Monday, June 15, 2015

Lonely Space - Chapter Five (Stirring)

 Start from Chapter One


Chapter Five


“The ship can do anything for us” Jay Johnson told Tamita “It makes our food, tailors our clothes, can even operate on us if we need it”. She was now dressed in the same khaki slacks and shirt that Jay Johnson was wearing.

“I read the brochure too” she responded, sitting at a table next to a big device. “Okay, computer, give me groundnut stew with some cassava bread”

Gopher took off quickly and left the room.

“Where's it going?” she asked

“To get your food of course” Jay told her, sitting across the table from her.

She looked at him like he had lost his mind. “It can do it that quickly? Make something like that?”

Jay nodded. “It can make a hamburger as fast as any odd or rare dish you can think of. I've been here a while, I have seen many things. When they built this ship they were prepared for almost anything to happen to it on the voyage, it can repair or make any part it might need. It is quite impressive”

She shook her head “It was all in the manual, but it's still hard to believe”

“This ship is huge, its miles long and wide and a mile deep, at least” he told her “I haven't even explored half of it”

“So why are we here exactly? Does the computer need us for anything? Are we supposed to learn how to repair things? Make space walks? I don't get why it needs to have humans alive and walking around” she asked “It doesn't make sense”

He shrugged “I never had to do any of those things. I'm not really sure why it needs one... or two of us to be out of suspension, but it has to abide by the rules that were made for it”

Gopher entered the room with a tray and laid it on the table in front of Tamita, her eyes widened just looking through the transparent dome over the food. “This looks exactly like it should”

She took off the top and took a big spoonful and a smile crossed her face. “Like a taste of home” she said “This is fascinating”. She continued with her meal, seeming to enjoy it for a while but by the end she was looking sad again.

“Homesick?” Jay asked, she nodded. “I know how that feels... let me show you something that might help a little.”

She followed him through the corridors before noticing something, “Hey”. She stopped and went to look at something on the wall. A rough scribble outline of a man hunting an antelope. “Did you draw this?”

“My cave art phase” he acknowledged “Not my best work but it catches the eye”

“The computer doesn't mind you drawing on the walls? I wonder why it lets you do this?” she asked, he just shrugged. Then he waved for her to follow and soon they entered one of the biological habitats, this one was very large, 16 acres, but half of that was a simulated ocean.

“How could we make this more like your country, so you'd feel more at home?” Jay asked while chasing a small rabbit through some tall grass, but it ran into a wooded area and lost him.

“We would have to build some dirty, crowded slums” she answered

“No, no, no” he said, putting his hands on his hips “The part of your country that might be on a postcard or something, the good parts”

She shook her head “I don't know, I'll think of something later. I guess the markets where the women sell the gara cloth and all sorts of foods and spices would be one of the most idyllic”

“The computer could make you some traditional clothing from your country, if you would like to wear things like that” he told her, trying to find something that would interest her. She was just sitting on a rock looking at the roiling dust clouds and stars through the transparent top of the habitat. “I wonder when sunlight will ever pour through it again?” she asked.

“Crew member Jay Johnson” The main computer intoned “I require your presence on the bridge”

“That's a new one” he said, then he looked at Tamita who was still sitting in the grass and now watching the tides on the simulated 8-acre ocean “Are you coming?”

“No” she said lightly “Unless the computer needs me to do something”

“Okay” Jay said heading toward the hatch “You know the way home, right?”

“Home?” she said to herself, just waving her arm for him to go.

Once on the bridge he looked around, it was as dark and quiet as usual. “What is it? Why do you need me?”

The computer answered “A rover failed to respond to inquiries, it was on the exterior of the ship. Then its beacon vanished and I could no longer track it. I launched a drone to fly to the location and I found damage, here is an image of the damaged area”

Jay looked closely, then he shook his head “That wasn't done by a rock or anything”

In fact it looked like someone or something had been removing panels and shielding from the ship, he wondered if the rover had gone rogue. “The rover must have malfunctioned” he said “It can happen”

The computer responded “I considered this. I checked the logs and there is no sign at all that any of its programming was damaged or altered. I have deactivated the rovers until my investigation into this is complete, the drones cannot do the work either. I need you to go out there”

“Me?” he asked, then looked at the holographic display again “You want me to go out there?”

The computer turned off the holograph. “I need you to assess the damage, it looks like everything under the paneling is intact. I just require you to put the panels back.”

After years of being asked to do nothing Jay almost felt like a freeloader for a second until he remembered he didn't want to be there. He wanted to still be in cryogenic suspension so that he could someday step foot on New Eden like he was promised. He threw his hands in the air “Whatever, where do I need to go”

“Section B, deck 80” the computer said

Jay thought for a second “That's the underside of the ship? On the bottom”

“There is no up or down in space, Jay Johnson” the computer said “There will be artificial gravity during your excursion, it will almost be a normal walk”

He took the lift all the way to the lowest deck and then moved to B section, near the front of the ship as far as he concerned. He wondered if the computer would argue that there was not really a front either. Soon he was at a ready room, spacesuits in transparent lockers covered the walls. The computer directed him to a spacesuit that would fit and instructed him on putting it on.

When Jay and the computer were both sure the suit was on correctly and the life support system in the small backpack was functioning he entered the airlock. He could hear the air being sucked out of the chamber and then as he watched an exterior door swung open.

“First you must pass the green line and then walk up the wall and stand on the ceiling before exiting” the computer said. He found the green line, about two foot deep, it went up a wall and onto the ceiling above him. It wasn't a natural thing to do but this is how one walked onto the bottom of a deep-space vessel, or something.

“I'm upside down, on the ceiling now, I'm going out now” he told the computer but got no response, so he just walked through the exit. He was on the outside of the vessel, looking side to side he couldn't see the edges, but space was everywhere when he looked above the horizon.

“Which way?”

“Straight ahead” the computer said “You might be able to see the drone floating around soon”

He kept walking, which surprisingly felt like walking anywhere on Earth or inside the ship, because of the artificial gravity. It was still a little dark and he had to pass through a forest of domes, squares, antennae forests and other things.

Then he stopped. He had seen something moving amongst the surface blisters. “Computer, are you sure you cannot track that rover?”

“Affirmative” it said “Why do you ask?”

“I thought I saw something moving to my right” Jay answered “Maybe your drone is looking in the wrong area”

“I am ordering the drone to search the area around you again”

He continued to walk, but he was wary. Something felt very wrong, there were chills running up his spine. He saw the drone fly over but it didn't make him feel any better. Just keep walking, he thought to himself. Then there was a small clearing and the missing panels, this was the right place.

“Do I need tools?” he asked

“Negative. Once the panel is positioned properly it should do the rest” the computer said, Jay shook his head, even the bolts were high-tech. Wonders never ceased. He picked up the first red panel, it was taller and wider than he was but it felt very light. Once he laid it on the opening and pushed it flush with the panel next to it, he saw it lock into place, moving inward a bit when tightened.

“Are you sure the drones couldn't do this?” he asked “Seems too easy”

“Drones have no hands “ the computer said “Try to hurry”

That was alarming, he stopped what he was doing and looked around“What do you mean, what's happening?”

As if to answer his question a drone flew over and then hovered in the clearing but at 15 feet up and it spun around to face the way it had come. Then he saw something else come around the corner quickly and pounce into the air and grab the drone, pulling it down to the surface and smashing it into the ground. The rover was a big mechanical tiger and it was now looking right at Jay.

“Oh give me a break”

He backed up, holding one side of a panel up, the other touching the ground. Maybe he could use it as a shield, for all the good that would do. Then the rover dived right onto it and it slipped out of his hands, it was now flat on the ground with a mechanical beast on top of it.

“I suppose running would be pointless” Jay said, to nobody in particular.

“Reach into the exposed area and grab a wire or a pipe” the main computer said into his ear-piece “try to do that quickly”

He dropped down and grabbed whatever was handy. He looked to see the rover launching itself towards him, but then another drone slammed into the airborne rover, at the same time Jay felt his feet and then his body raise off the ground. “Whoa”

When he looked back up he could see the rover tumbling through the sky, drifting away from the ship with a broken drone nearby. The other busted drone and panels were hovering a foot or two above the ground. Then everything fell to the surface at the same time.

“The threat has been eliminated” the computer said “You can finish with the panels now”

“How did that happen?” Jay asked standing up and examining his suit.

“The impact of the drone just as the artificial gravity was disengaged flung it into space, where it cannot threaten you” the computer said.

“I meant, how did that thing go nuts in the first place. You said you examined its logs and found nothing, so what is up with that?”

Jay Johnson was angry again, the computer noted. This instance would be added to the study logs along with the other 562 times the computer had noted anger from him. He had his companion, but so far this was not an improvement in his personality or function. More study would be required.



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