Well, I wrote this about 2 years ago. It's largely inspired by SE, with a healthy dose of techno-optimism. Like most of my stories, I never finished it - I'm not sure where I can take it, but I like it and may finish it at some point. I don't have a title for it, though something like "Starshot" could work...Part 1WHEEP WHEEP WHEEPWhat the hell
, Bracken wondered as she blinked to clear her vision. The mess of coloured lights were a watery blur. As she tried to get her bearings, she realised her left temple ached, and she was not entirely sure where she was or what was going on - just the sense that she did know
, and that that was important, but no specifics were forthcoming.
She pawed at her face, noticing when her hand was close enough to her face to focus on with some reliance despite the incessant wheeling of her surroundings, that it was gloved.Gloves.
She registered the pressure across her torso. Harness.
Her gloved hand came away from her face dappled with dark spots where the fabric had absorbed beads of perspiration - and one larger red wine blotch... her temple. Gloves.
, she thought again, Harness
The logical dominoes fell, and bolstered up the disarrayed structure of her memory. Cabin!
The WHEEP WHEEP WHEEP
continued. Master Alarm!
With enough of her wherewithal restored, she blinked again to crush out the blurriness in her vision. The control console was wheeling around her and bobbing back up repeatedly, but she could make out the flashing red text in the centre screen.
She realised that it wasn't the cabin that was spinning, but her eyes - fighting some illusory spin that was not actually ocurring... this must have been a
hard knock on the head
... as she concentrated to overcome it, the throbbing pain in her temple flared in objection, and she spotted globules of undulating blood floating between her and the next seat.
The figure in the next seat was not moving... Lukazj. Flight specialist Lukazj.
She assured herself he was just unconscious, and, shaken into some state of autonomic alertness, she robotically tapped the panel in front of her to mute the Master Alarm, and call up the sitrep.
MET17d6h11m23s : MASTER ALARM triggered.
MET17d6h11m23s : 'voltage limit - NFR1 Output #3'
MET17d6h11m24s : 'cabin g-limit'
MET17d6h11m26s : 'graviscan fix invalid'
MET17d6h11m32s : 'EET calculation mismatch'
Eyes wide, she glanced at the Mission-Elapsed Time clock.
For reliablility, it was mechanical, setting it apart from the myriad smooth touchscreen and depth displays that surrounded the forward viewports.
Below it was the Earth-Elapsed Time clock, also mechanical - but the numbers printed on its rollers were nonsensical, scuffed and smeared, as if from being scrubbed too hard or rubbed against something - and the right-most roller appeared to have been friction-welded to its faceplate, the perspex fronting showing signs of heat-degradation. There were thin wisps of smoke inside the unit, floating disorganised in the microgravity.
Bracken unbuckled her harness with only slight difficulty, confusion and alarm overcoming the pain and disorientation as her primary concerns.
Grateful for the lack of gravity - in her condition, she would surely have crumpled to the ground under any significant g-load - she gently floated over to Lukazj, and gripped his shoulders to steady herself. With relief, she noticed his eyelids undulating in REM sleep.
"Lukazj." she croaked. Her throat was bruised... when she thought about it, her everything
felt bruised. Lukazj had blotches across his face, minor sub-dermal haemorrhaging.
She cleared her throat uncomfortably.
"Specialist Woiczek." she mumbled, wobbling his slack shoulders. "Wake up."
His face furrowed, and he started to groan.
She looked past him, surveying the cabin. There was a vivid, energetic spew of red painted in an arc across the rear bulkhead, and a ceiling-mounted touch panel appeared to have been shorn in two by an object embedded in one of the rear status panels - bent and fritzing from the impact.
The pain in her head and the blood on her glove accounted for the red, and the object in the rear and the sitrep's "g-limit" warning accounted for the pain in her head (and everywhere else).
She squinted to focus her still-bleary vision on the object embedded in the rear wall. She could make out the blood adorning one corner, and the text on the cover - "flight manual". What kind of g-force could plunge a navigation textbook through an inconel alloy console mount?!
The two other crew seats were empty - Salinas and Abbal would have been in the lab. Strange, how easily some thoughts came.
The blood stain put her priorities in order, and she clamped a hand against her head, looking around for the first-aid box.
Floating over to it, she caught her reflection in its cover, and lifted her soaked glove - there it was, a small, deep, triangular gouge in her left temple, visible in a collapsed shell of a bubble cragged with semi-coagulated blood, held to the wound by surface tension until her glove had crushed it, now refilling in its absence - a glowing globe of crimson, undulating with movement and her pulse. It tickled.
The hard cover of the manual must have caught her with a corner while the g's were still building. Her hair behind the wound was streaked with an arrow-straight course of browning dried blood.
Everywhere there was such evidence of absurd acceleration.
As she removed the necessary items from the box, she struggled past the fog in her mind and the ache in her skull to recall what had happened.
It was like recovering lost data from a corrupted drive - unrelated, disordered images - Alice kissing her on their fourth anniversary; tumbling out of control during basic; Garibaldi, their retreiver; The Tomatina with Marta; A dark circle rimmed by piercing blue light; Lukazj giggling like a schoolgirl at the Paris taxi-driver story during the Neptune-assist;
And there it was. She had just applied the coagulant spray to the wound when something about the pressure and the spume of misty particles through the light tripped some vaguely related strand of memory.
Not the star system, nor the mental image, nor the tantalizing spectral analysis, nor even the words - but just the concept, the goal, the crushing but exultant purpose that had hung over everything
for the last 12 years of her life.
She was momentarily stunned by the vagaries of human consciousness. Its unbounding complexity, but also its comical capacity for derailment. How the hell
could she lose track of 438?!
Her name in Lukazj's groggy Baltic voice shook her to an embarrassing degree.
"What happened?" He was unbuckling his harness.
"I, um..." she struggled to word some response, spinning awkwardly with the inertia imparted by her involuntary jerk at hearing the voice.
Hands full, she couldn't steady herself. Head full, she didn't think to try. You're the Captain, Lydia, say something.
", are you alright?!" he piqued, spotting the partially-patched gore as the left side of her head spun into view.
"I'm, eh..." The captain, dammit!
"We need to check on the others." she stated, mustering as much dignity as she could, and every ounce of situational awareness she had, to make that command.
"First thing's first- let's get you patched up, let me help." Lukazj placed a hand on her to halt her pathetic pirrouetting, and smiled that half-smile of his.Part 2
Mind rapidly clearing, Lydia Bracken, Captain of the
Starcraft Defiance, and Lukazj Woiczek, flight specialist
- she kept rehearsing the things she could be sure she knew, and with each rehearsal, came more certainties - made their way down the central shaft of the ship towards the aft section, containing the Science Lab and the living quarters.
The drugs Lukazj had jabbed her with were doing wonders for her powers of concentration, and with each passing moment, and each mental affirmation of the things she thought she knew, the fabric of her reality was flattening out, where before it had seemed twisted, folded, and confused, like the core of a lettuce.
They passed a dented access panel, evidently blown out of place by an exploding capacitor in the Fusion reactor output regulator cabinet. The panel gently tumbled, showing a scorched "#3".
Other pieces of dented and smashed debris tumbled around the shaft, dissipating kinetic energy even now, a good hour after the power surge had instigated the uncontrolled acceleration.
The hatch to the aft section had been sealed for transit, but it took what seemed like a herculean effort from both of them to open it. It was dented and dinged by the impact of pretty much all the detritus they had just passed.
Finally, it hissed, the pressures equalised - that in itself was a relief, she had begun to fear what they might find on the other side - but at least it was still pressurised. Lukazj hauled the door open on its battered hinges.
Salinas came barelling out of the lab door, puddles of tears welled around her deep brown eyes, and blood on her hands and torso.
"¡Dios mio! Oh thank heavens you two are ok!" She plowed into Lydia, smothering her in a hug, smearing the back of her flightsuit with the grime on her hands. Lydia had to hold onto the hatch frame to avoid tumbling back up the shaft.
Clinging to Lydia, right up in her ear, Marta Salinas sobbed "Malik just..." she slurped a messy intake of breath and whimpered.
Bracken wilted. "No, oh gods, no."
Lukazj pulled himself through the hatch, and glided to the rim of the Lab door.
He just whispered "Jesus .", and silently closed his eyes.
With Marta insensate, weeping, clinging to her like a baby chimpanzee, Lydia peered over his shoulder.
Malik Abbal, Science lead, had met a similar fate to the aft console back in the cockpit - he'd taken an impactor to the stomach, and burst like a water balloon. The shock had torn his G-seat off its bearing, and had evidently sent him bouncing around the cabin like the debris in the central shaft. He was covered in lacerations, blood still bubbling out of most of them... but he had, somehow it seemed, lived until only a few moments ago.
The scene was outlandish, parts of Malik's digestive tract hanging out of him, pieces of him adhering to the walls, the whole lab smashed asunder by the bouncing of him in his chair. Marta's seat spattered on one side, but otherwise undamaged.
Lydia reached in and closed the door. She couldn't keep seeing that. She looked at Lukazj's ghostly face.
"Come on, let's get cleaned up."Part 3
The hum of the shower unit filled the living quarters. It's not like they were bothered by drinking one another's recycled, distilled bodily fluids anymore - they were all astronauts, it came with the territory... but something about Marta being in there, water spewing over her and powerful vaccuums sucking it out again, filling the distillation tanks with Malik's viscera, exceeded that tolerance.
The silence needed to be filled - and besides that, there were more pressing matters, cold as it was to think it, than the gruesome death of their Science lead. Their friend.
"Sitrep." She said steadily.
Lukazj pulled a tablet with a depth display off a velcro strip beside his cubby, and started tapping away.
"Well", he started, arching his eyebrows, "like you said, Navigation doesn't know where we are, there was a power surge from Fusion Reactor 1 - that's what blew that capacitor in the hallway, and the gravity lock went completely screwy when we had that acceleration anomaly."
She furrowed her brow. "The acceleration anomaly - what the hell happened there!? The Alcubierre drive shouldn't incur acceleration - we're supposed to be in our own little bubble of flat space-time - the G-Seats were a formality!"
"Well, Marta would be better able to speculate on this - she's the Warp theorist - I just point the ship where we want to go..." He was venturing something upbeat, some false modesty, but even before he'd finished, he had sagged under the non-literal gravity of the situation. The hum from the shower ceased, and the hiss of the fans took over. He continued.
"I figure the power surge from the reactor caused an uncontrolled assymetrical increase in warp field strength, which - sort of - tilted
-" he inclined his tablet to illustrate "- the spacetime we occupy when the ship is in transit."
The fans shut off, and the shower door opened. Marta floated out of the cubicle mindlessly, completely nude.
Some part of Lydia felt a swell of pride that not a single lecherous thought had yet crossed her mind, because she does have *incredible
- NO, dammit. NOT THE TIME. I mean shiiit, that wax-work skin - NO! You're a professional, and a married woman!
while she mentally stamped on that thought, she caught a split second look on Lukazj's face that hinted at a similar process occuring in his own mind.
Seeing such wildly innapropriate thoughts mirrored in her second-in-command reassured her that it was just a stress reaction... Anything to not have to deal with the here and now, I guess...
Lukazj resumed - "That manifested as a g-force in the cabin of upwards of 15 or 16 G's. It's a miracle that any of us survived... halleluja G-seats, eh?"
Lydia looked to Marta, now gently rotating in a feotal position in the middle of the room, her head submerged in an undulating blossom of frizzy black hair. "Salinas, you agree with that assessment?"
The reply was slow to come - her eyes were fixed on the middle distance, not locking to the surroundings as she rolled. Bracken was about to ask again when she said simply said "Basically."
Lukazj reached into Marta's cubby and pulled out a blanket, floating over and wrapping her loosely in it.
"So then the capacitor blew... then what happened?"
Another pause, but she blinked and made eye contact with him.
"The surge accelerated us, and then the field went asymmetric - the computer would try to initiate a field collapse and drop us out of warp, but with the generator still surging, it couldn't do that - it dumped as much of the extra power as it could into the the capacitor and the batteries - but the batteries can't accept that much energy that quickly, so the charging relays are probably burned out, too."
" hell." Lydia cursed.
Marta was coming out of her shock to some extent - or at least, switching gears into shop-talk. Now she was looking at Lydia.
"Don't curse the damage - if the computer hadn't distributed the power away from that segment of the Q-ring, the spacetime torsion would have spaghettified us."
Lydia blanched at that. "So, if I'm reading you right - we must have jumped to a much higher warp factor than we wanted to be at? So we've probably over-shot our destination?"
"The surge must have subsided, and the computer was able to shut down NFR-1, and collapse the field, I guess. We could be somewhere between Earth and 438, or somewhere way
beyond... if Navigation can't get a fix, then..." Marta looked down at her knees, suffused in the blanket.
Lukazj's brow had been crumpling gradually as the explanation went on. "I wonder why the reactor surged? None of the test ships - none of our supply drop ships, nothing powered by one of these units has ever had that occur..."
Marta's face became distant... "Not my field. They're Abbal's babies..." she doubled over again.
Lydia straightened "We need to find out where we are. Let's go open the blue-shade."Part 4
Lydia was about to issue her customary reprimand about the pressure-seal to the bridge having been left open when she remembered that she
had been the last one through. Lukazj was floating along the shaft behind her, with Marta emerging through the aft hatch.
Most of the debris in the mid-ship shaft had settled, only the few larger chunks retaining any kinetic energy in the face of the air-resistance, so as the crew sailed through, they were uncaringly pinging little flecks of spaceship out of their path.
Marta had avoided looking at the red-smeared lab door as she passed it. She awkwardly pawed the wall for stability as she pulled on a distressed grey and blue NASA t-shirt and tied the drawstrings on her hastily-donned blue sweatpants. She looked like a college student taking a lazy day - her hair an unkempt afro, her low-effort attire already-worn, stained, and poked by the absence of her usual sports bra. Bracken wasn't a stickler for professionalism at all times - you couldn't be, on a voyage like this, but Marta was perhaps the most fastidious crewmember when it came to her appearance... I guess these are unprofessional times
. Lukazj was the best-presented of them. He looks like his official portrait
Lydia thought, considering her own disshevelled, bloodied, and patched appearance as they took their stations and strapped into the g-seats.
"Marta, I want you to run over the system logs for the Q-ring and fusion reactor 1." Marta, in the port-facing crew seat, started rattling away on the keyboard by way of acknowledgement.
"Lukazj, see if you can get navigation to make sense, and bring the cold-gas thrusters online, just in case this has something to do with the EM-RCS." as she spoke, she kept her focus on her controls, running her fingers over the panel in front of her, everything much more familiar now.
"I'll open the blue-shade."
The sequence was already in motion, and with that statement, she hit return.
There was a clank, a judder, and an electronic squawk as a red-rimmed error message flashed up on her screen. The motors had all drawn too much voltage.
The Blue-shade petals were designed to protect the cabin occupants from the intense broad-spectrum radiation that the forward lobe of the warp bubble blue-shifted up from the cosmic microwave background radiation. All forward-facing surfaces of the ship were armored against it, and the blue-shade was a series of hinged flaps of composite materials that closed over the windows.
The others looked up expectantly at the noise.
Lydia glanced at the friction-welded Earth-Elapsed Time rollers - still not ready to work that into her thinking... except...
"Lukazj, what do the radiation-shield temperature sensors say?"
He tapped his touch panel a few times.
"Huh! We've been out of warp for over an hour, but it's still hot enough to sear a steak on! This should have dissipated ages ago!"
"Check the log." she continued steadily.
He was already bringing it up. He sagged.
"...Of course - I should really have expected this. The temperatures are off the scale until about 40 minutes ago. The motors are either over-resistant, or the petals are physically welded shut."
Lydia unbuckled and floated over starboard to the Abbal's un-occupied station. She reached up above the console, pulled a panel cover off and cranked the handle inside until the petal outside creaked and shucked unsteadily open.
The others stopped what they were doing, unbuckled, and floated over to peer out.
A haze of tumbling, ashy grit was clearing, reflecting the cabin lights pouring out through the window. It was hard to see beyond it.
"Marta, kill the lights, please." asked Lydia, seeing that Marta was closest to that side of Malik's panel.
The cabin went dark, lit only by the red glow on Bracken's console, and the dull grey of the endless computer logs sprawled out on the others. Outside, the particles of grit lost their definition, and the crew waited for their eyes to adjust and see the stars...
...and they waited.
"We're not in intergalactic space, are we?!" Marta finally asked, incredulously.
Lukazj cleared his throat "No. What little sense I can make of the graviscan indicates that there are gravity-wells in the vicinity. We're in cluster of low-mass stars, I'd say - but the output is totally unreliable."
"What the ? ...You two, get back on the logs. I'll open the rest of these petals." Lydia commanded after another interminable silence.==========================================================
And... that's as far as I got. I have a little more story in the barrel - I know what their situation is, but without an endgame that satisfies me, I can't figure out how to continue it, no matter how much I want to. What do you guys think? lol, looks like the forum censored a couple of F-bombs. Oh well.