Chapter 2

A World from Home

Julie Anderson, the communications engineer of Tesla Prime, stepped into the GravLift tube lined with white curved panels.  Through a combination of gravity wave disruptions and electromagnetism, the GravLift raised her thin body through the center of Tesla Prime.  It was unsettling at first but Julie learned to enjoy the sensation of weightlessness while inside the tube.  She covered her hazel eyes as she passed a series of bright lights, which marked each of the three levels on the ship.  As she floated to the top level, her sandy blonde hair hovered around her head, weightless.

Moments later, she arrived at the command deck, the hub of all mission operations. Julie grabbed the railing above the portal and pulled herself into the large circular room.

A small flight of stairs in the center led down to the pilot area.  In the upper section, computer stations for many of the ship’s critical functions surrounded an oval table.  Just to the right of the stairs, separating the upper and lower sections, was the navigation computer, followed by stations for astrometrics, atmospheres, biometrics, environmental controls, engineering and propulsion.

The final workstation for communications completed the oval to the left of the steps.

Julie sat down in the communications chair next to a clear top table, which filled the space between the computers.  Several embedded displays gleamed beneath its glassy surface.

Attached at their bases to grooves in the floor, black cushioned gray steel chairs ringed the table. Julie slid in her chair along the groove to her computer.

Julie pecked at the communications console.  A screen enlarged in front of her, filling with empty streams of telemetry.

“Come on”, she whispered to herself as she waved at a series of images on a large floating display.  Panel after empty panel popped open.

Julie twirled the tip of her ponytail between two fingers in an endless coil. “Where’s that darn signal?”

A smooth sine wave appeared on her display, compressing and expanding with uniform regularity.

“As Jack would say, nothin’ but chirping crickets.”  Julie frowned as she rubbed the sides of her head. “It doesn’t make any sense. They knew we were coming.  It’s not like we are just dropping in for tea.”

Pushing back from the communications display, Julie rose and trotted over to Stawford who sat calmly in the pilot’s chair enjoying the view. His arms rested deep inside long metallic tubes, his interface to the ship.  Glowing fiber optic wires draped to the floor and disappeared to some deep recess of the ship’s interior.  She touched his shoulder cautiously.  Stawford’s head jerked toward her as if woken from a trance.

Julie signed to Stawford, “No signal from Earth.”  Her hands flashed words through the air.  Stawford read them.  “I’m going to run some tests on the communications assembly and the high-gain antenna.”

Stawford nodded.

“Reanimation of Commander Warfield is complete,” announced CLARA, breaking the silence.

Maybe the Commander can make sense of this,” said Julie as she turned away.  She scooped up a small black tablet before disappeared down the GravLift at the back of the command deck.

As the GravLift carried her down through Tesla Prime, Julie squeezed the tablet against her left forearm.

“CLARA, is the Commander still in his cryostasis room?” she asked swiping at the images on the screen.

“Affirmative, Ms. Anderson.”

“Good, he needs to see this.”

The GravLift doors slid open and Julie stepped forward, her eyes locked on the tablet.  She continued, navigating the corridors of Tesla Prime like a cruise missile navigating a mountain range.  A series of metallic panels slid to one side as she approached them.  Julie stopped at a large final doorway.  Illuminated letters above the panel read “Cryostasis Chamber 7”.

* * *

“Ms. Anderson is here to see you Commander.  She has indicated that it is urgent,” said CLARA.

Thomas folded over a strap on the top of his boot.  It tightened automatically and he stood.

“Thanks.  Open the door please.”

The large white and gray panel glided silently to one side.  Julie marched into the room.

“Good morning, Commander.”

“Julie, please.  We’ve gone over this.  Call me Thomas.”  Thomas snatched a clear bottle off a nearby table.  He gulped down cool water to the final sip and cleared his throat.  “And thank you.  It’s good to be awake.”

“Commander Thomas… sir, something’s not right.”

He brushed lint off his sleeve. “What do you mean?”

“There’s no signal from Earth.”

“What do you mean no signal?”

“I haven’t been able to detect anything.”

Thomas glanced around the room as if answers were hidden, there in the corners.  “Did you check all UHF bands?”

“Sir, of course.  Not only did I check all the UHF bands, I checked all known Earth frequencies from our telecom database.  I even checked several experimental communication methods that weren’t in practice when we left.  See for yourself.”  Julie handed the tablet to Thomas who flicked through a series of windows each framing a smooth sine wave.

“Do you have the latest ephemeris file for Earth’s location?”

“Sir, I do and I’ve checked multiple times.  There’s nothing.”

“Hmmm,” said Thomas.  He sighed and scratched the side of his head. “So, no red carpet welcome, I guess,” he muttered, scrutinizing the data on tablet.  “CLARA.”

“Yes, Commander.”

“Can you assist Julie in running a diagnostic of the telecom system?”

“I will, Commander.”

“We’ll figure this out, Julie.  Don’t worry.”  Thomas stepped toward her and patted her on the shoulder.  “Julie, we’ve been flying through space for twenty-seven years.  This ship is old.  It may just be a problem on our end.”

But Thomas knew it wasn’t.  Something was wrong.

“CLARA, is Daxman in engineering yet?”

“Yes, Commander.  He’s just arrived.”

* * *

Buried deep inside the engine room of Tesla Prime, Jack Crayton grumbled, “Baked in hell,” as he punched at the keyboard in front of him.  With a white beard and wild hair, Jack appeared aged beyond his years.  His small but sturdy frame stood in the center of a wired maintenance deck.  The ten meters square platform was held in place by a suspended walkway.

“Okay, let’s do this thing again.  Talk to me girl,” sighed Jack as he shook his head.

Beyond him were a series of gold metallic tubes that arched upwards to his right and left into giant coils that flowed like the lining of the Hindenburg. Each tube of metal stretched several stories above and below the maintenance deck.

Jack paused as the footsteps of someone approaching clattered through the engine room.

“Hey, old man,” called a voice from the darkness.

Jack glanced up from his screen to see Daxman Spinner, dressed in a standard issue ISC jumpsuit.  The front was open, a white t-shirt showing.  Daxman swiped a tuft of chocolate-colored hair to the side.  Stubble dotted his chiseled jaw.

“Boss said you needed my help,” said Daxman, smirking.

“Everything’s under control here, son,” said Jack.  “Go back to your room.”  He returned to the control panel.

“Sorry, Captain’s orders.”

Jack shot him a glare and grumbled.

Daxman crossed the walkway to the platform. “So,” started Daxman as he strolled toward Jack. “What sort of mess have you made now?”

“Nothin’.  Just stay outta my way,” snapped Jack as he removed a panel from the floor to double check the primary conduits.  He stepped down a small ladder below the floor and looked at a display to his right.

“Looks to me like you could use a fresh pair of eyes on this nothing.”

Jack peered up from the square void in the walkway.  “I told ya.  Move along, son.  It’s under control.”

Daxman took several steps toward him and glanced around the room.  “Yeah… actually, I don’t think so.”  Daxman defiantly folded his arms.  “See, I don’t trust you anymore than Thomas does.” Daxman crossed the plank way toward Jack.  “That’s why he sent me.”

Jack clenched his jaw and gnawed back lashes of insults.

“Like I said.”  Daxman ran his fingers along the top of the monitor and wiped a bit of dirt from the tip. “I’m just here to help.”

“Ain’t nothin’ here you’d understand.”

Daxman locked in on Jack’s eyes.  He studied Jack’s weary features, the way his grizzled beard shrouded the mottled scars on his face.

“Try me,” said Daxman.

Jack looked back down at the primary console.  He shook his head in a reluctant surrender and nodded in agreement.  “Fine.” He punched up several displays on the monitor.  “Arc Coil Einstein Engines.  Know anything about ‘em?”

“I know a little.  I helped write some of the diagnostic codes at Ad Astro Corp in ‘27.”

“’27?  What were ya, like twelve years old then?”

“Ten actually,” responded Daxman with a quiet confidence.

Jack sighed. He glared at Daxman, at the blinking displays and then back to Daxman.  “It’s small but our accelerations are off.”

Daxman walked over to the screen.  “Hmm, could be the quantum processor.”

“Already checked.”

“Resonance algorithms?”

“Workin’ like they should.”

“Reference Trajectory Code?”

“Yeah.”  Jack was losing his patience.  “I’ve checked it all.”

“Okay, well give me the story on the hardware and maybe something will jump out.”  Daxman moved closer to the display and peered over Jack’s shoulder.

Jack turned.  “Look here.  Ain’t nothin’ you can do.  I don’t want you meddling around like before.  These are my engines.  So why don’t you jus’ do us all a favor and go back to your room.”

“You know what?  I’d love to.  But your captain upstairs seems to think that I’m actually a part of this crew and he won’t stop riding my ass until I put in some hours.  You got a problem, then by all means, go complain to him.”

With no other option, Jack shook his head. “Fine,” said Jack sliding his finger across an orange cylinder illuminated at the center of the screen.  “This here’s the FRM.  You know what that’s fer?”

Forgetful and Retarded Moron?  Fat and Ridiculous Mouse?  Or maybe just a Fetid and Repugnant Monkey?  Any of those will do, thought Daxman, but instead responded, “No. Please, tell me.”

“It’s the Flow Regulation Manifold,” continued Jack.  “It drives the flow of xenon ions through the Engines.”

“This part here?”  Daxman pointed to another section illuminated in yellow.

“That there is the ion acceleration mechanism.  Each ion, or charged atomic particle…,” continued Jack.

Oh Jesus H. Christ.  Are we in fucking kindergarten? Daxman felt his patience waning.

Jack continued, “…is accelerated along the ACE Engine through a series of spiraling coils.  These coils here…” Jack motioned to a series of channels that matched the larger coils lofted high above them. “…accelerate the ions to relativistic speeds.”

“Oh, how fast is that?” asked Daxman sarcastically.

“Sixty-six percent of the speed of light, give or take.”

“Wow, that is fast,” replied Daxman rolling his eyes.

“A specific impulse of twenty million fast,” said Jack focused on the display. “See, when we left Earth, these engines here was cookin’ rocks.”

That some inbred expression from the Deep South? thought Daxman. “What do you mean?”

“Yeah, good ole’ F-equals-M-A.  When we left for Proteus, we were the size of a pregnant mule haulin’ a cart of lumber.  Engines still pushin’ all the same.”

“Right, with all that extra fuel,” added Daxman.

“Two point seven million tons of it.  Thing is though, with these here engines, less fuel is less mass, and less mass means more speed.  Just ask flyboy upstairs.”  Jack shook his head.

“Got it. So what’s going on then?”

“Like I said… not sure.” Jack ambled to the far end of the platform. “Somethin’s…” He paused, deep in thought. “…off kilter.  The engines ain’t pushin’ like they should.  Like Solar System gravity is wrong somehow.”

Daxman moved closer to the display to get his bearings on the readouts.

“Let me look,” said Daxman as he motioned to the seat in front of the console.

Jack grimaced.

Daxman plopped down at the console and rested his hands on the keyboard.  His fingers flashed with the deftness of a surgeon.  Within seconds, several windows popped up on the screen, each window filled with numbers, process lists, and then a prompt.  Daxman danced through the directories, copied an executable to his local directory, and with a few more keystrokes started a new program.

“Hey, watcha doin’?” asked Jack.

Daxman ignored Jack and continued.

A new screen appeared of the Solar System, each planet embedded in a circle and the Sun at the center.  Arrows sprung from each planet, reaching toward a small rectangle toward the bottom of the screen labeled Tesla Prime.

“Uh, what’s that?” asked Jack.

“This is a Solar System simulator I got from a, uh…” Daxman paused, “a friend at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.  I’m using the latest small forces file from CLARA.  Each vector represents a gravitational pull on Tesla Prime.”

Jack leaned in and squinted.

“But see this planet?” Daxman pointed at a spot on the third circle from the Sun.

“Yeah, that’s Earth.”

“Very good,” said Daxman patronizingly, “I see now why you were selected for this crew!”

Jack growled at the sarcasm.

Daxman feigned a smile and turned back to the console.  A machine gun of keyboard strokes later and numbers appeared next to the planet vectors.  He continued.  “But look here.”  He raised his finger to the screen and pointed at Earth.  “There is no gravity vector from Earth, and that’s bad.  Very bad.”



3 Responses to “Chapter 2”

  1. Nina Levy June 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    I enjoyed your work so far and look forward to seeing more! Thanks!

  2. somu April 20, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    hmm…. Earth’s alright??

    • dequils May 8, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

      Earth is a little “under the weather”. Pun intended. =)

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