03 March 2013

another try

Doug watched out the window as Rick opened the satellite. Asimov IV floated below them, looking like home. Asimov IV was not home. Asimov IV was not even habitable according to the computer, but it had been inhabited. It was a plague-world, home to intelligent life long before humans came to this part of space. Intelligent life means unintelligent life, animals and plants for food, decoration, or companionship. The greater the variety of life on a given planet, the greater the variety of microbes, and all new colonies were isolated to ensure they did not spread any new plagues through the galaxy. The first colony on Asimov IV had lost contact and it was labeled a plague-world. That had been thousands of years before, when this part of space was still new. Warning satellites had been placed around such planets and it was Doug's job to fix them. The Destiny had arrived two days earlier and the crew had begun their work. Doug, Rick, and Karen had been taking turns with the satellites. Karen spent most of her free time playing games with the ship's A.I., Rick spent his free time video-chatting with girlfriends who didn't know he was married, and Doug spent his spare time looking out the window. Rick floated in his suit above the satellite. The access panel was open and the diagnostic computer was attached. Doug watched Rick as Rick watched the computer. Each waited in silence. From somewhere else in the ship Doug could hear the captain complaining about something. The captain thought his decades of experience gave him some great wisdom or insight into space, but his belief in the power of his own mind was unjustified. This poorly paying contract was the best he could manage. The state of his ship was more a reflection of his crews hard work and dedication than it was of his own competence. Doug knew this and did not pay much attention to the captain's complaints. Outside the window, Rick moved down to the open panel. Doug knew something was wrong. A clean diagnostic can take hours, but failures end the diagnostic routines early. The next step would be for Rick to rotate the solar panels into darkness, reducing power throughout the satellite before starting repairs. Doug wondered if anyone on the surface would see the panels flashing overhead as they shifted into darkness. The thought of a descendent of plague survivors looking up to see such a flash made him smile a little. He stopped smiling when the screaming began. It was Rick's voice, but Rick was floating outside, at the diagnostic computer attached to the satellite. Doug scanned the length of the satellite and saw rockets firing. Rick was tethered to the satellite and would go with it if he failed to shut the engines off. Doug pressed on an intercom button next to the window. “Ship, help Rick shut the engines off!” “Only partially successful,” replied the computer. Doug could see some of the venting cease but the satellite began to turn towards the ship. Doug scrambled as quickly as he could away from the window. The safest place to survive an accident was inside a cargo pod, so into a cargo pod Doug went. The nearest pod at hand was a passenger pod stuffed with gear the captain wanted but never used. Doug hit the close button for the door and grabbed for the bunk as the ship shuddered from the impact. Sirens and alarms began wailing as Doug climbed into the bunk. Each cargo pod used the same structural shell with universal attachment systems so they could be moved from ship to ship. Capable of being entirely self-sustaining, they only lacked useful flight systems. Passenger pods were capable of housing a single passenger for a month without needing resupply, and the bunks were equipped with harnesses to from floating around in their sleep on a zero-G journey. These harnesses were also useful for crash landings. This was a point not lost on Doug as he strapped himself into the bunk. The cacophony seemed to go on forever. Doug thought he felt the pod separate but the shaking made it hard to tell. The noises coming over the intercom seemed to be random. Doug thought he could hear a person speaking now and again, but could not pick out what they were saying. He closed his eyes and wished that he could sleep through whatever came next. He did not sleep, but it seemed an eternity before some violent explosion rocked the pod. Doug could not tell if it was part of the ship or the satellite, but when impact cushions billowed out around the bunk he began to panic. He kept his eyes closed and waited for the end, but the noise and shaking started to slowly subside. After a few more minutes, the alarms started going quiet. A few continued until Doug told the computer to shut off all of them. He was surrounded by silence and focused his attention on the shaking. It seemed to have become almost rhythmic, rougher but similar to the Destiny's engines firing. “Computer, what is happening to the ship?” Doug asked. “The status of the Destiny is unknown. This pod is intact and will land shortly.” Great, Doug thought, crash-landing on a planet riddled with infectious diseases. Doug tried to see an upside as the pod landed and bounced it's way to a halt, but the best that he could do was that he wasn't going to die in space. Dying alone, forgotten, and on a forgotten world named after a forgotten person was not much better. It may even be worse. He lay in the bunk for hours. He did not want to get up but just lay there until death came for him. Nature calls on everyone eventually, and he unfastened the safety harnesses on the bunk only to tumble out onto the floor. The bags and boxes of the captain's things were all secured to the walls, leaving the cold metal floor exposed for him to lay on while he thought about the strength he had lost in zero-gravity. In a few moments he began to drag himself across the floor to the bathroom built into the corner of almost every pod. When he was finished, he dragged himself back across the floor and into the bunk. Physically and mentally exhausted, he lay motionless for hours before drifting off into a fitful sleep. He awoke the next morning poorly rested and aching. He crawled back across the floor to the bathroom again, but he emerged this time, he began digging through the captain's stockpile of random junk. He smiled without realizing it when he found the emergency supplies hidden behind a bag of what seemed to be mismatched boots. The stash included fair amounts of food and water, meaning that he would not starve to death in the near future. Given that he was alone, somewhere on a plague-world, he did not even need to worry about the expiration dates. He opened one of the bags of food and eat it slowly and without any enthusiasm for it. He ate, not because he was hungry, it would be days before he was truly hungry again, but because it gave him something to keep his mind occupied. Venturing outside was out of the question in his physical state, even if the air had been safe to breathe. When he finished his meal of stale crackers and what seemed to be a cheap artificial cheese spread, he grabbed a bag of water and crawled back to the bunk. He lay in the bed for an hour or more thinking about the water. If he drank the water, he could recover his strength faster and possibly come up with a plan. If he did not drink the water, he would become dehydrated but not need to crawl to the bathroom as often. He couldn't think of any reason he would want to go outside, so he carefully laid the bag down on the floor near the head of the bunk and went back to sleep. He woke again sometime later to noise. It sounded as if it were raining outside. He could not tell for sure. He did not know if it rained on this planet. He did not know how thick the walls, door, or roof of the pod were. He did not know how the sewage system in the pod worked, or what was powering the lights. He did know that not drinking the water had not spared him another crawl across the room. He managed this with considerable effort. Each trip left his muscles sore and tense and his mind racing. He had enough foresight this time to push a fair amount of the supplies closer to the bed this time. He ate some more and drank a little water before fading off to sleep. He did not know it but he had ended his first full day in the pod. He woke early the next morning, at least in accordance with the time his watch gave him. He tried sitting up but almost immediately felt cramping through his entire back. He fell back quickly and grunted a few times from the pain. He began twisting and turning, trying to rebuild some of his strength when it occurred to him that he didn't know what time it was outside. “Computer, what time is it?” “The time is 7:17.” This matched his watch. “Computer, what is the local time?” “The local time is 7:17.” “Computer, how can my watch know what the local time if it was set for a different location?” “Your watch is showing you the current time. The current time is 7:18. Your watch does not know that there are multiple locations and is showing you the correct time for your current location.” He thought about this for a minute, pondering different ways to ask the question that might give him a useful result. It then occurred to him that the computer in a storage pod should not have the intelligence to give him the useless answer that it did. The captain may have changed something. The captain had not been good with his hands but had never shied away from buying things that he did not need. A pod with a near life-life intelligence wasn't exactly past the captain's means, but if that much had been put into the pod's computer, Doug wondered what other changes had been made. “Computer, play some music for me.” It began playing a song Doug had not heard before. He found the lyrics distracting and asked for instrumentals only. The computer obliged and Doug lost himself in thought for a while before falling back asleep. He was sore when he woke again, his limbs contained a stiffness he hadn't felt in a long time. He stretched, he ate, and he wondered if anybody had been notified that he had gone missing. He thought about the women he had known, he thought about friends he was missing, and he wondered if it would be better to open the door and let the local pathogens kill him, find some way to commit suicide-by-technology, or just let starvation eventually take its toll. He drifted off to sleep again and ended his second day dreaming that he was laying in a field of shortly-cropped grass, basking in the sunshine of a warm afternoon. On the third day, he woke early again. He tried to stretch and exercise following the same improvised regimen he had used the day before, but found that he could not quite get through it all. He was able to sit up though, which made eating rather easier. He took another nap midday and made several futile attempts to stand up. The computer lulled him to sleep with some pleasant little melody he thought he may have heard before. The rest of the week passed in a similar fashion. By the end of the tenth day he could walk around the pod upright without either being forced back into the bunk by cramping muscles or needing to hold onto things for support. He then began pilfering through the captain's gear and found enough survival gear to keep him well-equipped almost anywhere. He picked out a rucksack, several duffel bags, and a luggage cart. He loaded a second emergency kid he had found into the rucksack and filled the duffel bags with whatever clothing was close to his size, several tents. The duffel bags he tied to the cart and several large pouches filled with assorted gadgets and tools were hung on the rucksack. Although the thought of going outside filled him with trepidation, he was ready to leave whenever the time came. It was on the sixteenth day that he awoke unable to move. He tried calling out to the computer but could not seem to form any words. The only noise he could force himself to muster was the panting of a wounded animal. The spasms and cramps were so severe that he worried bones would have broken if he had recovered more of his strength. Some noises came from the doorway and he knew the pod had opened. All of his preparations were for naught. He was infected and darkness closed in on his mind. Goe, trying to kickstart some ideas.

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