday. Bitsa and Juicy in need of immediate assistance in Lima dock. I repeat, immediate assistance needed in Lima dock.”

“Bitsa,” Flash’s response came nearly on top of my words. “Party Bus and Block Head are inbound. what is your situation?”

“We experienced—” I paused to breathe through a dizzy spell, “a sudden gravity shift 90 degrees. Entire structure of the hall—is not charged. Boots are no-go. I repeat, boots are no-go.”

“Are you injured?” Flash asked from far away as I closed my eyes. “Bitsa, Juicy, are you injured?”

“Bitsa is injured,” I heard Juicy say. “We are hanging over the docking bay by Bitsa’s glove.”

“Copy, Juicy. Magic Hands is also heading your way. Full-gear and anchors everyone. Take no chances.”

I faded in and out.

“Bitsa, I’m slipping.” The words held no meaning through the pain. “Bitsa.”
Juicy flailed, sending a fresh wave of searing agony through me.

“Juicy,” I mumbled, unsure if he could understand me.

“Bitsa, I’m slipping.”

I could feel his hands sliding down my wrist, over my hand.

“Can you pull up and grab my waist?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s try, Juicy. I’ll help.” I clamped my fingers around his larger hand as best I could without shaking him loose. “Now, Juicy!”

I screamed as I pulled up on my lower arm while Juicy curled up from below. He needed to be higher, but he was too heavy for me to lift. Darkness tunneled my vision at the edges. It wasn’t going to work.
His hand brushed my hip as I blacked out.

To be continued…

Ship in the Void – Pt.4

Welcome back to the void of space!

This is part four of my short story series loosely based on the bits and pieces I remember of a dream. To help navigate the story, I have created a page collecting all of these posts together in one place so you don’t have to search, which you can find here.

If this is your first time coming to the story, or you just want a refresher on what has happened so far, I recommend checking it out first!

Today’s piece is a little shorter than some as we meet a new character, but I already have most of the next part written, so you will not have to wait too long for another installment.

Another quick reminder: I will be doing a raffle for a free paperback copy of Hidden Memory in my newsletter this month, so if you have not yet signed up, please take a moment to do so on the home page for your chance to win!

The story continues…

I reached out toward the lever handle of the door. My hand was stable despite the pounding of my heart.

Steady, I told myself.

My fingers brushed metal.

“What are you doing?” said a voice from behind me.

“Shittolee! “I screamed and swore as I spun around.

Juicy was standing at the end of the hall, his eyes widening at my response. He was a big man. Three hundred pounds of linebacker muscle contained in a racial melting pot of a man diligent with his exercise and with zero interest in football. He graduated high-school early–much to the chagrin of the school’s coach–and went to MIT on a full-ride, scholastic scholarship.

A grin spread across his face, flashing white teeth before he burst out laughing. “What…was…that?” he asked between bouts of laughter and heaving breaths.

I sighed. “You startled me. And my mom taught me not to swear.”

It took him another moment to settle enough to respond and even then he was still chuckling. “I hate to break it to you, Bitsa, but that was pretty much a swear word.”

I scrunched up my face in confusion. “Isn’t it a mushroom?”

“I think you mean shiitake.”

“Hm,” I grunted and shrugged. “I don’t like mushrooms. But I thought it was one, so it doesn’t count as swearing if my mother ever asks you.”

Juicy held up his hands and pursed his still-smiling lips. “Mum’s the word,” he said. “so, what had you so worked up you screamed like a horror movie victim?”

“I will vehemently deny it ever happened, BUT, I may have freaked myself out a bit with the mysterious open door and creepy flickering lights.”

He leaned to his left peering past me at the crack in the door. His eyebrows rose in surprise before his brow furrowed in thought.

“Okay,” he said. “That is a little creepy.”

“Right?!”

“It’s also intriguing. There are still no reports of any issues out here, which indicates the cause is more pervasive than we hoped.”

“Yep.” I blow out a breath. “We are doing a standard run on these systems. Data grabs and cursory reviews only. We’ll do a deeper analysis later. You can take the creepy lights. I’ll take the mysterious door.”

“Yes, sir. “Juicy laughed again. “Thank you, Sir.”

I shook my head at him, and the two of us got to work.

To be continued…