Another Ride on the Way-Back Machine
It’s been a tough week, and as a consequence, I haven’t had the chance to really participate in fellow writer-blogger T.S. Bazelli’s latest “Author Aerobics” challenge – more’s the pity since this week’s challenge is about writing detail and I think I’m a pretty detailed writer, generally, so this challenge was practically tailor-made for me! (In the meantime, you can catch up on all the great stories that have appeared in this little challenge series by checking out Bazelli’s recap post here.)
But, I didn’t want to leave you all, dear readers, without new “content” today, so I thought we’d take another ride on the “way-back machine” and I’d pull out another story written during my younger, high-schoolier days. This one was much less “horrible” than the last one I inflicted upon you, this one shows a lot of improvement over a year-and-a-half-ish. Written when I was 18 and at the tale-end of High School, the plot is a tiny bit more original and the characterization somewhat improved. And the language and style had come a long way! At the same time, however, my handling of allegorical issues had not, exactly, improved significantly. I was sometimes a little over-the-top with the bluntness of what this story “means” in the context of the story.
That said, it’s still pretty bad. For instance, I introduce in this story the entirely fictional (and entirely horrible-sounding) future branch of mathematics called “anti-math” – a feild of mathematics that begins with the assumption that everything we know about mathematics is false. Therefore, you have been warned. And so, without further ado, I present to you the 6,300-word (definitely not flash fiction) science fiction epic:
By: Stephen Watkins
Jefferson awoke suddenly. Slowly, he became aware of his surroundings. The dull white blur that occupied the whole of his vision solidified and clarified. He was lying on his back in a coffin-like tube. There was a glass cover over his head and padding all around him. He had several lines running out of his arm.
As he lay there, trying to remember how he got to be where he was, a small mechanical arm extending from the side of his coffin lifted down, clasped the tubes inserted into his arm, and slowly extracted them. Jefferson’s arm twitched in reaction to the slight pain, but he found that his arms were restrained. His eyes followed as the end of the line, which were connected to a needle that had been injected into the veins on his arms, as it was carried away and into a small compartment. The arm-clasps that held him restrained were released, and the glass lid began to lift away. Slowly, Jefferson pushed himself out of the padded coffin. He looked about himself. There were other such coffins circling the room. Some were empty and some still contained people. Each had a small computer screen with a life-monitor on it. According to these monitors, each of the occupants of the other coffins was still alive.
Jefferson was surprised to realize that it was cold in the stark white room in which he found himself. He looked down and was embarrassed to find that he wore no clothes. Instinctively, he moved to a locker by his coffin, which contained a uniform. As he dressed, a friendly voice called out to him:
“Good Morning, Lieutenant Jefferson.”
“Good Morning, Jenna.” Answered Jefferson. That was the computer on the ship aboard which he was a Lieutenant, the U.S.S. Gaeatyrre. He was slowly remembering the details. He had been in Hyper-sleep, a sort of hibernation which was induced on the crews of ships taking long voyages.
“The Captain is waiting on the Operations Deck,” Jenna informed him.
“Thank you, Jenna.” Captain Dale Everick was the commander of this mission. It was the responsibility of the Gaeatyrre to respond to a signal received from deep space. The nature of the coded message had not been determined, and the crew had as its task the investigation of this message and its source. They had gone into hyper-sleep several months ago; a voyage to the outer most limits of explored space promised to take a long time, even using the hyper-light propulsion drives of a massive star-cruiser. Hyper-light was a fairly new development, and only a few of the newest ships were equipped with this faster-than-light propulsion system. The Gaeatyrre was the best of these. Six years in construction at the Io naval shipyards, equipped with all the latest in technology, including new and more effective weapons and superior defenses.
Jefferson, fully attired in his dress uniform, proceeded down the corridor to the Operations Deck. His memory was now almost fully intact. He remembered, for instance, that it was natural to have lost one’s memory upon awaking from hyper-sleep. Most of the brain shuts down during the process of slowing the body into hibernation; only a few parts of the brain are necessary to maintain the body. The rest, unneeded, goes with the body into hibernation. When one wakes up, these brain functions again become necessary, but it takes the brain a moment to fire back up again. Therefore, for a short period of time, the memory is somewhat inaccessible.
The smooth walls of the corridor faintly glowed with an indirect soft light. At even intervals were computer terminals through which the crew members of the ship might interface directly with Jenna, the main computer. While not activated, each displayed the logo of the Earth Interplanetary Confederation, an eagle imposed over a depiction of the planet Earth with nine stars and a pair of laurel leaves encircling it. The nine stars represented the nine super powers that existed on Earth before the Confederation united them in peace. Now the E.I.C. directed the colonization of space and the advancement of the species across the galaxy. Wars were unheard of and peace was lasting as long as the human race continued to push further and further into space. The endeavor to colonize the galaxy kept the entire civilization economically sound and united in peace and prosperity. Thus, the government was swift to finance further exploration, which included this mission. It was approved after only three hours of debate in the International Congress.
Most of the ship was still empty and devoid of life, as only a few of the ship’s crewmembers had yet awakened. Therefore, the corridors were empty and free of traffic. Yet there was never the feeling of being alone on the Gaeatyrre, for there was always Jenna. She watched the ship and all that happened aboard her, and was able to converse with hundreds of crewmates at once. Jenna was quite a computer, designed with every convenience in mind; she could do it all. Millions of billions of calculations in a single second were no difficulty for Jenna. She was always ready with a solution to the problem, but programmed to remain subservient to the human crew who manned the Gaeatyrre.
As Jefferson turned a corner he inadvertently bumped into Lieutenant Michaels. Michaels dropped what he was carrying to the floor. Flustered, he bent down to pick it up, but Jefferson already had in hand the dropped stack of report files. Jefferson handed the computer file reports back to Michaels. These were little units which could be inserted into any computer terminal and hand carried to take information from network to network. There were five such mainframe networks aboard the Gaeatyrre, and Jenna managed and sorted them all. All the networks were connected to the main computer. Jefferson wondered why Michaels bothered to carry the reports by hand, since a touch of a button could send them whizzing through the computer to their destination. But Michaels was adamant that he carry them where they needed to go, and his dossier said that he was a veritable genius. Obviously, he had his reasons.
“S-Sorry,” muttered Michaels, his head turned down. He started to walk away, then turned back to Jefferson. “Oh, uh, Mister Jefferson. The Captain wants to see you on the Operations Deck right away!”
“I know,” sighed Jefferson, “I’m on my way.”
Turning, he left the bumbling genius behind him and walked to the end of the corridor. A door slid silently open and he found himself in an enclosed chamber. This was the Deck Car. It ran along a series of tubes and had a terminal on every level in every deck. One must simply step in, inform Jenna of the desired location, and away the car goes.
“What is your desired location?” asked Jenna sweetly.
“Operations Deck, Jenna.”
“Of course, Lieutenant Jefferson. Right Away.” Jefferson felt a slight lurch as the Deck Car started to move, then the gravity stabilizer kicked in and he felt normal. After a short moment, he felt a lurch again as the stabilizer de-activated and the Deck Car pulled to a halt.
“Operations Deck. Have a nice day.”
Jefferson stepped out as the doors slid silently and quickly open. He looked around the large room upon which the Car opened. This was the Operations Foyer, the Command Center of the Ship. The walls were lined with computer terminals and padded seats. The wall of computers was broken only by four doors leading to the various Operations centers. In the center of the Command Center was a raised platform that included the Captain’s Terminal and the two Navigations Terminals, the Main Tactical Terminal, the Main Communications Terminal, and the Main Computer Interface Terminal. These were the necessary functions to keep the ship alive and running. The various workstations about the room were supplemental to these central terminals. Specific navigational functions, course plotting, scientific information, communications monitoring, shield and hull monitoring, specific weapons control, engine room interface, and several other more specific tasks were covered by these smaller units. At the head of the Command Center was a large Main Screen with three smaller screens positioned around it. Right now, the main screen displayed a sensor feedback of the ship’s surroundings, a scene of space, and the other screens displayed information about the signal being monitored.
Looking around, Jefferson found that the Captain was not in the Command Center.
“Jenna, locate Captain Everick.”
“Captain Everick is presently in the Tactical Operations Center.”
The Tactical Operations Center was one of the specific centers of operations on the Operations Deck. They controlled the usage of the specific smaller defensive weapons around the ship and made sure that the weapons were loaded at all times and using the Tactical Power Allotment to maximum efficiency. Jefferson walked toward the door to the Tactical Center. The door slid open on silent tracks.
Inside, he found Captain Dale Everick leaning over the Tactical Operations Main Screen. This was a round screen, which was sunken into the floor so that all Tactical Officers could look down and see it. It displayed information gathered by the tactical sensors in a map form, displaying the various other vessels located around the Gaeatyrre and certain basic information to help the officers make tactical decisions about which enemy ships to fire upon. Through a computer command, this screen could be displayed in a three-dimensional Holographic Projection. Several Tactical Officers were scurrying about the room, checking the Immersive Weapons Terminals. These were large terminals in which the officers were strapped in and totally immersed in the battle. As they aimed the guns, the terminals would turn around in circles like a gyroscope.
Jefferson marched up to Everick and saluted.
“Captain Everick, sir, Lieutenant Jefferson reporting.”
Everick looked up from Tactical Screen.
“Ah, Jefferson,” he motioned Jefferson to ease, “You’re the Senior Science Officer on board the Gaeatyrre. You have a lot of accomplishments to your name.”
“Yes, sir. I had a major role in designing and programming Jenna.”
“Right, right. Now, as the Senior Science Officer on board, I assume you have numerous degrees and years of training.” Everick casually made his way to the door.
“Yes, sir. I have degrees in New Computer Sciences and Applications, Interstellar Engineering, Tactical Sciences, Warship Design and Theory, and several lesser degrees in various other Military Sciences.”
“Yes, I’m quite familiar with your repertoire; I checked your dossier before accepting you on this voyage. However, in all your experience and numerous degrees, have you ever encountered something like this?” He was through the door now and motioning to the main screen of the Command Center. “Computer, Main Screen, Magnify 50x.”
The picture on the main screen blinked and shifted, zooming in fifty times. When the picture finally settled, Jefferson could not help but gasp in awe at what he saw. It appeared to be a space vessel of immense proportions.
“Jenna,” Jefferson excitedly called on the computer, “estimate length, height and depth and any other useful information of unknown object.”
“39.3 by 27.2 by 12.8 Kilometers. Object is in a general, irregular conical shape and is approximately 0.53 Light-years in distance. Speed is registered as nominal. Sensors do not indicate anything further.”
“Well, now, Mister Jefferson.” Spoke Everick, “There’s the source of those peculiar signals. An unknown spacecraft just drifting in space.”
“Why, we must establish communication! This is an incredible discovery. All these years we believed we were alone in the universe, and here we have definitive proof to the contrary! This is the most important moment in human history!”
“Yes, well, as important as it is, we can’t do anything until we unscramble that message. For all we know, they’re telling us to surrender now, or face immediate destruction. We can’t go into this situation like blind rats.”
“No, no, of course not! One of the first rules in Basic Tactical Training 101: Know Your Opponent! Jenna, divert 50% of your focus to the message, see if you can translate it.”
“No good, Jefferson. We’ve had the greatest minds in the world working on that thing. Thousands of super computers have turned their full attention to divining the meaning behind those cryptic tones. Nothing seems to make any sense. Those brainiacs have tried every known algorithm, computation and what have you. There’s no decoding that message!”
“So what do we do?”
“We sit here and watch them. If they move, we’ll be on them. Eventually they may give us the key to translating their message.”
With that, Captain Dale Everick turned on his heel and left the Command Center.
“Jenna, monitor alien spacecraft. Alert me to any change in the present level of activity.”
* * *
But Jefferson was not ready to give up on the alien message. He took large portions of it and tested it himself. He consulted Lieutenant Michaels on his mathematics. He verified it with Jenna. Nothing seemed to work. It seemed that Everick was right. There was going to be no translating of this message. But still he worked on it.
It was evening while he sat hard at work applying different computations to the apparently mathematical sequencing of the ethereal tones that Michaels came to his quarters. Jefferson heard Jenna announce Lieutenant Michaels, and when he ordered the door open, Michaels just stood in the doorway, staring at his feet.
“Michaels, come in. What is it?” Michaels stepped in cautiously, despite his friendly greeting.
“Well, uh, sir, Mister Jefferson. You’ve been consulting me on some equations you had, you know, checking to see if they were right. I’ve seen enough of your work on them that they started to give me an idea.”
“I’d be happy to hear what you have to say. I’ve got to translate these messages from the alien spacecraft before we can proceed.”
“Well, looking at your worksheets, you’ve been using a series of mathematical algorithms, assuming of course that the aliens were sending a mathematical message. But what if those messages were actually written using anti-mathematics.”
“Anti-mathematics. It’s a very new and revolutionary idea in the mathematical fields. The basic premise is assuming that the opposite of everything assumed to be true is in fact true. It’s part of a new field of mathematics called meta-logic.”
“I really don’t know quite what you’re talking about, but if you think it could help, you can take a shot at it.”
“Oh, thank you. This will be an excellent exercise for me. It will take me a couple of hours to derive the proper anti-equations. I can feed these tone series into those and see what we come up with.”
* * *
A couple hours later, Michaels was running his anti-equations on the screens in Jefferson’s room. Jefferson watched in amazement as the rows of peculiar and unfamiliar symbols flashed past his eyes. Three times Michaels ran the anti-equations, and three times after about five minutes of blinking screens the message ERROR displayed at the end. Michaels was beginning to get frustrated. His anti-equations were not producing results. Finally Michaels entered the fourth and final anti-equation. The screen flashed rows of unfamiliar computations as before and when it stopped there was no ERROR message. The screen was still full of peculiar symbols.
“Aha,” cried a triumphant Michaels as he pointed at the screen, “I should have known. The one I least expected! Now I’ll simply take these results and convert them into true equations and apply basic translating techniques. I suspect that we’ll be seeing an alien produced movie before long.”
“Well, from the look of these anti-equations, this will give us a three-dimensional picture to look at. And looking at these,” he pointed to a funny looking squiggle mark crossed by three lines, “These are demarcations of time, they look to change every millisecond, which divide the picture up. And there are three variables, other than the time variable, which indicates a three-dimensional picture.”
“All right, all right! Don’t explain it, just do it!”
He had never seen Michaels so happy. He was in his element when he was doing what nobody else understood. Making a peculiar burbling sound to himself, Michaels worked. He gathered up all the Information Storage Units that contained everything he had done so far and sorted them, stacked them, picked them up and left.
A few hours later he returned, this time with only one unit. Smiling, he entered Jefferson’s room.
“I’ve got the movie.” He cheerily made his way to the computer console. He inserted the info-unit and brought the contents up onto the screen. “I’m not sure what exactly they’re trying to show, but it is interesting enough.” The screen was now depicting a scene in space. “Oh, does this thing have some sort of three-dimensional display. It would be much better.”
“Jenna, display in Three-D mode.”
A hologram materialized in the middle of Jefferson’s room. It was the same scene of space. The scene began to move, zooming in on one of the pinpoints of light. The movement was very smooth.
“I was wrong about the time demarcation. It’s a much smoother flow than what I first guessed.” Michaels apologized.
Now the screen showed a planet in orbit around the star. It was green with splotches of other colors, white and blue and brown. It certainly wasn’t Earth. Along side the planet a box opened up displaying various statistical data. Unfortunately the information was written in an alien manner.
“I didn’t have time to translate their writing. I wanted to get this to you as soon as possible. Just watch a moment, it’s going to get to the good part soon.”
Now the focus was just off the planet. An artificial satellite was being constructed. In a few minutes, a vessel left the port of the satellite. Zooming in on the vessel, Jefferson recognized the alien ship now drifting in space broadcasting this message. The ship began to move away from the star with incredible speed. Then the most peculiar thing happened. It seemed as if the ship just suddenly turned inside out. There was a sudden flash, and the ship sucked in on itself at the same time that it appeared to explode. Then it was gone.
“What happened?” asked Jefferson, staring at hologram.
“I’m not sure. It appears to have been sucked into some kind of–”
He did not get to finish his speculation. The computer interrupted:
“Lieutenant Jefferson, you are required on the Operations Deck, a change in the message has occurred.”
“I have to go,” Jefferson apologized as he left his room. He made his way down the hallway to the Deck Car. In moments he was whisked away to the Command Center. The door of the Deck Car opened on silent gears and Jefferson stepped through. The Command Center was now more crowded with crew members who had awaken and resumed their posts. Amidst the turmoil of crewmen flitting from terminal to terminal on some task or another stood the tall and imposing form of Captain Dale Everick.
“Captain, we’ve translated the message…” His voice drifted off as Everick gestured him to be silent. He was intent on the main view screen. Jefferson noticed that everyone in the room was stopping every few moments to look at the screen. Jefferson turned to see what they saw.
The screen no longer depicted a stationary vessel. The alien ship was moving.
“Jenna said the message had changed.”
“It did,” responded Everick, his never took his eyes off the screen, “It made a slight change, then it ceased broadcasting. After a few seconds, it started to move. The computer clocks her at about three light-years an hour.”
“At that rate it’ll be here in ten minutes.”
“Aye, we don’t have much time to decide on our course of action.”
“Sir, we must try to communicate with it! Lieutenant Michaels has decoded the alien message. It appears to be some sort of ship’s log, or a history of their civilization. I didn’t get to finish viewing the Holofilm, but that ship has been through some strange occurrences.”
“Do you think Michaels can reverse-engineer a message to them to establish communication?”
“He might, but it won’t be very long given only a ten-minute interval to do it in.”
“Then do it. Have the computer broadcast the message as soon as he is finished.”
Jefferson hurried back into the Deck Car. Dale returned to the matter at hand.
“Ensign Whithers, power up the main attack grid, prepare for a combat situation.”
* * *
Jefferson practically ran down the corridor to his room. Michaels was still inside.
“Michaels,” he was panting, “You’ve got to write a message to send to them! We’ve to respond within ten minutes!”
“Ten minutes! I can try, but the computer isn’t set up to easily calculate anti-mathematical equations. It won’t be very good, and I can’t promise they’ll understand it.”
“Do what you have to do! I don’t want this to escalate into something it doesn’t have to be. These are the most important ten minutes of human history!”
* * *
It was also the longest ten minutes of human history. Michaels labored at his message and finally it was done and Jenna was broadcasting it to the alien spacecraft. Jefferson thought that they should be receiving it at any moment, and they would rejoice to hear that Earth people were intelligent as well. He was curious, however, to find out what the message said.
“Oh, well,” Michaels told him, “It’s just sort of a little thing to let them know we’re here and that we’re listening and we understand. It doesn’t actually say anything, being as I’ve had no time to decipher their language, it’s just a few mathematical and anti-mathematical principles to show how we understand.”
Jefferson and Michaels were now on their way to the Command Center to meet with Captain Everick. The Deck Car was speeding from the Crew Quarter’s Deck to the Operations Deck.
Suddenly, the lights in the Car flickered on and off, and Jefferson could feel a slight rumble reverberate through the floor.
“What was that?” he asked. Michaels shrugged. In a moment the door had opened and they were in the Command Center.
The Command Center was in Chaos.
* * *
“What in God’s Name did you say to them?!” raved Captain Everick. “Whatever it was, it sure pissed them off!”
“I … I didn’t say anything!” defended Michaels, “Just a few mathematical equations was all.”
“Well it looks like they don’t like to take Math Tests, because they started firing on us without any warning. We’ve sustained too much damage for the first round of an assault!”
The ship shuddered again. Jefferson saw flashes of light on the main screen, explosions and bursts of high-energy weapons.
Everick turned his attention back to the battle.
“Discharge Plasma Cannons three through six. Focus all Lasers on a point two hundred meters to the right of the aft. Fire torpedo bays five through ten. Divert power from Cryogenics and from Communications to the Forward Shield Grid.” Crewmen scurried to carry out his instructions. Jefferson saw four flashes jump from the Gaeatyrre to the alien ship. The plasma discharge. Then six rockets jumped away and carved a course straight for the enemy. The impacts in the alien vessel seemed insignificant compared to the overwhelming size of it.
As Jefferson watched, the alien vessel emitted a wave of distortion which passed over the Gaeatyrre. There was a small impact that shook the vessel, then the wave passed on. Instantly one of the side screens began to flash a warning.
“Sir, the shields are totally disabled!” an ensign called from his console.
“Route all available power into the weapons array!” Everick answered, “Fire torpedo bays one through four!”
Another salvo of torpedoes fired from the Gaeatyrre to inflict minimal damage on the enemy.
The door to the Deck Car opened. Michaels peaked out and waved to Jefferson. “I have something to show you!” Jefferson waded through the turmoil to the Deck Car to meet with him. The door slid shut behind him.
“There’s something very important that I must show you.” Michaels explained, “I’ve discovered a second message encoded into the broadcast. Computer display Second Level Message in Holovideo.” A picture formed in mid air between Michaels and Jefferson. It was an alien face. A long snout, tusk-like teeth, small yellow eyes, stubby horns, and two locks of flowing red hair growing behind long, pointed ears. The skin was a ruddy color, like rusted iron. The alien spoke.
“People of the planet Earth. We have received the message placed in your probe and sent to us, by now, hundreds of years ago. We have now responded to you with hopes of peace between our two species. However, know that our civilization is far more advanced and technologically superior. If you fail to recognize our overtures of peace, and send a ship of war to fight us, you may be certain that it shall be destroyed. If you attempt to engage in combat, then you shall be engaged and your race shall fade from the universe. However, do not let this talk discourage you. We have sent a vessel loaded with marvels of our culture as gifts to you, as you have given to us in the probe named Voyager. Our kind is very old, and there is much we may show you that is beyond the imagination of humankind. If you have successfully decoded this message, then you are prepared to meet with these things. We will await an ambassador for three of your years and together we will make the last step to Earth. Please come, and open yourselves to a whole new universe of possibilities.”
The alien spoke English! Of course they did! If their civilization was as advanced as he said they were, discovering and decoding a new language would be a simple matter. Jefferson did not understand why they were trying to destroy them. The speaker declared peace. But wait, he had ordered that they not send a ship of war. The Gaeatyrre was equipped with the most advanced weapons available; the Gaeatyrre was a ship of war. He had to tell the Captain to stop firing upon the alien vessel.
“Jenna, Command Center.” He ordered.
“Command Center. Have a nice day.” The door opened back into the chaos of Operations Deck. Again Jefferson attempted to navigate the shifting tides of deckhands scurrying about.
“Captain, you’ve got to stop firing on the alien ship!” he shouted as loud as he could that his voice might carry over the background noise of the Command Center. Captain Everick turned to him.
“You’ve got to stop putting up a defense and power down the weapons grid!”
“Are you mad, Lieutenant Jefferson? Have all your years of tactical experience left your brain? Earth will not fall by my fault! I shall defend her to the last!”
“You don’t understand, we must send a message telling them it was a mistake! They only want peace!”
“I beg your pardon? They were the ones who opened fire. I merely prepared a defensive strategy for just that occasion. I did not instigate this battle! They shall pay dearly for their transgressions!”
“Captain, if you do not cease now, you will condemn the entire human race!”
“I’ll hear no more from you! Ensign Walters, Ensign Mathews, please escort Lieutenant Jefferson from the Command Center. I have a victory to win.”
Walters and Mathews emerged from the sea of anonymous faces to take hold of Jefferson and haul him toward the Deck Car. They dragged him across the floor, but the way was not easy; the Command Center was very crowded.
The alien ship fired another wave of that peculiar spatial distortion. The ship shook like a bell struck with a massive hammer. The lights in the Command Center went out, all the screens went dead. The cacophony of clamor erupted into screaming. A few moments later the emergency lights came up, illuminating the extent in a red glow. Walters and Mathews loosened their grip on Jefferson. He shook them off. The room grew silent.
“Computer, bring up reserve power and root it to the weapons grid.” Everick commanded.
“Sir, there is insufficient power to operate the weapons grid. I can bring up the main screen, if you like.”
“Unnecessary. Plot a collision course with the alien ship. One way or another we’ll take her out.”
“That is impossible sir. The alien vessel has encompassed us, and we are now docking with them. I do not have control of the ship’s propulsion; we are being lead by a tractor beam.”
“The enemy has swallowed us down its gullet. Let’s give them a serious case of indigestion! Computer, activate Self-destruct mode, on my order, Captain Dale Everick, number 33-698-472B9Q. Authorization code 556-223R.”
“Authorization confirmed. Self-destruct mode activated. You have five minutes to evacuate the Gaeatyrre. Fail-safe in four minutes. Have a nice day.”
En masse the deckcrew moved for the Deck Car, in a panic. The voice of the captain rose above the tumultuous sounds.
“Don’t any of you go anywhere. We will remain aboard the ship and carry out our duties in the service of the planet Earth. If we evacuate the aliens will think something is amiss and eject our ship. The last attempt to defend Earth will be failed!”
Jefferson was dumb-stricken by the captain’s words. Remain aboard?! Die for a fool’s cause. Peace was possible, if they only tried to reconcile! Jefferson called out to the captain.
“Sir, I beg you reconsider. There can be peace! Do not do this!”
“Are you still here? Walters! Mathews! I thought I told you two to take Mr. Jefferson away. Get him out of here! Take him to the brig!”
Before they could get their hands on him once more, Jefferson ducked between them and raced for the Deck Car door.
“Jenna, close the door!” he yelled, slipping deftly through the closing doors.
Walters and Mathews lumbered behind him, but the doors were shut when they reached the Car. The captain shouted to open the door, but the Deck Car was already away and the doors remained shut.
* * *
“Jenna, Discontinue Self-destruct countdown on my authorization, Lieutenant Jefferson, 47-763-458X3D. Fail-safe code 333-247B.” Jefferson panted as the Deck Car took him to the Cryogenics Deck.
“Authorization confirmed. Fail-safe confirmed. Self-destruct mode is not de-activated. The Inter-Deck Network is off-line. I am taking commands only from the main computer network on Operations Deck. Sorry. Four minutes, thirty seconds to self-destruct. Have a nice day.”
Jefferson muttered a harsh expletive. There was only power left for the main computer. If he did anything, it would have to be manually.
He felt a queasiness in his stomach as the Deck pulled to a halt. The door slid open and he stepped into the hallway in the Cryogenics Deck. He scrambled into the Hyper-sleep chamber and ransacked the closets for provisions. He pocketed several packets of freeze-dried emergency food. He found a small case and filled it with food and medical supplies. He pulled out an emergency life-support apparatus from one of the closets and pulled it on, keeping the faceplate open. The voice of Jenna announced: “Four minutes to self-destruct. Three minutes to fail-safe. Have a nice day.”
After amassing what he could, he left the Hyper-sleep chamber and ran down the hall. He reached a large metal door with a manual lock pad. He punched in a three-digit code and the door slid open. At the other end of the hall the door to the Deck Car opened. Out stepped Walters, Mathews and Captain Everick.
Everick pointed, yelling:
“Stop right there!”
Jefferson ran through the opening doors and punched in a code to close it. The door started closing, but Walters and Mathews were close behind, and they countermanded him. Jefferson ran onward. Lights came on to illuminate the way, which was rarely taken. The hall was lined with manual open doors. This was the base of the Gaeatyrre, and these were the escape pods. Jefferson stopped at the first one and began twisting the large metal handle that had to be turned to open the door. Walters was through the hallway entrance. The computer blared: “Three minutes to self-destruct. Two minutes to fail-safe.”
Jefferson pulled back his fist and landed it on Walter’s face, taking him down. Mathews ran up, but stopped short. Jefferson swung but Mathews dodged to the side. Jefferson stumbled forward and Mathews slammed his elbow into his back. Jefferson fell to the floor, groaning. Mathews leaned over and pulled him to his feet, then cocked his fist to hit Jefferson in the face. Before the ensign’s hit landed, Jefferson kicked him in the groin. Mathews doubled over in pain, releasing the lieutenant. He kicked again, this time in the face. Mathews’ head snapped back and he fell against the metal wall.
As Ensign Mathews slid to the floor, Captain Everick came running from the outside hall.
“Stop where you are, Lieutenant. This is mutiny, and treason. You can be court-martialed for this. We can’t alert the aliens to our plans!”
“With all do respect, sir, who is going to court-martial me? You’ll all be dead. I’ve been trying to tell you, we don’t have to fight. There can be peace! Please, Captain Everick, sound the evacuation. We can still save some of the people.”
“Impossible. There cannot be peace. I will defend my planet. My name will not be forgotten. I will be remembered as the Man Who Saved Earth. And you won’t stand in the way of my Martyrdom!”
With that, he pulled a gun from his belt and aimed at Jefferson’s heart. With lightning feet, Jefferson kicked the gun away, then brought his foot back to slam it into the captain’s stomach. He picked the gun up and turned to finish twisting the door open. Clutching his stomach, the captain grabbed Jefferson’s arm, then gasped, “You’ll die out there!”
“I’ll die in here!” Jefferson retorted, then shook the captain’s hand off and entered into the escape pod. Jenna called out, “Two Minutes to self-destruct. One minute to fail-safe.” Jefferson slammed the door shut behind him, walked down a short ramp and opened another door. He slipped into the cramped quarters of the pod, closing the door behind him. He flipped on the lights and closed the life-support suit’s faceplate, tossing the gun on the floor. Sitting down, he strapped into the command chair. There were spaces for seven people in the pod. He flicked a few switches and the pod began to hum. He looked through the windows in the two doors to see the face of the captain staring out at him. He pulled the release lever and the pod began to slide down the tube and out of the Gaeatyrre.
* * *
Captain Everick stared down at the escape pod as it slid away.
“Mutiny!” he yelled, “Treason! You’ll die out there!” Walters and Mathews stirred and, moaning, pushed themselves to their feet. “He got away, you two! You let him get away!”
The computer announced “One minute to self-destruct. Please enter the fail-safe code now, or the count-down will continue.”
Suddenly, fear gripped Captain Everick’s mind. He had to stop the self-destruct sequence. He had to de-activate it! He yelled out: “Computer, de-activate self-destruct mode on my command, Captain Dale Everick 33-698-472B9Q. Fail-safe code 333-247B.”
“Authorization and fail-safe code confirmed. Self-destruct mode is not de-activated. The Inter-Deck Network is off-line and I am only taking orders from the main computer network on Operations Deck. Sorry. The countdown is now past the fail-safe point. Forty-five seconds to self-destruct. Have a nice day.”
“No, no, no! You can’t tell me that! I’m the Captain! I gave you the Fail-safe code! You have to stop the countdown!”
“I am sorry, the Inter-Deck Network is off-line, and I cannot take your commands. Forty seconds to self-destruct.”
Walters and Mathews gave the captain a confused look and ran down the hall to get in an escape pod. They twisted at the metal handle, struggling to open it. Everick came up behind them and knocked them away.
“You’re doing it all wrong!” he shouted. He grasped the handle and began twisting it. The door came open.
“Thirty seconds to self-destruct!”
“Computer, broadcast this ship-wide message: ‘May I have your attention please. The ship is about to self-destruct. Abandon Ship! I repeat, Abandon Ship!”
He swung the door open and Walters and Mathews pushed past him to get in. The computer reported: “Twenty seconds to self-destruct.”
Dale hurried onto the ramp, pulling the door closed behind him. Walters and Mathews were struggling with the second door. Dale shouldered past them again and began to open the second door.
“Ten Seconds to Self-Destruct.”
He opened the door and hurried in.
He flicked on the lights.
He sat down.
He buckled his restrainer.
He flipped the switches.
The pod started humming.
The door was closed and Walters and Mathews were sitting down. “Hurry! Hurry!” He shouted at them.
He pulled the release lever.
The pod unlatched from the Ship and began sliding down the tube.
“Zero. I’m sorry it had to be this way.”
* * *
Jefferson looked out the window and saw a brilliant flash in the sky. There was an eruption of nuclear fire as the Gaeatyrre self-destructed, then a second explosion as the alien ship caught the explosion and carried the reaction. Multiple bursts lit the space all around in a nova of color. A chunk of the alien vessel floated apart from the explosion, pushed by the force of the blossoming fires. Jefferson turned away from the sight. He had tried to warn them. They had not listened. He hoped it was not too late for Earth.