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.3

Welcome back to my dream story!

This series is based on an odd dream I decided to turn into a short science fiction story for the blog even though I usually write fantasy. I’m not doing any beta read revisions on these, so they will read like the draft version they are. These will just be fun little shorts between other posts. 

If this is your first time coming to the story, you can find earlier posts at the links below, and I’m tagging them with the Dream Journal tag if you want to search. 

The Story Continues…

Velocity was deceptive beyond Earth’s atmosphere. With no scenery flashing by, my movement seemed minimal relative to the gargantuan spacecraft. The deceleration was noticeable, though. As I passed into the docking bay, a force grabbed my chutes, pulling them to the side as I plummeted toward the landing net. With loose legs, I crumpled into it, pressing flat as the net worked to halt my momentum. 

A faint blue glow enveloped me as the net stretched deep into the bay. The force field did not suddenly snap back like a physical net, shooting me in the opposite direction. Instead, it eased gradually into a neutral position and activated the “sticky” property to maintain a slight pull toward the net. 

I hit the button to start retracting the ascent chutes while the net was still rising. By the time I could stand, everything was away and I was ready to proceed. The net anticipated my actions. Each time I raised my foot, the net illuminated a step in the right direction with the same soft blue glow. The sixty seconds between each lift takeoff allowed enough time for these landings.

“Welcome Bitsa,” Flash greeted me as I passed through the airlock.

Flash was Tryss’s second-in-command. He was 5′ 2″ with dual citizenship in Korea and Norway, and he had a lean build that was all muscle, maintained from his days as a university gymnast. Flash’s real talent, though, was in programming. He could hack, counter-hack (I’m pretty sure that is a thing), and finesse systems faster than most anyone. It’s why he picked his call name, “Flash.”

Mine is Bitsa. My brothers used to joke about how I was always messing around with “bitsa this and bitsa that.” I took apart more of their tools and toys over the years than any of us remember. It was no surprise when I went into engineering, and I thought it was fun to turn that family saying into my call name when I could finally select one for myself.

“Thanks, Flash,” I replied. “Are we still clearing this spire?”

He nodded. “About half-done, so we are ahead of schedule. Take Lima-group as planned, and I’m still sending the new kid your way when he drops.”

My previous robotics partner was recently promoted out of the squad, so our latest addition was assigned to me more often than not.

I smirked at Flash’s tone. “Yes, sir.” 

Grabbing a charged energy pistol from the bay armory, I headed toward lima-group. 

Each spire had the same layout, with sections spiraling from the tip toward the join alphabetically. The sections each consisted of ten floors laid out in alphanumeric grids. Our docking bay was in golf-group, which meant I had four sections to travel to reach Lima. 

The hallways lit up in anticipation of my presence and darkened behind me as I passed. The soft light might be easy on my eyes, but it was very sterile. When the manned mission staffed up, the walls and ceilings would show images of stained glass, murals, and other art to lighten the austere atmosphere. All of those extras were not operational for our little repair visit. I only saw a soft white light and silver-grey paneling.

As this spire would be our initial base of operations, my current task was to clear lima-group room by room, looking for anomalies. If there were any glitches here, we could focus on those closest to us first. We were not expecting any. So far, all issues noted by ground operators were in the sphere, but our orders were to take no chances.

Arriving at lima-group, I used the lift to start on the top floor. I stepped into each room to activate the automation and took measurements of all life-support controlled factors. It was tedious, boring, rote, repetitive…and I ran out of synonyms before I ran out of rooms to step into and out.

“Bitsa,” Flash’s voice came over the comms, “Juicy has dropped. What’s your twenty?”

I stepped out to confirm based on the hall signage. 

“Copy Flash. I’m at Lima, floor three, grid papa-zero-eight, moving in alpha vector.”

“Copy, Bitsa. Juicy incoming.”

I could hear Juicy’s groaning sigh in my head, and I grinned to myself. He hated our team’s probationary name more than most. It would be about five minutes before he arrived, and I was not going to extend this lovely assignment by waiting around.

Door.

Door.

Hallway.

Door.

Door…Open door? My pulse jumped.

Not creepy at all…

I tilted my head and looked at the crack in the doorway at the end of this hallway. Lights flickered beyond as the automation triggered them in anticipation of my entrance, but I stopped short.

“Flash, Bitsa here.” 

“Hold, Bitsa, drop in progress,” Flash replied to my call, so I waited. 

The wait was no more than thirty seconds. “Bitsa, go.”

“I have a glitch at Quebec-one-zero” I reported. “Manual door with an automated lock is open with lights in the area flickering.”

“Copy, Bitsa. Mark on our map and proceed with a preliminary investigation.”

“Understood.” I marked the location on my HUD and looked at the door. 

My pulse kicked up further, and a shiver went down my spine. It was just a door and some malfunctioning lights. This was no big deal. Right?

I closed my eyes and silently cursed Big Ben, my eldest brother, for making me watch that sci-fi horror movie with him the day before this mission. Abandoned spacecraft? Check. Flickering lights? Check. Monster, alien, ghost, or psychopathic crazy person jumping out to kill me? I really hoped not.

I’m a rational person. There is no way my heart would be pounding like this if the movie had not put such thoughts in my head. It was just a glitch, a malfunction. I could handle a glitch. I could fix a malfunction.

Taking a deep, calming breath, then another, I did a little body shake to settle my nerves and reached for the handle.

To be continued…

Ship in the Void – Pt.2

Welcome back to my dream story! As a reminder, this series is based on an odd dream I had a bit ago. More details stuck with me than usual, so I decided to turn it into a short science fiction story for the blog even though I usually write fantasy. This one has a bit more exposition to it.

I’m still not doing any beta read revisions on these, so they will read like the draft version they are. These will just be fun little shorts between other posts. 

If this is your first time coming to the story, you can find part 1 at the link below, and I’m tagging them with the Dream Journal tag if you want to search. 

The Story Continues…

“Mark twelve, go!” 

At Tryss’s command, I hit the button on my interface and tucked my chin, bracing for what was next. The first ascent chute deployed, yanking on my suit and rocketing me upward. While the suit took some force from my body, it was still similar to what the astronauts felt back when they took shuttles into space.

The ascent chute itself looked like a parachute made of golden lace, but that lace was not fabric. Thousands of solar-powered AG filaments connect in a flexible web that is stronger than steel. Once deployed, the filaments charge and react to gravity the same way similar magnetic poles react to each other. The filaments, once charged, are repelled from the Earth’s center of gravity. 

The force and speed driven by the repulsion are extreme upon initialization. Then, like a magnetic force, the impact dissipates with distance. This dissipation is why we have three ascent chutes in our equipment. One is strictly a redundancy, but a second chute is necessary to leave the atmosphere and navigate once in orbit.

The extreme forces lasted for about five minutes before easing enough for me to look around. Earth’s curvature grew more distinct even as other details faded with my rising altitude. It was a sight that never failed to take my breath away. The world glowed like a living blue marble, giving me a contradictory sense of enormity and insignificance. I could reach out and hold the world in the palm of my hand.

What will it feel like to be the first humans to leave our solar system? I wondered. What would it be like to watch the world fade until it was nothing in the vastness all around you?

That was not my mission. I wasn’t selected for the first flight, but with any luck, I would maintain my spotless record and be on the second mission once it was approved and ready. 

My HUD flashed with a thirty-second countdown, and I brought my mind back to the mission. At this point, without a second chute, I would see my speed drop until I fell into a stable orbit around the planet unless I reduced the charge flowing to the filaments and allowed my orbit to degrade. As my objective was further out, the second chute would deploy on this new mark.

The HUD flashed again at fifteen seconds, and I prepared for the second chute deployment. I could already see my squadmates ahead of me navigating with their two chutes on the target trajectory. Below, a line of chutes followed me up like a migration of glowing golden jellyfish.

Another flash and my second chute deployed, unfurling quickly to catch the sun. It filled with solar energy as a sail with the wind and pulled tautly against the connecting lines. A current shot through the lines for both chutes, making them solidify. With easy hand movements, I could now shift the position of each chute relative to myself and each other. 

Using my HUD, I triangulated my target and shifted my trajectory to intercept. It was still too distant to make out more than a fleck flashing silver in the distance. Unlike my training lifts or my one mission to the space station, this one would take me to Inspiration. Despite not being able to see the ship yet, I felt my excitement grow once more.

Inspiration was the first human vessel capable of interstellar travel. At least, it will be capable once the final modifications, uploads, and tests are completed. The massive construction project was a cooperative effort between fifteen countries and more than twice as many corporations and research organizations. It began nearly a half-century ago with a group of scientists living around the world. They all met regularly online as a club to exchange ideas and build upon those ideas together.

Some of those scientists had the right connections to politicians and investors. Some had connections to patent and international lawyers. What could have ended in unrest, conflict, or even war, was instead the trigger for an unprecedented level of international cooperation. The standard of living rose globally, driving increases in education and freedoms in nearly every corner of the world.

Earth was in a scientific Renaissance, and this ship was the guiding light. Initial construction happened in pieces around the world for the ship and all of the assembly robots. When they were finally ready, AG platforms lifted and maneuvered every piece into place. For the next twelve months, the bots and remote operators joined the sections and installed final components.

Since that time, six supply ships with additional materials and installation bots had docked and delivered supplies. One month ago, ground control powered up Inspiration on a live broadcast to begin live testing on the software. Celebrations sprung up around the world and lasted for days. When the initial tests cleared successfully, plans for an unmanned, automated test drive moved into their next phase.

It would be a short program to initiate travel to open space, scan the area, then jump back. The entire process was expected to take less than four hours and bring back a wealth of knowledge. The first target date for a manned trip would be six months from that initial jump, pending a “go” from all departments based on the initial data, including analysis of the physical impacts on the mice going on the three-plus-hour tour. 

Then, a week ago, there was a glitch detected by a tech monitoring some of the programs, a malfunction in a system. A second problem followed, then a third, and all ground investigations came up empty as to the cause of the malfunctions. All the operators, bots, and measures read as though nothing was wrong, but the glitches continued.

Yesterday, my unit was activated, and a lift was authorized. We specialize in space repairs, and three of my squadmates were members of previous supply drop checks on Inspiration, including Tryss. Our mission was to perform a complete system check, hardware, and software, looking to isolate what could be causing the problems. If we needed to dismantle entire sections of hardware to find a shorted wire or bent screw, that is what we were authorized to do. We had two days to find an answer and a solution, or the test flight would be postponed. 

“Mark One reporting in. G-9 docking bay identified and perimeter guiding lights are lit. Report green for dive.” Ace’s voice came over the mic in my helmet. 

“They called it a dive because docking during a lift was a little like cave diving. You had a docking bay that was effectively a black hole in the ship surrounded by a circle of lights”

They called it a dive because docking during a lift was a little like cave diving. You had a docking bay that was effectively a black hole in the ship surrounded by a circle of lights. You shot for the hole, dove in with your chutes, and a magnetic field in the void caught your chutes and automatically guided you down to a force field net where you could retract your chutes. 

The net had some give to it in case there was a malfunction and you came in hot. It would catch you gently and stabilize. When you cleared safely, the net glowed gently under your feet and in a path guiding you to the airlock. 

“You have a go, Mark One,” Tryss replied to Ace.

The daunting responsibility of our mission hit home for me as the ship loomed closer. A large sphere made up the ship’s core, with starbursts spearing out of it like rays of the sun. Each “ray,” known officially as “spires,” could be detached and independently navigated or used together to navigate the ship as a whole at sub-light speeds. The center of the sphere held the interstellar drive. From afar, it looked like one of those old spikey ocean mines, but that was before you realized the gargantuan size of the ship.

As I passed along the nearest spire, the golden glimmer of my chutes faded. This mini-ship was the size of a skyscraper, and it blocked out the light of the sun at this angle. The faint glow of the ship’s exterior lights was dark in comparison, but it would make identifying the docking bay easier. 

Beyond my chutes, I could make out the ring of lights circling the pit. The HUD’s infrared showed me where my unit was gathering one by one. I adjusted my chutes a final time, aiming for the darkness ahead. With a final nudge, the ship swallowed me whole.

To be continued…