The Impossible Dream - part 10
By Chakat Bluestripe (a.k.a Joe Prescott)
Today I send in a request for some time off between the ending of this assignment and my next. I plan to stay on Amaethon for a while and supervise the repair of my ship. Buster has already shipped the critical parts to Amaethon. They are only the parts needed to get the ship limping back to the planet. He has also sent detailed instructions for the repair procedure and talked directly to the mechanics that I have planned to do the work. The parts were not as easy to find or as cheap as I had hoped, but they were within my abilities to pay for outright. Luckily it was mostly just the power conduits and plasma waveguides and a little fuel. The decontamination process within the waveguides will be the most delicate part of the process but it is a common procedure when doing critical maintenance.
The cost of actually landing the ship on Amaethon will thoroughly drain all my accounts. I figure that once the ship is there I can find a way to make it fully flight worthy somehow. Thunder and Crystal have messaged to the skunktaur for more information about the company who made the Miner. They did confirm that hie is Kalki, my Grandmother. In order to keep my secret from the telepath, they have not met face to face again but have sent electronic notes.
Kalki didnít work for the company but did know just about everyone that did work there since it was so small.
Tony and I have continued to read through the data and have learned about as much as we can about the flight. It was heading to a planet not too far at light speeds from Amaethon and Dagda. It has enough of the crystals to run the test but not enough to make it worthwhile to mine actively.
I still canít validate the reason for a big secret cover-up of the incident. Everything looks to be normal and all flight plans were filed as they should have been. I am still very suspicious because when I look up the flight plan verification number, it has been cleansed from the federation data banks just like everything else. Kalki has said that it was not a secret project and had no excess security at the lab. Hie had been there many times while babysitting Hunter.
I have been feeling anxious about the end of this assignment. Living on a remote outpost is certainly not something I would ever want to volunteer for again. The last few weeks till we are relieved seem like months to me. I have been getting along well with everyone here and have gotten to know a few better than others and I call them friends now. I am planning to rejoin the old Team back on Terra but only as a shuttle pilot, I donít want to be paired with anyone like I was with Pathmaker. I donít know if I would be able to stay focused on a mission if I knew that my partner was in danger. There is a pilotís position available on the Team and they will hold it for a while.
Looking back at my job here, it has been completely devoid of any real callouts. Not one trouble or need to assist was ever called in to us here. If it were not for my little quest to find the ship, most people here would have been bored into unconsciousness. I have logged many hours in the shuttle and have patrolled more dark space than I would like to remember. It has raised my pilotís qualifications up to the next level.
If I have learned anything here, it is that chakats are inherently comforting to lonely humans and humans can be comforting to lonely chakats. It could be a social experiment for some college course. I donít think of myself as racist, but I do connect on a personal level, much better with chakats.
As we have been getting ready to go out separate ways, Tony has prepped the old data drives for the ship and written instructions how to reinstall them. I have been studying the piloting controls and systems for the old ship. It is very similar to more modern ships with just a few limitations on reentry speeds and angles. This ship was built very solid and was at one time a top seller in its class. It is hard to believe that it is nearly 70 years since this model was first launched. I could sell the ship and me and whatever family I have, would never have to worry about working again.
Look at me, just sitting here daydreaming about that ship, I have work to do. I need to service the oxygen generators before I leave the base. I have a nice treat for the new crew when they arrive. I have some Bladskard juice left over in the freezer and when I prepare it, it will make the whole outpost smell good for their arrival.
The relief crew has finally arrived and we will be spending the next week showing them all the important little things that makes this outpost home. They donít look too excited but are being professional about it. I have made arrangements for one of the new crew to take me to Amaethon in the shuttle and I have offered some good food as an incentive. They had all been warned about the great frozen food on the outpost and seem willing to make new friends on the planet. I will be there for a while if then need any contacts on the planet.
The week goes quickly and I say my goodbyes to the group as they are boarding the transport for the trip back home. Jenna, David, Ross, Eric, Tony, and myself, we were a good group of people doing what we could to survive the 18 months out here. They are leaving in a few minutes and I am leaving later tonight to the planet. I wink to Tony as he leaves. We have already said our goodbyes privately. Tony whispers his goodbye silently and then they are gone.
I enter my last log into the Utgard computer. I am all signed out and officially relieved from this post. All my gear is packed in the shuttle and I am seated as I let the new crewmember pilot. Utgard, a small little outpost in the middle of nowhere, I watch it for a moment out the window before the shuttleís FTL drive kicks in. Will I miss it? No, but I will miss my friends I had there.
I rented a room in town even though I have an invitation to live out on the farm. I want to be near the spaceport while my ship is there.
I have been looking at all the parts Buster shipped to me. He had already cleaned and tested everything and I canít tell them from new parts. They all have a gleam to them, even the large and long parts.
The local mechanics seem very familiar with the parts and are fully confident that the ship will be running after a few days of work.
They have been preparing for this job for quite a while and are ready to go when I am. I have some things to get first and itís not a very pleasant task. From my list of crew, I know how many and what size coffins to get. They will be oversized since the bodies are not in typical poses but still they are just plain wooden caskets, as are normally used on this planet. The farmers here like the natural processes, nothing to stand in the way of a body returning to the earth and no chemicals to slow the process, just a simple act of nature.
The mechanics look odd for a moment as they see all the caskets in the shuttle hold but they knew all about the bodies. I am going along to be the clean up crew as they repair the ship. I also plan on being the pilot for the trip back to Amaethon.
We depart to the ship with everything loaded and my excitement is obvious in the crowded little ship. Even though the trip is a short one, I feel the minutes passing as if they were hours. We locate the navigation beacon and follow it right to the ship. The darkness is thick and seems to suck the light right from its source. We dock to the frozen ship and go over our tasks.
We have been working here for three days. I have installed the computer data drives just as Tony had written. The mechanics have repaired the internal power grid and hooked up the portable power supply. Most systems are still offline as we slowly bring the ship up to temperature. The gravity plates are now energized and we have a limited amount of gravity on board. The atmosphere leak has been temporarily plugged and the life support systems have been recharged. It is still too cold to take off the environment suits inside the ship but most of the work now is on the damage external to the ship.
I have finished placing all the bodies in the caskets and stored them in one of the rooms. I have done some cleaning of the freeze-dried blood. Luckily it flakes off easily with a stiff brush and vacuums up well. I am too busy and restricted in the environmental suit to feel for the victims at this point. I just tell myself I will reflect on it later.
As soon as the main engines are tested and charged, we will be able to energize the onboard power cells and bring most systems up to full power, after that we will be able to remove the suits.
The mechanics were surprised at just how well Buster had anticipated the parts needed to repair the ship. They have had everything they needed and even a few extras just in case. I have had a little more time to look through my parentís room. I feel more comfortable since I have had months to prepare and even packaging their bodies was manageable. I am just too focused on the task to let anything get to me personally right now, though I did find an old plush toy that hit a memory.
It is time for a break and everyone meets in the shuttle so we can get out of our suits. The excitement of success fills the room as the guys outline the final steps before fueling the ship and flushing out the power conduits. We will have to power up the ship's main computers and get that all tested first. This will press the limit of our portable power pack and we will have to turn off the gravity plates and leave them off until the engines pass the pretest and are powered up.
After filling up with food and recharging our suits, we head out to our individual tasks. I begin powering up the computer and watch as it passes all the self-tests. Many of the controls in bridge begin to show activity. The computer starts reporting all the systems that are not online and attempts to automate a recovery. I halt the processes and the computer goes into manual recovery mode and waits for instruction. The mechanics finally come inside the bridge and begin the engine pretest. After an hour or more the engines pass the test and the mechanics head down to load some fuel.
They ask me to run the fuel system purge process and check the results. After more time waiting, the system is purged and everything looks good. The guys come back to the bridge and look at each other.
"Well this is it. We are about to fully charge the fuel system and then idle up the engines to charge the power cells. Any last thoughts?"
I look at them and I can feel that they are both excited and nervous.
"Ummm, guysÖ If something does go wrong, what would happen.?"
One of them smiles and looks to me,
"Well, the ship's computer will sense a problem and shut down the process. We will read the log and then make the appropriate steps to correct the problem."
One of the other guys smiles even bigger and steps forward,
"Or the problem could be in the computer and the ship explodes and we all lose our paychecks."
They all smile and nod and I just smile and nod right back, what else can I do?
"Okay, let's do it!"
The chief mechanic starts the process and immediately the computer reports the progress. The power cells begin to show current and the mechanic begins switching systems over to the main power grid. The cells hold the current and soon all systems are on the main power grid and the portable power cell is disconnected. The environmental controls are adjusted to a comfortable level and the ship begins to thaw out quickly.
My excitement is causing me to shake and my tail is twitching at high rpm. Most systems are coming online and passing the self tests however the H2O system is still not working. I suspect that the water is still frozen and some pipes are probably burst.
The mechanics are going to program a 1-minute course correcting engine test. They all feel better being in the shuttle at a safe distance away and I have to agree with them. We get the shuttle clear and watch the ship power up the engines and turn to a course towards Amaethon. It accelerates for one minute and then coasts. We follow safely behind while the mechanics instruct the ship to perform a 1-minute slow FTL jump. The ship again powers up and vanishes from sight. We track it for a minute and then plot our course to catch it. Everything went perfectly so they perform a few more FTL tests until they reach the Maximum FTL speed test. This ship is capable of speeds much faster than the shuttle and the mechanics plot a test that will take us 20 minutes to catch up to it. The ship vanishes and again we track it until it is out of range. We plot our course and then give chase. We have 20 minutes to celebrate our success but when we step out of FTL drive the ship is not here. After a few minutes of restrained panic, we locate the transponder beacon. It is significantly farther ahead than we had calculated. We have to jump into FTL for another 3 minutes to get to the shipís location. We dock to the ship again and make our way to the bridge. The computer shows everything is fine and the engines performed better than expected.
The mechanics looked perplexed and began looking for the cause of the extra speed. They spend quite a while double checking everything until one of them smacked himself on the head in an expression of enlightenment,
"GAH! I know what happenedÖ This ship has been out here for about 30 years or soÖ The fuel has changed since then and these injectors are larger for the old fuel. So when we set this to 100% we had about 10% more power in the fuel. The engines held up great for that short test but luckily it was only a short test. I officially give these engines a passing mark!"
The other mechanics nod and chat about it amongst themselves. I understand what has happened and I too feel very good about these engines.
"Okay, lets get this ship back home and on the ground, anyone want to ride with me on the return trip?"
The chief mechanic smiles and shakes his head,
"Weíll let you drive the thing, I donít really want to be there on your first attempt to land it. We will keep an eye on you from a safe distance."
"Well thanks for your vote of confidence, now get off my ship or you are riding with me all the way!"
I wink to them and they smile and head back to the shuttle.
I look at the captainís chair. It is not a taur chair. I guess Iíll have to just sit on the floor. I have the computer plot a course back to Amaethon and request clearance for the FTL jump. Amaethon responds with a clearance code and the ship waits for my order. I check on the shuttle and they are well clear now.
This is it, my first time piloting my own ship. I am just about to engage when I stop and make a quick run into the restroom. The damn water is still not working, GRRR!
After a few minutes engineering a workaround to the water shortage-restroom issue, I come back to the bridge relieved.
I look around the bridge one last time and send the command to engage the course to the planet.
The ship responds smoothly and I can feel the FTL changing the world around me.
It is not a very long trip to the planet but still I have time to wander around the bridge and test my training to the shipís layout. I have no trouble understanding the controls though a few new ones had been added. They are for the newer penetrating scanners that were added for the miner project. I press a few controls and the scanners seem to power up though they have no target to scan. I power them off and look at the manual controls needed for the final landing approach. They are configured to be operated from the Captainís chair. This might be a problem. I look closely at the chair and find the release for the backrest. It folds back flat and I can straddle it to work the controls. It is not terribly uncomfortable but will have to be changed later.
The ship drops out of FTL drive and Amaethon is right ahead, perfect computing. The computer calculates the re-entry course and I let it run automatically. The ship is responding flawlessly and soon the spaceport is coming into view in the distance. I take the manual controls and make a few slow turns and course adjustments. The ship seems to respond a little sluggishly since I havenít flown anything this large for a while. I adjust to it quickly and bring it down for a passable landing in my designated space. I power down the engines and start the shutdown sequence for all the other systems.
I open the rear cargo bays and lower the loading ramp.
I can leave the ship now but I my body is not moving. I feel exhausted; it has been a very busy week. I just sit here and take it all in. My ship has landed and it has been nice to me. My life is now officially changed forever again. Where is my bed?
Sleep, beautiful sleep - why can't the world leave me alone when I sleep? I pull myself out on my bed and stagger over to the comm. I accept the call and the annoying signal tones stop. I look blankly at the monitor as Crystal, Thunder, Summer, and Leona all start congratulating me. Even though I had not even sent them a message, they tell me that the news of the shipís retrieval had quickly spread through the planets as a news snip, shown on the evening news shows and posted in the electronic newspapers. There was little real information about the ship in the news teaser and nobody had been able to locate much information about my ship in the usual ways (Big surprise). It seemed that the only information was from an interview with one of the mechanics that had worked on it. He had played it all up talking about a mystery attack deep in space and a ship full of dead bodies floating for over 30 years and that a person from a remote outpost had found it and claimed it.
It was just the kind of story that everyone loves.
I canít think straight. This is too much information. I didnít want this to get spread all over the universe. What can I do for damage control? Thunder speaks up.
"Blue, nobody has seen you yet, they didnít even say that a chakat had found the ship though I did get a message from Kalki. Hie wanted to know more details but I wrote back saying that I hadnít heard back yet, which I really hadnít."
"Okay, I'm going to dye myself black again, I will be Bluestripe the chakat and nothing else. If they must know more, then tell them to contact me and I will deal with them. I have the ship but I still donít have all the answers. I am planning on sending the bodies and their belongings back on the next transport to Terra. If you could help contact the families and let them know that, I will send you an exact flight number when I get it."
Thunder nods. "I still have the list, Iíll see if Kalki can help us contact them.
"Great, now just play up the routine just like the news said and nothing more. I worked on a remote outpost and I found the ship, all that can be easily verified. Hopefully if they do a name search, all the pictures from working in the Team will show people I am all black."
Summer moves close to the screen and winks. "We all miss you Blue, you have been away for way too long. I am looking forward to seeing you again soon. "
I smile back to Summer and just nod tiredly. "Someday I am going to just sleep for a week. Then Iíll wake up and eat a little and then sleep for another week. After that, then I might have half the energy that you have. Right now I am just living on a mystery, eating clues, sleeping with ghosts, and walking a dark road. I need to get to the end of this before it ends me."
Summer nods slowly, some of hir smile fading as shi sees how exhausted I really am. Crystal still smiles and blows a kiss before they log out to let me sleep. I turn the comm to silent mode and get more sleep.
After dyeing myself black and getting a haircut and fur trim, I feel presentable should any nosy reporters try to find me. I walk towards the spaceport to do more work on my ship. I will need to assess the damage to the water systems and probably clean up leaking water. If that is not too bad then I will arrange for transport of the bodies to the local coroner's office for clearance to send back to Terra. I will have to collect all the personal items in the rooms and tag them to the proper owner, which will take a day or two alone.
"ESV Ė R.Kipling"
My ship stands out easily at the spaceport. It is smaller than the large transport, but because of that, I was able to land in the section closest to town. In the daylight the ship gleams like it was just painted last week. The damaged areas are easily seen and will need to be repainted after the final cowling sections are replaced.
I stop and look; it is not small at all to walk up to. It is about 125 meters long with a wingspan of about 75 meters and a fuselage about 20 meters in height. This ship could almost fit inside the cargo hold of the transport parked at the main loading port.
Inside the ship I am greeted with the sound of dripping water and I follow the sound down to the lower belly of the ship. There is about 3 inches of standing water being fed from several sources.
This ship is designed to land on water if it needs to so it must have some bilge pumps somewhere. I head up to the bridge and look in the computer pilotís guide for answers. I quickly find the menu and have the computer actuate the automatic bilge pumps. I walk back down to check the water and see that it has been pumped out already. I walk outside and see that the water had been pumped out to the ground and a small amount was still being pumped out intermittently. I spend a while walking around the ship and inspecting it closely before I remember to call the coroner. A quick call and he is bringing a truck over to collect the bodies. Even though they were thoroughly freeze-dried, they should be protected from moisture now that they are back in an atmosphere. I wait near the rear loading ramp and soon the coroner shows up with a truck.
The caskets are surprisingly light since all the water content has been drained from the bodies. The coroner checks each one as it is loaded and is amazed at how well they have been preserved. Looking at the two dead chakats in the sunlight was hard, they were my parents but now I wonít think about that. I am just numb to them now. After the coroner leaves, I walk over to find the mechanics.
I will want them to order a new seal to fix the leaking one and see what it will cost me to have the water pipes checked and repaired.
The mechanics are eager for the jobs but they are asking for more money than I have. While I am here on Amaethon, I have no income and I canít really start working here when I have the next assignment waiting for me. I will need to find some way to get the money. I wander around the ship thinking before I remember the two shuttles. This ship only needs one shuttle to meet regulations. I could sell the second one to pay for the repairs! I begin exploring the forward cargo bays, this is the first time I have been in here. I can see the two shuttles and also quite a stack of large fuel canisters secured to the rear of the bay. I can only assume that those were intended for the miner project.
I begin checking the shuttles, they have been hooked into the main ship for power and have been fully charged by now. The onboard computers turn on fine and they both still show some fuel in them. I open the damaged front cargo doors as much as they will and lower the loading ramp. I drive the first shuttle out onto the ground and taxi it around for a few minutes. It seems to operate fine. I start up the main engines and let it hover a few feet from the ground. The computer shows everything operating normally. I test everything on the shuttle and it all works flawlessly. I park it under the wing and go to test the larger shuttle. It is difficult to fit out through the damaged doors but eventually I get it outside.
This shuttle taxis fine, the engines power up normally and it hovers great. I donít have enough fuel in it for a full test of the FTL drive but the computer shows it is ready. I suppose I could load in some fuel for a test flight but Iíll wait until I have a reason.
I park it next to the smaller shuttle and walk back to my room in town. I begin a search for those shuttle models for sale and check history and hours-in-use compared to prices sold. The larger shuttle, even though old, was practically new when first loaded in the ship for the mission. It has very few hours on the engines and looks as if it is fresh off the showroom floor. The smaller shuttle has few hours on it also but is of the same vintage as the ship. It is probably the standard equipment that came with the ship when it was first delivered. The larger shuttle with the low hours and FTL drive is worth much more than the smaller shuttle though I have nothing with that few hours to compare it to. I calculate an asking price for it that should be plenty to finish repairing the ship.
I stop in town for some food and talk to a few locals while eating. I mention that I have to sell one of the shuttles to get some money and one of the guys suggests that I talk to the inter-planet shuttle service. He says that their shuttles are always too crowded and they could use more. I thank him for the information and head out. The shuttle agency has an office in town and their fleet is parked near my ship at the spaceport. I walk into the office and ask to talk to someone about my shuttle for sale.
A couple of hours later and I am at my ship with the owner of the shuttle service and a couple of his best mechanics. They are interested in the shuttle but want to check it all out for them selves. I turn the shuttle over to them and they taxi it over to their service bays. They will have it most of the evening and will contact me later.
I am working on gathering on personal belongings, the mechanic calls me to ask permission to make a FTL jump to test the engines and I agree as long as he supplies the fuel.
It is late in the evening and I am still cleaning out the crewís quarters and scraping off flakes of dried blood when I hear the shuttle pulling up next to the ship. I pad out to meet them, I can sense that they are very happy with the shuttle but they are wearing their best poker faces. "They must not have much experience trading with empaths", I think to myself.
"Well, how do you like it? Did it work like new as I said?"
The company owner nods but looks stern. "The shuttle did work fine, no complaints there, but it is an older model, parts might be a little hard to find for it. It is also a little smaller than most of my other shuttles."
"Oh. I can see that it is smaller than some of those parked over there but it is certainly newer than some of them too."
The owner shuffles a little as the mechanic steps forward. "This shuttle has been out of use for a while, we will have to recalibrate it to use the newer fuel. That will require us to buy a new injector for the fuel. It wonít be cheap"
"Oh, I see, well... what would you like to do?"
The owner looks straight at me and tries to be firm, I can sense that he is hoping to bring the price way down.
"I am interested in the shuttle but the price has got to come down. I canít afford the price you are asking. I work on a small profit margin here and that price will break me."
"I am sorry, but that is about as low as I can go, I need the money to finish the repairs on this ship. I have a few systems that need parts and then I will need fuel." I can sense the stress level rising in the men, as they are eager to buy the ship. I can also sense that the price might be more than they can afford.
The owner gets an idea and I can sense his eagerness. "What systems do you need repaired on your ship?"
"Well, the ship was frozen for a while and the water system has some broken pipes. I need the whole water system checked and repaired. I also need some outer cowling to replace the damaged ones, and I will need new front cargo doors and opening mechanisms."
The owner thinks for a few minutes and I can tell that he is trying to work something out to make the deal affordable.
"Iíll tell you what, if you drop the price by one quarter, Iíll have my mechanics fix your water system. They are already on my payroll and it wonít cost me much, but you will have to buy any special parts."
A quick calculation in my head and I decide that it is a good deal compared to the price from the other mechanics, "That sounds fair."
The owner looks at my ship and rubs his chin. "If you drop the price by another quarter, Iíll fuel up your ship"
"Iíll do that if you also have your mechanics install the new cargo bay doors and cowling once I have it delivered."
"OK, then itís a deal?"
I shake his hand and smile. "Yes, itís a deal. Iíll draw up a contract tonight and bring it over in the morning." I can sense that he is very happy with the deal and I am happy too.
I close up the ship and walk back towards my room. Itís getting late but I stop off in the restaurant to grab some food. I feel very relieved and I sit a while enjoying my dinner.
I sit on my bed and place a call to Thunder and Crystal. Finally I have time to sit and talk through most of the night. They can tell that I am feeling relieved and better. I finally go to bed thinking about my chakat parents, Path, and the future.
Buster, I owe him some hugs. After I asked him to find me some cargo bay doors and cowling he told me that he had already located them from the same ship he had bought the other parts from. I sent him some credits and he had them on the next transport to Amaethon. The mechanics just finished installing and testing them. The colors are not a good match but I can wait for a little paint. The water system was repaired a few weeks ago and the ship is now 100% functional. I have very little money left but I am not completely broke. I am considering leasing out the ship to raise some money. I could just open my own charter service but I donít have the money needed to get it started. I am not really sure what to do now. I could just sell the ship but I would like to keep it. Besides people would probably look at it and say a nearly 70-year-old ship should be in a museum.
There are too many decisions. The ship is fully stocked now and ready to fly anywhere I would like to go. I could fly it to Terra but I donít have a load to pay for fuel. Too many decisions for now, I roll over in my bed and wait for sleep.
Morning comes and brings new strength. I look out the window and I feel trapped by my own decisions.
"I am going back to work, Iíll just leave the ship parked here until I decide what to do"
I walk down the road to the shipping office and buy a ride back to Terra on the next transport. There is one loading up now and will be leaving in a day or two. That is great, gives me enough time to prepare my ship, say my goodbyes, and pack but not have to hang around waiting. It will be good to see Thunder, Crystal and Summer again. I miss being with chakats very much.
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