Still no idea where the hell this is going… Unedited, etc…
Danny slumped back in the couch, Well fuck me. This isn’t good, not good at all. He scanned the holo, but it was blank. How the hell can it be blank? “AI. map space surrounding us out as far as visible light allows.”
The dull voice answered, “No star charts loaded. Mapping in progress. May take up to twenty hours.”
“Plot any hazards, closure rates and tracks within forty-eight hours of current position. Hold current position if safe.”
“Action initiated.” He felt the bumps of thrusters stopping the motion of the ship and winced. Definitely not Essie flying now. She’d never be that rough. Where the hell is she?
The dull voice said, “No immediate threats. Mapping estimated to complete in eighteen hours. Magnetic anomalies noted one-six-zero, positive zero-niner-three.”
“Magnetic anomalies? Range to anomalies?”
“Higher than normal concentrations of metals. Cause unknown.”
Danny noted a cluster of red objects he guessed were about 2 AU away. There was also a much larger anomaly filling in a half AU further away. Rotating the holo, he put what appeared to be the local sun at the center of the display. Now he just had to wait. It was time to eat, and he desperately needed to hit the fresher. Getting up, he said, “AI, autonomous mode. Steer one-six-zero, up zero-niner-three. Limit accel to five G. Pilot is off couch. Intercom if response is needed.”
“AI cannot comply with steering command, up not recognized.” came out of the overhead speakers.
Danny shook his head, “Steer one-six-zero, positive zero-niner-three. Limit accel to five G”
“One-six-zero, positive zero-niner-three, five G acceleration. Start time and duration?”
Danny sighed, “Start immediately, end point ten thousand miles from anomalies.”
He swayed as the ship apparently went immediately to 5Gs of acceleration, and snapped to the new course, stressing the inertial grav plates. He turned and limped slowly back to his stateroom, What the hell did I do while I was out? I can barely move. He finished doing his business and set the fresher to rejuve, and climbed in.
He woke up four hours later, lying on the floor of the fresher, Damn, I must have been worse off than I thought. He groaned as he climbed to his feet, Shaky, I need nutrition. Getting dressed in a clean shipsuit, he made his way to the mess, and punched up a 1500 calorie meal on the autochef, not caring what it was. He punched up an electrolyte replacement drink, collected it, and headed back to the bridge. He stood in the middle of the bridge, letting his senses reach out, Okay, I’m here. Turning around, he sensed, Came from there. Before that, from there. Jumped…
Relieved he sat in the pilot’s couch, Worst comes to worst, I can get home. Implants wouldn’t do me a damn bit of good in this situation, but knowing where I am sure the hell does. McKendrick never could understand that. He didn’t believe I could calculate where to pick up the asteroids in their orbits without calculating them on the computer, or pre-plotting them before we left. Always just knew… Just like that training flight to the Moon. Shannon threw me in the seat with no preps, figuring he could use my failing to come up with a course as a reason to fail me out. But I ‘knew’ where we were, and where we needed to go. Danny laughed bitterly, Lot of good it did me. Sumbitch sabotaged my career.
Shaking his head, he glanced at the 8 day clock, remembering the day he’d found it in a junk shop in the Moon Colony. Always liked the analog stuff. I think I paid ten credits for it. Paid the weight penalty going back, which cost me more credits. Guy swore it came out of a twentieth century fighter. Maybe it did. Who knows. He reached up and patted it, then glanced at the holo.
There were two anomalies plotted, one directly behind him, and the one behind the metal anomalies ahead. That’s the one we came through. Wonder if that is the gate Mapper was talking about? Are there two in this galaxy?
The radiation alarm blared again, and he reached over and slapped it off, Nothing I can do about that now. Can’t decon until I get back, if I do. For the next ten hours, he did routine maintenance, wandering back to the bridge occasionally, glancing at the holo, then going back to his routine.
He got eight hours of downtime, and was awakened by the violent slew as the ship turned over to begin deceleration for the anomalies. Damn, that AI can’t drive worth a damn. Shit! What if it’s… Oh crap, it’s a default AI. No star charts. There should be a ton of charts. Essie… They were in Essie. That means… He sat up on the bunk, putting his head in his hands, That means I’m going to have to fly Ghost out of here, if I want to get home. I don’t know if I can maintain consciousness long enough to do that.
He got up, dressed and headed to the bridge. Flopping in the pilot’s couch, he said, “AI, display location for Space Station Alpha.”
The dull voice slowly responded, “No Space Station Alpha exists in the database.”
“Display data base contents, file name order.”
“No files to display.” Fuck me. This is a default AI. I am so screwed.
He got up and went to the back of the bridge, opening a storage locker, he pulled out a pile of printed charts. Spreading them out, he found five that depicted some of the different warps between him and the galaxy holding Space Station Alpha. He overlaid them, mentally calculating each turn point, and time, distance, acceleration, and impacts of the various warp resonances.
He went back and looked at the holo again, staring intently at the red anomalies. He zoomed in on them, and sat back, startled. None of them had any measurable velocities! Ships, they’re ships! That big anomaly is a gate! What… Why didn’t they… Are they all dead?
He ran the calculation and figured another eleven hours to the mark, so he went back to the aft storage locker, and prepped his mini-me, as he thought of the little four foot robot. One of the real shortfalls of not being enhanced was that he had to climb into a haptic suit, and use a VR headset to actually maneuver the little bastard. And there was always a time delay. He’d torn more stuff up learning how to use it, but now he was comfortable with it. The downside was he couldn’t do anything else while he was running it, otherwise it would go spastic, since it mimicked his every movement.
Nine hours later, he walked back on the bridge, carrying the haptic suit over his shoulder. He dropped it on the plotting table, and sat on the couch. “My ship.”
The AI replied, “Captain’s controls.”
Danny shifted the external telescope, thinking to himself that a good AI would have already done that, and located the anomalies in the viewfinder. As he zoomed it in, he gasped. “Holy shit! It’s a damn ship graveyard.” He panned slowly across the ships, counting them silently, then said, “AI, record for ship’s record. I am Captain Daniel Jerome Ortega. I am captain of the DSRV Ghost. We are located in an unknown galaxy in the Rift. I count at least nineteen ships at astral coordinate ten thirty-nine fifteen dot seventy, plus twenty sixteen twenty-two dot seventeen. That coordinate is for this pocket galaxy. Eleven ships seem to be all or mostly intact. Some are archaic, some seem to relatively new. Heavy damage is apparent on eight ships, either through collision or weapons use. Due to spread of debris field, this captain believes the damage is due to collisions. No beacons are heard, no emergency signals are observed.”
As he was recording, he was maneuvering the Ghost closer finally hovering only a dozen miles from the oldest ship that was a little away from the others. “Now positioned adjacent what appears to be the oldest of the ships. I would estimate this ship is at least three hundred years old. No apparent damage, but does not indicate any power sources, heat sources or electromagnetic radiation. None of the ships here indicate any of these sources.”
Something kept niggling in the back of his mind, but he couldn’t call it up, instead, he stripped and climbed into the haptic suit, not bothering with the catheter. He got back on the couch and said, “AI, maintain position relative to ship in the crosshairs.”
“AI maintaining position. Start time?”
“Start time now, until countered.”
He felt the ship bobble, and winced. Shit. Is this even safe? Should I have backed off? What the hell am I thinking? Calming himself, he took one more look at the screen, and slipped the VR headset over his head. Lying still, he said, “Activate Mini-me.” And looked down. He slowly closed his fist, and saw the bot’s manipulator close all three fingers and it’s ‘thumb’.
Looking back up, he saw the other ship in the visual, zoomed, and saw a hatch. Blinking twice, he activated the crosshairs, and moved them over the hatch. He blinked his right eye, and made the gesture with his feet that caused the bot to start flying across the intervening space. Once he got the bot close, he slowed it and positioned it just off the hatch. He activated the lower camera, and looked at the hatch controls. They were unlike anything he had ever seen, and he poked and prodded for a few minutes, without success. Backing off, he started Mini-me flying down the port side of the ship. He stopped it abruptly as he saw script go through his view. Backing the bot out, he widened the camera out as far as he could, and tried to make out what the script was. It was a type of writing he’d never seen, but it looked like an H, then something, an I, something, an O, and something.
He shook his head, and the bot shivered, while he cussed himself silently. Resuming his circling from further out, he passed over what he thought might be the bridge area, then down the starboard side. He spotted two more hatches, but neither one of them worked either. Well, if nothing else, I’ve got video records of whatever the hell this one is. It’s definitely old. He made another pass over the topside of the ship, with no luck. Looking at the power remaining, he debated bringing Mini-me back, but decided to at least explore the bottom of the ship. About two thirds of the way back, a protrusion caught his eye. He turned on the lamps, cursing himself for forgetting them, and oriented the bot to the hull plane. It was another hatch, but it looked like it might be slightly open. Positioning the bot carefully, he anchored magnetically to the hull, and slipped one manipulator at a time under the edge of the hatch. Once he had both of them positioned, he raised his arms, as if lifting, and the hatch slowly opened. He repositioned twice, and finally got it all the way back against the hull. Maneuvering around, he used the manipulators to pull the bot over the dark opening. He panned the camera up, and saw more darkness, and another open hatch.
Hearing a beeping in his ear, he eye blinked the status into the VR screen and cussed. “Dammit. Out of power. I… Crap! Son of a…” He maneuvered the bot pushed it off the hull, and let it drift until he could see Ghost in the view. Winking a target on the hatch, he flew the bot back to Ghost, and loaded it into the airlock. Shutting down his connection to it, he stretched and got up, “Oh damn, how I hate this!”
Stripping out of the haptic suit, he headed for the fresher. After relieving himself, he went back to the aft airlock, cycled it, and brought Mini-me in. Rather than put it away, he ran a charging cable out of the storage to it, and plugged it in. Really should have gotten more than one of these rehabbed. Can’t believe I spent almost six hours doing that. Now I gotta wait twelve for it to charge.
Twelve hours later, he pushed the bot back into the airlock and cycled it. Dressing in the haptic suit again, he did use the catheter this time, cursing all the way. Activating the bot, he flew it directly to the hatch on the other ship, and was relieved to find it still open. Maneuvering the bot head up, he used the manipulator arms to pull it into the ship ever so slowly. Once he was inside, he rotated the camera slowly, and saw no damage. He saw a set of numbers pass through his view, and moved back to them, 9-190-P-7. He cocked his head, cussed as the bot started moving sideways and quickly straighten his head, mumbling, “I need to see something else. This doesn’t tell me a lot. Left should be forward. Let’s see where this goes.”
He walked the bot down the passageway, and saw another set of numbers, 9-189-P-7. Huh, Deck 9? Frame numbers maybe? They are going down. P is port? Did they use that? Seven? Not a clue. He continued forward and the second number continued to count down. He finally came to a major bulkhead and was forced to turn. He turned right, and the last number started counting down as he crossed passageways. Okay, that explains that. He finally came to a much wider passage way, and it didn’t have anything after the M. He turned left again, and continued forward, noting that none of the hatches were open anywhere. He finally found what he thought might have been a grav-elevator, because it was slightly off the passageway, and appeared to be empty. Scanning up, he saw it continued up for a number of decks. In for a credit, in for a million. He stepped the bot into the opening, flipping his feet to make it fly up. He stopped it at the second deck from the top, and maneuvered it back into the passageway.
He continued forward, and was rewarded with a 2-21-M. He finally saw the first open hatch he’d seen, and stopped the bot facing the hatch opening. It was a stateroom, with multiple items floating freely in the space. He was thankful he didn’t see a body, and turned forward again. He could see an open hatch in the distance, and hoped that was the bridge.
Looking at the status of the bot, he cursed, Can’t waste a lot of time. Gotta get a move on. He walked the bot down to the hatch, and was rewarded with what appeared to be the bridge, with three chairs in a triangle, facing blank panels. There were controls of some type in the armrests of the two forward chairs, but none on the third chair. He sent the bot in, carefully scanning and saw what appeared to be a t-shaped bridge. Edging the bot forward, he saw a flat rectangle about five inches thick floating, and he used a manipulator to pull it in. He shoved it into the collection pouch on the bot’s belly, and scanned to the left. There was an area to the left with a flat table, two chairs and more of the rectangles floating there, along with one that seemed to be connected to something on the table by a cable. He collected two more of the rectangles, then turned the bot and went to the right. Seeing a larger green rectangle about an inch thick floating. He finally dredged up a memory of a thing called a book. As he reached out and grabbed it, he saw something larger float into the corner of his view.
When his mind finally realized he was seeing a desiccated body, he recoiled, and the bot banged backward into the chair in the middle. A beeping sounded and a yellow warning flashed across the VR screen, HYD 1 LOW PRESS. He realized the bot was moving and he wasn’t controlling it, as it bounced through the hatch, and down the passage way.
It finally stopped, and a red warning flashed up, HYD 1 INOP. Shit! Can I get the bot back? Danny buckled down and walked the bot back through the ship, constantly monitoring the systems as he brought it back to the airlock. Easing it through the hatch he noticed smears of something on the outer hatch, and repressed a shudder.
He got it clear of the ship and when it drifted far enough that Ghost was in view, he flew it carefully back. Once he got it in the airlock, he shut it down and climbed gratefully out of the haptic suit. He got a whiff of himself, and wrinkled his nose, “Fucking suits… They stink, you stink, we all stink!” Carefully removing the catheter, he headed for his stateroom and the fresher, dropping the suit in the fresher compartment for laundry. After a long hot rejuve, he got dressed in his last clean ship suit, and went aft to recover the bot. Pulling it in, he said, “Sorry, Mini-me. I didn’t intend to break you. I’ll get you fixed soon.” Turning the bot, he saw where a hydraulic line had been crimped, apparently backing into the chair. He pulled the book loose from the manipulator, and took the rectangles out of the storage pouch. He left them while he secured the bot in its storage compartment, then went back to the bridge.
Setting a course back to where he’d entered the system, he left the AI driving, and sat at the navigation area. He looked at the rectangles, and couldn’t figure them out. There was some kind of connection on one side, but nothing he’d ever seen. After confirming they were identical, he set them aside, and opened what he thought of as the ‘book’. It didn’t have printing in it, but some strange slanted writing, that he couldn’t read. Walking over to the AI’s camera port, he said, “AI, copy and translate.”
The dull voice, replied, “Unable to translate. Database not available.”
Danny threw up his hands in frustration, and flipped through the book, stopping when he saw numbers that looked vaguely familiar. They had to be star locations, but… He had no database to compare them to.
Two days later, he was back at the location where he’d come through the gate, and he’d finished the repairs on Mini-me, and done all the preventive maintenance he needed to do. He wasn’t feeling real good, and decided to get another good sleep cycle before he made a run at getting back to Space Station Alpha.