The Impossible Dream - part 8
By Chakat Bluestripe (a.k.a Joe Prescott)
It has been a few weeks since our first attempt to find my parents' ship. Tony and I have been trying to get as many facts as possible from the old station logs. We have updated the estimated mass of the ship and researched some conventional search algorithms.
Tony has been working on an active search program for the probe and we will be launching it soon. The program has run very well in simulations and we are confident that this is our best method to find the target ship. We have 6 probes at the station and we plan to launch two of them for this task. They will each have a slightly different Mass calculation but with the amount of time passed, that can make a very large difference in the final location. Our main difficulty is that we are still not sure what the ship was doing out here in the first place. We donít know what equipment was loaded into it. We only have the logs that show that some of the cargo holds were empty. That doesnít tell us what special equipment might have been installed into the rest of the ship.
I have recently received a letter from Thunder and Crystal and other than the normal family updates, Thunder has had a little success in finding out about the ship's origin. Shi had posted a notice in the Australian News Service asking for any information concerning the ship. Shi said one person had responded but would only talk face to face. Thunder has made plans to visit the person soon. All of these new events have really gotten me excited and I have been dreaming of all the things that I might soon learn. The suspense has made me a little edgy too but Tony tries to keep me focused on the job at hand.
The rest of the crew has noticed my apparent lack of concentration. They have mentioned that I should take a break. I agreed with them and requested a little time to visit my parents nearby on Amaethon. That has been approved and scheduled for one week off duty starting in two weeks. I had to wait until the shipping schedule was clear just in case one of the cargo ships had a problem in the area.
For the time being, I am feeling confident and anxious. I keep remembering over and over again, one of the few memories that I have of the ship. I was jumping and playing in the low gravity onboard the ship. I can almost remember my mother calling out for me. I can almost remember what name shi called out to me, but not. The memory has been contaminated by years of rehearsal and I canít trust it anymore. I roll over on my bed and shift my blank stare from the ceiling to the wall. So many questions, where to start with answers. What is the most important answer that I am looking for? It must be the answer to who I am and where is the rest of my family, or could it be an answer to the secrecy around the attack on the ship?
The food on the table smells delicious as the hot scents of the meal are making my hunger grow. I look across to Red and shi smiles to me. I look to Summer on my left and Nokomis on my right. We are all hungry and the food never had a chanceÖ
I am happy, fine food and best friends.
I wake up on my bed and smile, I feel loved.
I think of a future where all my questions are answered and peace and family are things to be cherished. I look forward to finally resting again, I have been on the go for years now and I feel the urge to have roots somewhere, sometime soon.
I look at the time and decide to get some food. I walk out and head towards the kitchen. Jenna passes me in the corridor and smiles as she lightly runs her hand along my lower back, I softly poke her with my tail tip and keep walking.
I select a number 28 from the menu. It has been several days since I had a number 28 so it might be less boring than the number 41 I had last night.
I sit next to Ross; he has a number 12, which was what I had two days ago. I donít think anyone has had a number 7; we are not that brave here on Utgard.
I inhale deeply and noisily and wink to Ross,
"Mmmmm, my number 28 thawed out extra tasty tonight, how is your number 12?"
"Oh, it is delicious, I canít remember when the Number 12 tasted any better than this one"
"I had a number 26 once that was actually not bad, but the next time I had one, it was not that good. I think we should get a new chef."
Ross kind of stabs at his food and sighs, "Yeah, wellÖ I hear that you are going to Amaethon soon. You will have to bring us some fresh food when you come back. I also hear that the Bladskard fruits are in season."
"Yes, they are about halfway through their six month harvest season, that would make them greenish-brown about now. The red ones are the best though, they taste much less gritty."
"The red ones? I have never wanted to pay the price for the red onesÖ The black ones are all that I have ever had. They were very tasty though."
I look at him; I can feel that he has gotten tired of the frozen menu just like the rest of us. I will definitely bring back some fresh food.
I eat quickly, not bothering to taste the food fully before forking in the next bit. Tony walks in and smiles widely to me. I can sense that he is feeling happy and somewhat proud of himself.
"Blue, it is all finished. The program seems to be running flawlessly in the tests. I think we can send them out as soon as we can get it loaded into the probes"
Ross looks at Tony and then me. "Now tell me once again; what is this program supposed to do? And why have you been working on it so much lately?"
Tony looks at me and I look to Ross.
"Well this program is supposed to locate long lost ships with only a very few known variables. We were working on it as a project to maybe help us to locate any ships what might be drifting dead in space after an emergency. It is a self-predicting deep space search engine using advanced environmental readings and autonomous updates to locate lost ships. We were going to test it at my next watchÖ with your permissionÖ sir."
Ross looks at me for a few awkward seconds and then towards Tony, who I can feel is getting a little nervous.
Ross runs his hands through his hair as he looks back at his food. "I can tell that you two are up to something, but learning probe search patterns seems harmless enough. If you break it... you buy itÖ Just donít break it."
I smile to Tony and nod, "If Tony breaks itÖ Iíll let you know."
Ross shakes his head slowly and reluctantly begins eating again.
After eating, Tony and I start loading the program into the two probes and getting them ready for launch. Iíll have watch duty tonight and we can send them out then. The program we have entered will return the probes in two days if they donít find anything. We finish early and then have to wait until later to launch.
I head back to my room and try to relax until it is time for my duty. I canít think of anything else right now. I lie down and wait. We all take a turn at the duty rotation. We always have at least one person awake at all times in case there is an emergency.
I get to the control room a little early and Eric happily signs out. I wait only a few moments until Tony shows up. He finds me pacing the floor. We both sit down and prepare for launch. Everything is already done; we just have to send the launch command. I look to Tony and wink, and then with no hesitation I send the authorization to launch them. The computer tracks their progress as they head to the incident location. From there the program will begin calculating the drift directions. We have nothing to do for the rest of the search except hope for results.
David shows up at the end of my shift. The probes have already made significant progress and the different mass values in each program have caused a considerable difference in direction between the two probes. I am a little tired but excited. There is still a large distance to go before the probes reach the area of my initial search. Their speed depends on how often they need to adjust to the environmental variables. The computer is set to notify me immediately if one of the probes finds something so I should be able to get some sleep however I am just too excited to leave the control room. Tony has already left since my pacing was making him a little nervous.
I canít help but to watch the progress of the probes. They are my one chance to really find out the truth.
My hunger eventually pulls me away from the monitors and I head to the kitchen quickly.
When I return to the control room David has made himself busy by monitoring the probe progress and reviewing the instruction codes that were programmed in.
"Hey David, anything pop up from the probes yet?"
"Naw, I was just looking at what you are doing. To me it seems like you are Searching for something very specific. Is there a lost ship out there? I ran a quick search on the computer and found nothing listed?"
"Well, actually I am searching for a long lost ship that might be in the area. It wouldnít be listed on the Infonet. It is just a search based on rumors and old stories, kind of a ghost ship of sorts. I thought it would be exciting and useful to develop a program to search for lost ships and this is the first test of the algorithm."
David nods and has a look of understanding. His eye quirks up a little as he points towards the screen, "You know that the probes have a fairly limited scan range compared to the area you are searching. It is like looking for a single grain of sand in an hourglass. It is always moving."
"Well I hope it is not that bad, out there in the open space, I think the probes have a better than average scan rangeÖ If they even see a hint of something it would be worth pursuing. They are not expecting to see anything else in that area."
David nods and sits back, shifting his attention to the news screen.
"Will you call me if you see anything on the probes? I need some sleep."
David nods again and I pad back to my room. Bed is very comforting and even through my excitement I am quickly asleep.
I am awakened from a deep sleep. The Comm. screen is paging me and I am momentarily disoriented. I tap the acknowledgement key and the screen displays the probe notification that I had set. David has also left a note to come to the room. I run out of my room as fast as I can and quickly arrive in the control room. David moves out of the way as I charge towards the display screen. David is smiling from seeing my response and makes no mention that I am not wearing a top.
"There it is!" I say loudly to myself as Tony comes in behind me.
"It is right where I said it might be!"
I look at the Data and video from the probe. I can clearly see the identification numbers and name of the ship in the Probeís lights, "AU6733-B. ESV- R.Kipling"
I feel faint, light headed and I brace myself as I lean against the countertop. Tears are flowing from my eyes as the probe slowly scans past the damaged cargo bay doors and around to the ships power conduits. Tony sends a command to the probe instructing it to make a detailed damage scan of the ship. He also instructs the other probe to return.
I am trying to focus on the video and absorb the information flowing before me but I am far too lost in the moment.
It has been at least 30 minutes before I feel somewhat in control again and notice that I am not wearing my blouse. I silently trot back to my room and put on my blouse. I sit at my Comm. screen and bring up a form that I had already prepared. It is a Salvage Title request form. All my personal information is already typed in and only the ship location and time of discovery are blank. I locate the probe data on the screen and then cross load it into the form. I enter the time and date and then submit it into the system. I sit and look blankly at the screen as it displays "Form Sent."
I return back to the control room and Tony looks at my blouse and pouts a little. I hug him tightly, almost squeezing the breath out of him. My happiness flows freely throughout the room and my excitement shows in my tail tip.
"Tony, can you plot a course for a shuttle and give me a flight time?
He wastes no words as he enters the destination into the computer and it quickly shows the course and flight time of almost 90 minutes at FTL speeds.
I look to Tony and David,
" You think we could borrow a shuttle and go to look at it? I canít wait, I have to go and see it? It would be a good training? I should find Ross and ask himÖ"
Tony smiles and nods but after a moment puts his hand on my shoulder,
" I really think this can wait until everyone comes on shift. Ross might not want to be woken up if it is not an emergency. The probe wonít be done with the comprehensive scan for a while anyways; we will need a full examination of any dangers before risking a trip there."
"GAWD! I hate it when you make sense like that. I am going to my room to look over the information. I want to be ready to go as soon as I can. David, do you want to go with us?"
David looks surprised at the question, " What? You needed to ask me? Just try to keep me away! This is the only bit of excitement since we got here."
"Okay, then unless something stops us, I want to leave as soon as we can get permission. I am going to my room and study the information, you two should look over it also and let me know if you find any issues."
I turn and quickly leave, not waiting for an answer.
I sit for a moment on my bed, the events still too fresh for me to think straight. I look at the Comm. again and slide over to it. I bring up Thunderís name and type a simple message. Two words that say it all, "Found It!"
I send the message and lie down. I tell myself that I need to think, I need to have a plan, I need to know what my actual expectations are. The ship is frozen in space and has no power. I will need a way to gain access to the ship's computer. Will I need passwords and access codes? That computer system is very old but still used in serviceable ships from that era. Maybe I can just remove the data storage modules and bring them back here for interrogation. Iíll bet that Tony can figure it out, if not him then someone. I need to know the crew roster and background information. Iíll bet that there are also some pictures of what my parents looked like.
I will need a good look at the shipís damage; just maybe I can have Buster send parts to limp it back to Amaethon. That might be possible, I could try to plot a course and tow it with the shuttle, just to get it coasting in the right direction. I will need to go and check the shuttle. Make sure everything is ready for the boarding.
I feel a slight disorientation as the shuttle drops out of the FTL drive. The shipís guidance system locates the ship in the distance though the blackness of this space makes it impossible to see yet. Tony begins to prepare his suit as Ross and I monitor the screen. David nudges me from the pilot's seat and motions me to get prepared.
The shuttle slows for final approach and the lights begin to illuminate the ship ahead of us. At first sight the ship seems tiny, with no references for size I am fighting to put the distance in perspective. As we draw near, it becomes evident that the ship is much larger than our shuttle. David pilots the shuttle manually up to the ship and begins a slow orbit around it at 200 yards.
The Ship looks like a museum piece, precisely preserved in the solitude of space. I have seen old ships similar to this one but they all showed the normal wear and tear of breaking orbit hundreds of times. This ship was in excellent condition when it last left Terra and except for some minimal damage near the engines and the doors to the cargo bay, it looks beautifully pristine. It floats perfectly still in front of us, as if an open invitation to show us all of its treasures. I point to one of the docking hatches and David locks the computer onto it for an automated coupling.
This hatch should put us on the corridor about midway from the computer system and the engine room; it also passes through the crewís quarters. I have asked Tony to recover the computer modules and he said it would be relatively simple after he gets the covers off. I am going to take a quick inventory of the ship and look for internal damage. I am also going to take a scan of the engine room and see what it looks like there and try to gather information to send to Buster.
The shuttle docks gently against the ship and the seal holds tight. Tony and I check each otherís pressure suits and then turn on our mag-boots. The airlock door closes and the artificial gravity gently fades away. The exterior door of the shuttle slides open and for the first time in my adult life I touch the ship. I can feel the frozen door through my gloves as I attach the mechanical door release. The old door breaks seal and then slides open easily. I feel relief that the door opened so easily. The lights from the shuttle shine into the dark access hall of the ships airlock as I step onto the ship first.
I notice an "Emergency Lighting" port near the exit and open the hatch to look in. I press the "Actuate" button out of curiosity. The ship remains dark.
Tony hands me the power cable and I plug it into the port next to the switch.
The shuttle computer quickly runs through a few tests before energizing the cable and bringing up the emergency lights on the ship. I feel comforted that the lights still work after being frozen for years. Even with the lights working at a bare minimum, the rest of the ship has no power.
I walk a few steps down the hallway as Tony steps aboard. We are both silent, there is nothing to say. My excitement has almost made me pee myself, well that and the fact that I put my suit on too early and didnít want to take it off after drinking a few cups of coffee. I check with Ross that my recorders are functioning properly and then begin to walk towards the engine room. Tony walks the opposite direction towards the front of the ship. As I slowly step through the hall with my headlamp shining brightly through the dimly lit ship, I stop suddenly. A flashback of sorts captures my attention as I notice some fixtures on the ceiling and have a brief memory of hanging by my tail from one of them. They are so easy to reach now but I remember them being frighteningly high. I smile to myself and continue walking, the doors to the rooms are mostly open and I quickly glance in as I make my way to the Engine room. I come to one room, which seems to attract my attention, could it be my parentsí old room? I stop and turn into the door. My light cuts through the dark room and shines on a family portrait sitting magnetically on a shelf, two happy chakats with a small baby. I quickly step close. I look at the photo and study the small baby chakat. It is surely me. My eyes soak in the image of my parents, I feel all alone for a moment, my sadness at having never really known them. I begin to cry and I have to shake my head to clear the tears.
I turn to look around and jump back as my light shines across the room. I float gently before my mag-boots again lock onto the floor. Terror! I canít breathe though I am hyperventilating my mind wonít come back to me I want to run but my legs wonít move. I shut my eyes and try to regain myself. I notice that I have peed in my suit but I donít care as I very slowly open one eye.
My Comm. comes to life as David calls out to me, "Blue! Are you all right? What happened? The computer shows your levels just went strange? What was that we saw in the video? Hello Blue? Ö Tony Go check on Blue, shi fell somehow"
I am not hearing much of what Ross is saying. My mind is locked and all I can do is sit there and look at the two freeze-dried bodies of my parents.
Tony comes in the door as fast as his mag-boots will allow, his head turns to follow my light, "SHIT! Ö FUCK ME!"
"Are you two alright? Dave is putting on his helmet; heíll be there in a minute, whatís wrong? Ö Oh shitÖ I see the video."
Even through my tears, I can see their faces. I can see their fur, their hands and handpaws, their bodies. I can see the flesh torn open from their wounds and I can now notice the freeze-dried blood scattered around the room.
Dave comes into the room and looks silently around. He has had a moment to prepare for the scene.
I donít want to move now, I am happy to sit here and let it all soak in. Dave nudges Tony and they come over to me. I look up to them silently and just shake my head. Tony offers to walk me to the shuttle but I donít move. Dave disengages my mag-boots and Tony hugs me tightly as they both float me back to the shuttle.
The airlock closes behind us and the gravity increases. I lie on the floor for a moment before slowly reaching up to take off my helmet. Dave reaches down and helps me as Tony takes off his.
I take off my gloves and wipe my eyes, Tony helps me up and we walk out of the airlock. Ross is waiting and has his pressure suit on now as well.
I sit down as everyone stands around looking at me. "Iíll be okayÖ Eventually. This ship is a frozen tomb. I canít believe it. The ship is in great condition, why didnít they tow it back and recover the bodies? It doesnít make sense."
Ross nods and then looks to Tony, " Are you okay to continue the job here?"
"Yeah, Iíll be okay, just got a little rattled, thatís all"
"Alright, then let's not stay here all day. You go and get started again on the computer and Dave, you go check the stuff Blue wanted checked, and after you are done with that, I want a quick video log of all the rooms, just basically a body count if you know what I mean. Okay?"
Dave and Tony nod and go back into the airlock.
I stand up and shake off a little in my damp suit. " I want to go back there. I want to look through the room a little."
Ross looks at me closely and then shakes his head, " No. I think you are still a little messed up over this and I donít want you to be distracted and get hurt."
" Look at me, I am okay, really. I just want to grab a few personal things and come right back. This is my family. I need to do this. I will be quick."
Ross runs his fingers through his hair and looks at the clock, " Well, lookÖ We are not really in any hurry, I guess, so go slow, take your time and keep alert. You have been trained to deal with this kind of scenario. Now is the time to put that training into action."
I nod quickly to him and put on my gloves as he helps with my helmet.
I walk into the room and avoid shining the light into the corner where my parents lie. My mind is focused and alert as I look into drawers and shelves. I locate some info pads and a photo album. I take them gently and walk into the bedroom. I feel like I am some how a burglar and stealing items from the dead. I stop and look as an odd sensation sparks through my body. I see a strangely familiar chakat plush toy. I pick it up gently being careful not to break it in its frozen state. I take the picture from the living room and slowly turn my light to my parents. I step closer and stand next to them. I want to hug them. They are so alone in this cold dead ship. I reach down and softly lay my palm on one of them. The fur crackles under my glove and the body is rock hard. I pull my hand away quickly. That was not what I wanted to feel. That was not the warm loving embrace for a long lost child. That was the cold reality of my loss.
I return to the shuttle with my treasures.
Tony has finished with the computer task and is waiting when I return. Dave is slowly checking the rooms one by one and has documented several bodies already. I place my treasures in a storage container until they are thawed.
Tony helps me out of my helmet and then hugs me tightly. I return the hug eagerly as tears again run down my cheek. Ross stands at the controls and looks away.
Dave makes slow progress but finally returns. He unhooks the power cable for the lights and closes the doors. He shakes his head slowly as he takes off his helmet, "Man, this was rough. I want to know what happened here. I lost count but I think there are at least 10 to 15 bodies here."
I just sit silently in the seat as Dave prepares to pilot the shuttle back. The shuttle releases from the ship and slowly pulls away. I reach over to the controls and instruct the computer to launch a magnetic navigation beacon onto the ship. Ross nods silently to me and I can feel that he is sympathetic to my loss.
As the shuttle parks in the bay at Utgard, I feel some relief to be back to normality. My few treasures are proof of the trip and the information that we brought back will keep be busy for quite some time. I head right to my room for a shower, leaving the others to explain what happened to the rest of the crew.
My suit is thoroughly wet and smells of urine and so do I. A long shower and plenty of furwash leaves me feeling better but I have a long task ahead to clean my suit.
I lay on my bed still a little damp and check the Comm. There are messages waiting from Thunder and Crystal, also from Summer and Leona. I open Thunderís message and slowly read, shi congratulates me on finding the ship. Shi is so excited that shi wants to publish a report as soon as I can send hir all the information. Shi has also tried to contact someone about the ship but shi writes that hie would not give any information. Hie was more just interested in why someone would be asking about it. Thunder did not offer any information either and they had a fruitless meeting.
Summer writes that shi and Leona are expecting their first child and Leona is carrying so Summer can still work. They are both excited that I found the ship but they seem to be more excited about their pregnancy.
I close the screen with out responding.
I open the lid to the container holding the things from my parentsí room. I can see that they are still too cold to handle. They will warm up in a few hours if I leave the lid open. I look down and see the pictures of my parents and me. The chakat on the left is a beautiful white color with some darker markings in a few places. Hir shoulders, head and face are completely white. Shi has long silver white hair and hir bright blue eyes seem to demand your attention. The chakat on the right is also mostly white. Shi has some light gray markings length-wise down hir back and from what the picture shows, down hir tail too. Hir handpaws and hindpaws are a shadow gray color, which also extends down hir forearms. Shi appears to have green eyes and hir hair is a shadow gray color. The fat and happy little kit between them is mostly white with black patches. Shi has happy blue eyes and looks like shi wants to play in the sun, not pose for a picture. I reach for the picture and carefully place it on my table to thaw faster.
I have to admit that I am thoroughly distracted lately in my duties and even the routine shuttle time has not been very interesting. I want to return to the ship again but I donít have a reason to justify the trip. Tony has had a little trouble extracting the information from the ship data banks. He has been trying to build an interface between the old ship equipment and the newer equipment used in the outpost. The main problem is that the parts are not available on the outpost and it is not likely that they will materialize out of nowhere.
I have been sorting out all the data from the probe scan and the readings from the scan in-ship and the video from the helmet cameras to package it all together to send to Buster. It is a huge amount of data and I hope it doesnít frighten him. Iíll also transfer some credit to him for his time and effort. I will wait for my salvage confirmation though before I send all the data to him.
I have scanned in the family picture and sent it to Thunder. Shi said shi might try to reconnect to hir contact for the ship. Maybe shi will finally be able to get somewhere with that uppity skunktaur.
One point of interest is that the probe, while doing a thorough scan of the ship, detected two shuttles onboard. This makes sense since regulations require that there be an emergency evacuation device onboard. From the probe data it looks like the two shuttles more than qualify for the job. One of the shuttles is large enough to carry some cargo and travel interplanetary, as long as the planets are in close orbits. The other shuttle is much smaller but able to evacuate up to 30 humans or 20 taurs and maintain life support for 30 days.
I still have no clue what was taken from the damaged cargo bay but there are excess fuel storage canisters in the adjacent bay, which would not normally be onboard. The probe didnít indicate if they were full or empty but my experience and a guess would make me believe that it was much more fuel than this ship would use over several voyages.
I am looking forward to my visit on Amaethon in two days. It will be great to see everyone after so many years. I am also looking forward to some good food too. Of all the comforts I miss, being able to enjoy your meal is the one that haunts me daily.
To be continued in Part 9.
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