Captain William Hargest was awakened from hyper-sleep as the SS Trident approached the outer heliosphere of the Vela IV system. A trio of watchbots assisted him with his recovery. T.009 offered a beverage. “Good morning, Captain. Ship’s time is 0500, January 15th, 2072 AD.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but only a rasping sound escaped his lips. T.009 held out the drink.
T.010 spoke with maternal authority. “Hydration and nutritional supplements.”
Hargest grasped the bev-tube and slurped. Once his throat was moistened, he spoke. “Ship’s status?”
T.011 held out a datapad, which lit up, displaying a schematic of the SS Trident. “Condition Green. Holding course at .012. Ship is in zero-gravity on all decks. All systems operating within mission parameters.”
“197 souls aboard and in cryostasis.”
“Gaea, Cronus and Atlas are secure.”
“Wake up Hyperion.”
T.011 beeped a warning. “Attention! Standard company protocol specifies that all alpha-level crew be fully active before any other personnel – “
Hargest held up his hand. “I’m overriding standard protocol, same as usual.”
T.011 held out a small device and the Captain inserted his index finger. There was a slight click and Hargest winced. “Genetic Sequence verified.” A light scanned his face as he spoke the override code command. “Executive override confirmed. Beginning spin-down of cryostasis for code-name Hyperion”
“Thank you, Eleven.”
T.009 activated a vac-razor and started clearing away the wiry growth on Hargest’s jaw and neck. “Any damage while I was out?”
T.011 rolled closer and tapped an icon on the pad “Summary: Seventeen low-level interstellar collision events, three radiation burst events and two equipment failure events during the past 12.7 shiptime years. All events were within the scope of automated mission procedures and have been repaired.”
“I’ll review the detailed report this evening.” T.009 made a series of passes across Hargest’s scalp, leaving him with a short buzz cut.
“It’s on the ship’s network, Captain.”
T.010 rapped Hargest’s knee with a mallet. A light was shone into his eyes and a swab taken from the inside of his mouth, nose and ears. T.009 brought the Captain a hot face cloth. Hargest rubbed his face and neck. He flexed his limbs slowly.
“Let’s take a look topside.”
The ship was still cruising within the interstellar medium when the Captain floated onto the bridge, wrapped in a comforter and sipping a hot beverage from a g-mug. He stood for a moment in front of the viewport while three more watchbots monitored the control stations. He cupped his good hand around Vela IV, his eyes drinking in its reddish light. He slowly closed his hand, until his fist eclipsed the star’s light. He stood this way for a moment, fist held out in front of him like a stone monument. The Trident was hurtling forward, and slowly, Vela IV crested over the edge of Hargest’s knuckles, her light flooded his eyes again. The bridge was quiet, and Hargest wordlessly called up the datafile for his destination, the second planet of this system, signified as HD85512b and renamed Proteus. 3.6 times the mass of Earth and 1.4 times the gravity. Very humid, with 60% cloud cover. Surface temperature ranges from 30 to 50 degrees Celsius. It orbits its late-cycle star every 60 days.
T.006 called out an alarm from the exterior sensor array control station. An object was floating a few hundred thousand klicks out, and directly in their flight path.
Hargest checked the navigational data to ensure that the Trident’s approach vector was aligned with the tail of the Vela’s heliosheath, the point of least turbulence between the galactic wind of the Milky Way and the solar winds of Vela.
“It’s the advanced probe.”
T.008 beeped. “This location is inconsistent with mission parameters. AT.001 was programmed to await Trident’s approach in orbit of the second planet.”
“Something’s happened.” The captain floated into his chair and buckled himself in, with assistance from T.009. “What’s Hyperion’s status?”
T.011 put up a human schematic on a holoscreen. “Code Name Hyperion is revived to 83%. Estimated time to full activity in 2 minutes.”
Hargest nodded curtly. “Excellent. Begin full warm up on all decks. Take the ship to condition yellow.”
All over the ship, 12 watchbots snapped into action, starting the revival cycle on the cryopods, powering up dormant sections of the ship. Captain Hargest could feel the hum of power under his feet. Trident was awakening from her long, cold slumber.
Hargest gripped the straps of his harness. “Main thrust burn on all three engines at 33%… on my mark..”
T.008 replied “Engines primed and standing by.”
“3.. 2.. 1.. Go.”
Alerts sounded across all decks and every watchbot secured themselves for deceleration.
Clung. Clung. Clung. Three flares of light stabbed out as the starship’s three enormous fusion engines fired in succession, slowing the ship. Hargest felt the lurch of inertia, and gripped the armrests, apprehensive for system failure indicators. Sudden deceleration could be hazardous, especially after the Trident had been dormant for an extended period. Hargest would feel more confident if the crew was thawed and active, but that would take hours, and the advanced probe would be behind them in minutes unless they dropped speed.
Trident shook as a loud roaring sound filled the ship. Alarms flashed on Hargest’s console indicating a coil failure in one of the engines’ reactor cores. The Captain swore to himself and rapidly punched a key sequence into his command console. “Shutdown engine number two! Emergency Shutdown!”
The ship shuddered and lurched. One of the watchbots slipped away from its station, hurtling across the bridge and smashing into a railing. It flipped end over end, but caught itself with an outstretched grappler.
Hargest desperately wished more of the crew was awake. He eyed the long range sensor display in front of him, checking the locator box around the approaching probe for its velocity. “We’re coming in too fast. We’re going to miss it!”
“Miss what, sir?”
Hargest swiveled his seat towards the human voice behind him. “Val!”
Commander Valerie Ruud had entered the bridge. Her build was solid like a gymnast, her dark hair was cut to short stubble like the captain’s. Her grip on the wall rail was solid and her eyes were clear and calm. She wore a zero-g undersuit studded with metallic shunts. “Reporting for duty, Captain.”
Hargest jabbed his finger towards the engineering console. “Engine 2 blew a coil! I need more thrust on engines 1 and 3!”
“Aye aye!” Val pulled herself along the wall grips, hand over hand, making her way towards the side of the bridge. She tumbled into place at the engineering station and fastened the harness around her torso. Her gloved hands tapped out keystrokes in rapid succession. “Increasing output on engines 1 and 3 to maximum.”
She hit a final key, and the ship shuddered again. The view screen flared with a brightness that blotted out the stars. Twin plumes of atomic fire jutted forward from the engine pods and the ship made a terrible groan as the ship’s superstructure flexed under the strain of rapid deceleration.
“Ease them off, Commander! I need my ship in one piece!”
The twin flares in front of the ship died down, revealing the open starscape once again. Hargest frowned at his readout screen. The data from AT.001 would be invaluable for planning the next phase of the mission. It was sent ahead of the Trident to make a close range survey of Proteus and the Vela IV system. It was supposed to be awaiting their arrival in orbit of the planet, yet here it was, hurtling away from the system. Was it a malfunction, or had it encountered something beyond the ability of its programming to handle?
Hargest barked at one of the watchbots. “Six! Can you get a data link with the probe yet?”
T.006 flashed as it interfaced with the Trident’s comm. Station. “Establishing connection.”
“How long till we are out of transmission range, Commander Ruud?”
Val checked her instruments, her lips tightening into a thin line. “We’ve got about 200 seconds, Captain.”
Hargest took a moment to check his options. There was not enough time to transfer all the data from the probe to the ship’s memory systems – and no guarantee that it would be useable anyways. They couldn’t physically intercept the probe, not without coming to a full stop and coming back around, which could put them months behind their schedule.
“Six! Retrieve original flight plan data packets for the probe from ship’s memory systems.”
T.006 flashed in response. “Files located; loading into transfer buffer.”
Ruud looked over. “100 seconds remaining, Captain.”
Hargest leaned forward. “Transmit the flight plan back to the probe and force a re-boot of its nav-system! Over-write the on-board files!”
“Transmitting.” T.006 displayed a progress bar on its display. “8% complete.”
Two objects, metal and angular, hurtled towards each other through an airless realm of shadow.
Across the void of space, pings of invisible radio waves bounced back and forth between the Trident and the little probe, whose computer decoded the signals into packets of data, assembling them into useable code.
They passed each other in a flash, the closest distance between them over a hundred thousand kilometers, a hair’s breadth on the astronomical scale of things.
Commander Ruud re-checked her calculations. “We will be out of transmission range in 20 seconds, Captain.”
T.006 chimed out “100% Transfer compl-“
Hargest interrupted. “Re-boot the system! Do it now!”
The watchbot sent the signal, and the pulse beamed out towards the retreating device as it sped off into the all-encompassing darkness.
Val eased back into her harness. “It’s gone, Captain.”
Hargest rubbed his face and looked out of the viewport. “It was my best shot. If all goes well, the on board nav system will restart, check its position and then make a correction. With a bit of luck the probe will follow us, and maybe catch up in a few weeks. Shut down the engines, Commander.”
Commander Ruud cut the power and engines 1 and 2 fell silent. “What now, sir?”
“Let’s see.. I’ve been revived from hyper-sleep for about thirty minutes and in that time I’ve buggered up our flight plan, butchered our mission schedule and burnt out number two engine’s mag-coil. We need to get our crew thawed out and active before I wreck the whole ship, Val.”
“The Trident’s a tough bird, sir.”
“First of her line, Commander. Pantheon built her to take humanity further than we’ve ever been before.”
“340 trillion kilometers.” Ruud turned her face towards the glow of Vela IV, caught up in the emotion of the moment.
“The journey is over, Val” he said. “Now the mission begins.”
© Dylan Edwards, 2012.