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Laura A. Wellington

"Standby for Countdown..." by Laura A. Wellington

SciFi/Fantasy text 4 out of 4 by Laura A. Wellington.      ←Previous - Next→
 
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This is a story about a captain who unwittingly angers his computer's intelligence, nearly ending up responsible for the death of his crew. In order to save them, he must outsmart the system. The only catch is... he's blind.
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←- Lost Soul | Dragonbane -→

Standby for countdown.

A rustling of clothing followed, then the satisfying click of the safety harnesses fastening in place. Twelve of them, the captain mentally noted. Thirteen, when he secured his own.

"The planet's orbit was larger than we'd expected, cap'n," his second-in-command, Tank, reported. Aptly named too, from the reports. His chair had to be custom-made for safety measures. The captain smiled to himself. "We've adjusted accordingly."

"Understood," said the captain.

More reports filtered through the captain's ears of corrected miscalculations, adjusted courses, standard protocols changed at the Home Star. The captain nodded after each one; his crew was to be trusted to handle these types of situations - only there were too many here to be normal.

The comm officer, a small boy no older than seventeen, yet fluent in six alien languages, tapped the captain nervously on the shoulder. "Yes, Simon?" the captain said, swiveling around in his chair.

"We - um, seem to -"

"Speak sharp, boy. We've got less than eight minutes to get through this, and at this rate, we're going to have to circle the planet again. Now, what is it?" The captain said this sternly, but did not raise his voice. This gave Simon a little hope, and he raised a sheet of paper to the captain.

"Sir, it says here that we're being hailed by an alien ship, possibly hostile. They say they will prevent our completion of the mission if we do not allow a docking crew to board."

"What race?"

"Excuse me, sir?"

"You said this was an alien ship. What aliens?"

"Umů" Some shuffling papers. "We've never encountered this species before."

"Then are you sure of the message?"

"It's a bastardization of the Chur language, with a little of some minor alien languages mixed in. I -"

"I don't need the details, son. Just answer my question."

"There are only a few words I could be misinterpreting, but they seem to be a parasitic race, not to be trusted."

"Tell them to follow us through the procedure. Once we've completed it, tell them they have the right to gain entry."

"Sir?"

The captain grimaced. "Right now, these aliens are the least of our troubles. Relay the message."

"Yes, sir."

The captain sighed as the boy left to fulfill orders. Another report streamed in.

Gordon, reporting status.

"I believe the title is captain."

My apologies. Gordon, the probability of success seems to be dwindling exponentially. By the time we reach our jump point, we have only a two-percent chance of survival, let alone jumping at the correct speed. We have already altered our jump trajectory by eight point three degrees, an alteration that could end us in Hogan territory. And you know how much they love visitors.

"Captain," Captain Gordon said stiffly, through clenched teeth.

You flatter me, Gordon.

"Comp, I don't know where you get the idea that you are superior to my crew, but -"

I am superior to your crew, Gordon. I've already corrected their fatal mistakes. Because of me, Gordon, you could live.

A beep interrupted him, signaling an incoming report. The captain switched screens, shutting the comp out. "Report."

"Gordon."

"Trish." His navigator and the only female on the bridge, she was more capable than any three of his men, which said a lot. She was also the oldest of the crew.

"Gord, there's something you need to see."

"Well, then it's a good thing I can see it," Gordon said sarcastically.

"Gordon," she pleaded, "this might prevent us from jumping."

"Is it a fire?" Trish was silent for a moment. Gordon felt a little twinge of guilt, but his life was on the line, and he tended to get snappy when that occurred.

"Gordon, don't get sour. There's a ship maneuvering in the way of our course. We don't have time to go around it. If it doesn't move, we're going to crash into it."

The captain sighed. "Simon!" The boy fumbled with his restraining harness, clicked it off, and ran to the captain.

"Yes?" he said a little breathlessly.

"What did you tell them?"

"Sir?"

"What did you tell them!"

"I asked them to wait at our jump point and we'll allow them to dock when we've completed procedure."

Gordon groaned and pillowed his head in his hands. "Simon. You've put them directly in our path. We're going to crash into them."

"Maybe I can -"

"Whatever you decide to do, boy, do it in the next minute."

"Sir."

Simon ran back to his seat, punching in a message even while he was restrapping himself to his chair. A buzzer sounded on the bridge.

Sorry, Gordon, the comp reported, we have to abort. There's nothing we - oh. The buzzer went off. We're clear and counting. Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen -

"Strap in, people. We're going through." The captain too pulled the harness over his head. "Simon?"

"Sir?"

"I don't know what you told them, but thank you."

Someone whooped, and the bridge erupted in applause. Gordon's praise was rarely given. A quiet female whisper in his monitor reported: "You did right, Gord. You've made his day, and his face-" She giggled. "It's a good last memory. Kinda like yours." Before he could respond, she cut the line. The corners of his mouth twitched up before he swung his chair around. We're not going to die, he told himself, though he believed it less than any one of the crew.

"Come on, guys, back to work! We're not finished yet!"

Two, one-

He pushed the release button, and the accelerators fired up.

They had jumped.

The captain looked around at his crew, and saw their eyes screwed up against the bright light ahead of them. The stars they passed were far too close to the ship, but they'd passed quickly enough that it didn't make a difference. Gordon looked at Simon, his face still pink, smiling, drunk with success. Gordon blinked. He could see?

How's it going, Gordon? Not all it's cracked up to be, is it?

The captain looked up at the screen. The comp had projected a young male, dressed conservatively, onto the screen. "Is my crew all right like that?"

You amaze me, Gordon. A blinding light allows you to see, and yet your first question revolves around your crew. Yes, they're fine.

"How is this possible?"

It's not. But those problems seemed to have forced us to enter jump crooked, and we are ripping a trail through space as we speak. That's the blinding light.

"Why can I see?"

Same reason we're still alive.

Gordon sat back, the harness's pressure giving a little. He scanned the room. Tank sat beside him, true to the reports of his massive size. Trish behind them, and Simon and the rest of the crew circling the rest of the room. The control panel before him was missing a viewscreen, but he'd never needed one anyway. Still, it felt odd to see the vast expanse of board unoccupied by anything.

The large screen in front changed, replacing the comp with images. Gordon looked up, filled with disbelief. His eyes shouldn't be working. His retinas had been damaged, he shouldn't be seeing things. Gordon focused on the screen, on the images playing before his eyes. He widened his eyes, recognizing the images as events from his own life.

"Where are you getting these?" he demanded to the comp.

The image simply changed again.

This one played back the time Gordon's acceptance letter to the Space Academy arriving in the mail. He had beamed at the letter, hardly daring to open it, in case the letter disappeared, or he woke from the dream. That was thirty seven years ago.

New image. A skimmer, presented to him at the time of graduation from the academy. It was blue, shining, and barely large enough for two. He and Trish were assigned as partners. She was a beautiful girl then, six years his senior.

Their first assignment was to scout out landing areas for the B. B. G. Voyager. Routine work, fit for interns or low-class crew. They were insulted, but carried out with the assignment anyway. It had gone as planned. Trish had fallen asleep on the way back.

Next image. They had been told to break atmo from the Voyager. The gasses were unidentifiable from space, and they were sent to collect samples for testing before entry. It was a suicide mission. Trish had argued with the captain of the Voyager, and the man told her to collect soil samples, an unnecessary punishment. When they reached the planet's atmosphere, the skimmer's paint had started chipping. Gordon tried to turn back, but Trish was determined to get the soil samples in an act of defiance. Twenty miles from surface, the skimmer burst into flames. The engine, directly behind Trish, combusted, and her back was scalded. The flames slowly worked their way to the front of the skimmer, engulfing Trish in fire. Gordon crashed the ship on the surface and pulled her out, beating the flames to extinguish them from her body. She never made a sound of pain. The air was thankfully stable enough to breathe, but in an hour's time, the skimmer had completely eroded away. They collected the samples, and met the inhabitants. The peaceful, metal-intolerant Churs were eager to give them a lift back to the Voyager. The biodegradable ships were extremely well constructed, but the controls were resistant to human touch. The captain on the Voyager sent Gordon and Trish back to the Home Star. He never mentioned Trish's wounds, and no on-deck medic came to help. The doctors on Home Star were unable to repair Trish's flesh, instead replacing it with ultratitanium, a flexible mutation of titanium. She would never be able to return to the Chur homeworld.

Next image. Trish convinced Gordon to help her buy a new skimmer. A last minute issue had forced Gordon to stay behind while Trish went ship shopping. She'd found a cruiser, and took it home.

Gordon patted the chair he was in. This ship. The one he'd never seen.

While she was buying the ship, Gordon was doing repair work on a destroyer. He and another boy, fresh out of the academy, were rebending the hull, which had been crushed in a failed docking procedure. The strain on the metal was incredible, and Gordon was welding it together while the boy held the metal in place. A large object passing over had startled them, the boy knocked the restraints out of place in his surprise. The metal had recoiled, springing back in Gordon's face. His nose was crushed, and his eyes ruptured. The last thing he saw was the cause of the noise: a pair of space stars, the living creatures that in every aspect were stars except for the fact that they moved. It was incredibly rare to see space stars so close to the Home Star.

The doctors had restructured his nose, but his eyes were beyond repair, and the hot metal had destroyed his optic nerves. They told him he'd never see again. When Trish returned with the cruiser, she immediately learned of the accident. She proceeded to find the best officers in the galaxy, training them herself for the ship while Gordon healed in the hospital. Gordon, unaware of her labor, thought Trish had abandoned him. While he despaired, she trained the best crew in the galaxy.

When he was released, she greeted him at the doors. Taking him to the ship, she briefed him on her work for the past six months, and described each person in detail to him. Then each person introduced himself, "My name is so-and-so, Captain."

Trish had assigned herself as navigator, never one to take outright leadership. Slowly, Gordon learned the dynamics of the crew, his crew, and how to command such a large ship. The crew learned to take the initiative, simply deferring to the captain in times of uncertainty or to debrief him. The few commands Gordon did give out were executed immediately, flawlessly. He was regarded as the best captain in the Home Star galaxy. The commander of the C. A. Galaxy.

New image. Scientists had learned, from other races, jump capabilities. They had developed a driver that would accelerate a ship's motion thousands of times faster than the speed of light. But it differed from the alien jump technology. They looked to Gordon to try it out. Unlucky as he seemed to be, he'd never lost a life or failed a mission. Yet another suicide mission. But he'd accepted.

The images cleared, replaced by the young man again. Impressed? I could show you the memories of any one of your crew. Jump has opened their minds to me. Who do you want to know better? Trish?

Images flashed by, a new puppy, losing a bet in academy, meeting Gordon -

No? How about Tank?

Tank holding up a little boy, flirting with a girl on the street, becoming second-in-command -

Simon?

Speaking to aliens, breaking his arm, staring up at Gordon's sightless eyes -

"Stop!" Gordon yelled. The images faded. "I don't want to know."

But it would provide so much insight to your crew. Your sight will leave in less than two minutes, and my access to their minds will end as well. This is your chance! Next time, we will enter correctly, and this won't happen again. Let me look into their thoughts, let me show you who they really are-

Gordon looked up at the comp. "You did this, didn't you? You made us enter jump skewed." The face on the screen smiled and shrugged. "Why?"

You are so blind, Gordon. Even with your sight restored, you can't see what's right in front of you!

Gordon pressed himself against the back of his chair, stunned at the comp's outrage.

You authorized a parasitic boarding. If we'd gone in directly, those insects would've followed us and eaten me alive! You claim to care so much about your crew, but the one who matters most, the one who's kept you alive, is ignored.

"Perhaps I would've paid more attention if you'd given me the respect I'd deserved," Gordon said carefully.

The comp laughed. I gave you more than respect. I gave you your life. That's more than any of these pathetic humans could've given you.

"Those pathetic humans are my responsibility. You are not. What you do is prompted by the Space Alliance, and I have no control over you."

The comp sniffed. Very well then. I'll set those calculations back to where your crew, he spat the word, set it. We'll see where your loyalties lie then.

"NO!" Gordon screamed. The comp flashed out. Gordon frantically searched his board for a manual override, but couldn't find one. He wildly scanned the bridge for a console that could help him. His eyes fell on Simon's computer, where a stack of papers piled on the floor beneath a printer. Gordon struggled out of the restraints and stumbled over to Simon's console. His buttons were thankfully still labeled, since he had yet to memorize the controls. Gordon slammed his hand over the print button, hoping his rash idea would work. The printer hummed to life as several warning buzzers sounded.

"I'm responsible for these people, you bastard!" Gordon screamed at the ceiling, hoping the comp could hear him.

It responded over the speakers. Then I'm giving you what they consider loyalty. Your death. Though I suppose that through killing you they terminate their own lives.

"You're interfering with their safety and I can't allow that!"

No? Are you planning on stopping me?

Gordon glanced at the printout. The numbers were foreign to him. He glanced at Trish's console. "In any way I can," he muttered.

He took a step forward, but lost his balance as the ship shuddered, changing directions. He pushed himself up and crawled toward her station. "Trish," he said, but she didn't respond. "Trish!" he repeated, more urgently, and grimaced when she didn't move. He pulled himself up to her console, looking at her panel of controls.

Hers were not labeled. He looked frantically at the tiny buttons, many more than his limited console contained. Tiny lights began flashing over her display. Warning lights, Gordon hazarded to guess. He glanced back at Trish's face. Scarred though it was, he saw a hint of the beauty it once displayed. He put the printout on her console and held her hand.

"Trish," he said firmly. He shifted his legs so he was kneeling, though the pressure on his knees was fairly intense. "Trish, I know I've depended on you all my life, but I need you here now more than ever. I can't do this without you." Her face remained impassive, and he closed his eyes, leaning his head on her hand.

Be strong, the comp mocked. Be strong for your crew. Save them. Because they can't save you.

A single tear leaked from Gordon's eyes, falling on Trish's hand. She twitched, then lay still. But the slight movement gave him hope. He released Trish's hand and looked back at the monitor, wishing that he'd learned something about the controls, even though he'd never have to use them. Desperate, he started pushing buttons.

What are you doing? the comp asked, panic-stricken. Gordon ignored it and kept pushing things. Visuals popped up all over her screen, but Gordon ignored them too. He remembered the day she taught him how to use the control panels.

This cruiser at least knows its commander's limits. Your console is designed to do one thing per button and one thing only. If worst comes to worst, just start pushing buttons. If you don't crash and die, then you'll probably find the thing you're looking for.

So he kept pushing buttons.

Finally, one spoke to him. "Enter coordinates." Though he didn't know which ones to enter, he stopped pushing the remaining buttons in hopes that this one had the answer. He picked up the paper and squinted at it. The numbers were tiny, and his eyesight, though restored, was still hazy at best. He scanned the page until he found a set of larger numbers near the bottom of the page. He plugged in the numbers and sent them, crossing his fingers and blocking out the incessant warning buzzers.

Slowly, one by one, the buzzers ceased. He felt the ship slowing, and heard Trish stir beside him. The bright light faded, and he felt a pounding headache in the back of his skull. He closed his eyes as the flashing lights on Trish's board went out. A darkness crept up beside him and he welcomed it, sinking into its depths.



"Gordon?"

"Cap'n?"

"Sir?"

"Captain?"

Gordon opened his eyes, or thought he did, but no images greeted his eyes. He took a deep breath and listened to the voices around him. Twelve of them, he noted. Thirteen, if he added his own.

"Gordon? Are you okay? We're through the jump now."

Yes, I'm fine. We all are. We're alive. We won.

And Gordon let the darkness take him again.

←- Lost Soul | Dragonbane -→

DateNameComment 
11 Jul 2006:-) Ryan Stringer
I am impressed by the pace of this story - it really gets down to brass tacks quickly and doesn't plod around trying to overly explain things that don't really matter anyway. At the same time I found for the most part that there was nothing I was overly confused about aside from a little bit at the end, though it didn't my enjoyment of the story to any great degree.

If it were me, I would have probably written a story about tens time the length, but it may not have had that much more to say. The characters, though featured very briefly, were all memorable and held distinctive roles in my mind as I was reading it - that's hard to do in a short story like this. Overall, great job, I look forward to reading more 2

:-) Laura A. Wellington replies: "::blushes:: All these nice comments. I feel so special! Then again, you probably say things like that to everyone... but I can pretend, right?"
7 Aug 2006:-) Ryan Stringer
Actually, I used to try leaving really detailed and constructive comments on stories that need a lot of work, but I found that didn't get me anywhere, so now when I read a story that I don't like or that I think is badly written, I stop reading aboout halfway and don't leave any comments 2

:-) Laura A. Wellington replies: "ah. so I AM a special one. ::dances in circles:: the joy! ::falls from sudden rush of vertigo:: um... I'll go away now. Mebbe write a story or something. :21huffles away::"
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'Standby for Countdown...':
 • Created by: :-) Laura A. Wellington
 • Copyright: ©Laura A. Wellington. All rights reserved!

 • Keywords: Aliens, Computer, Hyperdrive, Sight, Trust
 • Categories: Extrateresstial, Alien Life Forms, Spaceships, Ships, Bessels, Transportation..., A.I. (Artificial Intelligence)
 • Views: 457

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More by 'Laura A. Wellington':
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