Thursday, September 24, 2009

Friday Fiction for September 25, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sherri on A Candid Thought, and we’re mighty glad to have her taking care of MckLinky for us!

As promised, here is the next part of Hogs of the Heavens, which my wife still considers the strangest story I’ve written, but wants to know what’s going to happen. I think I’ll need just one more part to finish this up, and because this is taking longer than I expected, I plan to post the next part (hopefully the final part) on Monday. If you’re just now getting to this story, you’ll want to go back and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 before launching into today’s chapter. To avoid confusion, keep in mind that all measurements are metric, and temperatures are measured in degrees C.

Bonus points for those who recognize the person Cranston’s main vessel was named after (though I won’t fault anyone for Googling him)…

Hogs of the Heavens

Part 4

By Rick Higginson

“Minerva,” she said. “My name is Minerva. It’s been so long since I was allowed to say it, that I feared I might have forgotten it.”

“Passenger Minerva identified and characterized,” Voidrunner said. “Vital signs scan indicates body temperature of 39 degrees and other anomalies. Initiate quarantine procedures?”

“Negative,” Cranston replied. “Minerva is not human. Check library for porcine parameters and rescan.”

“Rescan indicates parameters within normal limits. Characterization adjusted.”

“Well, Minerva, I’m glad to finally meet you. We’re going to have a few hours of rather boring flight before we reach the colony vessel Erikson. What shall we talk about?”

Her questions seemed almost endless as the scout vessel continued on its chasing orbit of the much larger derelict. We had centuries to adjust to this much progress, Cranston thought during one lull of silence while she considered another answer he’d given her. She has to assimilate it all in a matter of hours. The inky black of space now showed through the unshuttered cockpit windows, liberally salted with more stars than would ever be visible through any atmosphere. The world’s binary mate glowed bright on the horizon of the planet below. The two bodies were so close in size and mass, that it would be difficult to determine which should be called planet and which moon.

The scientists aboard the Eusebio Kino would have likely rated the system as marginal for colonization. The extreme gravitational forces of a binary system often resulted in severe geological instability, and the crew of the Erikson should have also known that as well. Maybe I should have checked out the Erikson first, instead of descending to investigate the stray signal from the surface. Then again, I shouldn’t have gone for a long exploration by foot without a weapon, either. He stifled a chuckle, thinking of the reaction his crewmates aboard the Kino to not only his foolishness, but also to his discovery of the pigs.

“Approaching CV Erikson,” Voidrunner said. “Command?”

“Attempt AI interface. Let’s see if she can tell us anything.” He pointed to the growing shape shining ahead of them. “That’s the Erikson,” he told Minerva. “It won’t be long until she actually looks like something. Colony vessels of her class were huge. They had to carry enough supplies to start the process of terraforming a planet, along with all the necessary people to see to the work, and everything they needed to survive long enough for either a resupply vessel, or for the planet itself to sustain them.”

“You said before this terraforming was done to our world,” she said. “What do you mean?”

“Terraforming is the process of transforming a world that cannot support life to one that we can live on. How long it takes depends on how extensive a transformation it is. If a world already has a basic atmosphere and water, it’s a much faster process than if it doesn’t. The atmospheric scrubbers are inactive now, but they’re still down there.”

Voidrunner interrupted them. “Erikson is reporting one active SusAn chamber aboard, indicating a survivor awaiting rescue. Command?”

“Status of environmental systems?”

Erikson is preparing for our arrival by restoring the intact portions of the vessel from minimal to nominal. Scans indicate the lander bay is functional, and should be compatible with a scout vessel.”

“Bring us alongside Erikson first. I want to do a visual inspection before we dock.”

“Confirmed.”

They drew closer. The massive plateau drive on the stern of the vessel was large even for the generation of technology it represented. The Kino’s plateau drive was between a quarter and a third of the size, and would propel the survey ship to speeds that were barely dreamed of when the Erikson was built. As they came alongside the immense colony ship, Cranston saw his first clues to what had happened. Jagged framework protruded from where the numerous relay drones had been stowed, and the damage worsened the farther towards the bow they looked. As they rolled over the bulky superstructure, a gaping hole came into view, framed by twisted bulkheads.

“Merciful heaven,” Cranston blurted.

“Is something wrong?” Minerva asked.

“I’ve never heard of a vessel losing this much of the hull.”

She stretched to look past him. “What do you mean?”

He pointed. “All that jagged stuff? There’s supposed to be additional structure there. Imagine if a big chunk of the palace just suddenly disappeared. That’s what happened, only out here, the outside is death.” He rubbed his neck. “Voidrunner, is there a record of the cause of this in the Erikson’s files?”

“The incident findings indicate an oxygen line fractured, causing first a fire and then an explosion in one of the environmental processing centers. The resulting damage weakened adjacent sections, which subsequently failed. The Erikson lost all primary navigation processors, along with the system monitoring thirty-five percent of the SusAn chambers. All personnel in said chambers were lost.”

“How many people, Voidrunner?”

“Two hundred and fifty.”

He suddenly felt very tired. “Dock us with Erikson. Let’s see if the survivor can tell us anything.”

The cabin remained quiet as Voidrunner maneuvered below the forward superstructure and centered herself beneath the recessed lander bay. The scout vessel was much smaller than the cargo shuttles the bay was designed for, and she slipped forward into the docking collar with ample room to spare. Lights that likely hadn’t illuminated in well over a century responded to sensors and banished the shadows from the bay. Seals responded as though they had not remained static well beyond their designed lifespan, and green indicators shown through the cockpit window when the seal integrity was confirmed.

Cranston released his seat restraints and drifted up in the weightlessness. “Status?” he said.

“Docking complete and secured. Atmosphere on Erikson stable at twenty point eight percent oxygen, nominal temperature set at twenty five degrees, with a detected gravity of zero point zero zero four standard gee. Risk assessment acceptable.”

“Inquiry, Erikson – estimated time to bring survivor out of SusAn?”

Erikson estimates SusAn collapse will require eight minutes. History of crewmember indicates recovery from SusAn will require approximately five hours.”

“Initiate field collapse.” He turned to Minerva. “I wish we had time for proper zero-gravity training, but that usually takes weeks for most people. I’m going to release your restraints, and you’re going to find there’s nothing holding you in the seat. How are you feeling?”

“Strange,” she said. “But I think I can handle it.”

He unfastened the harness and took hold of her hoof-hands to draw her out of the seat. There was a difference in her from just a few hours earlier. He had expected her to be fearful or disoriented when faced with the new experience of weightlessness, but instead her mouth curled into a smile. Taking that as a cue, he smiled back and led her towards the docking collar on Voidrunner’s anterior surface. At a verbal prompt from him, the collar hatch slid open with a slight hiss as the pressure between the two vessels equalized.

He released one hand to take hold of the handle in the docking collar, and pulled them through into the eerie quiet of the Erikson. Shielded from the deteriorating effects of a star’s ultra-violet rays, and circulating well-filtered air scrubbed of any dust, the interior looked much as it had when the vessel was new, and only the differences in design styles betrayed that the ship was over two centuries old.

“Visitors, identify,” Erikson said when they had cleared the collar.

“Cranston Berryman, operator of SV Voidrunner, assigned to SRV Eusebio Kino. Command: Rescue Access Override, confirm.”

“Override confirmed. Visitor, identify.”

“Minerva,” she said, sounding far more confident than she had the first time she’d given her name.

“Identities stored. Command?”

“Direct us to the remaining survivor,” Cranston said.

“Follow the indicators to SusAn Compartment Six.” Green lights appeared along a corridor in front of them, stretching ahead for several meters.

Cranston pulled himself hand-over-hand along the padded rail in the direction indicated, and then stopped to see if Minerva needed help. He was surprised to find her just behind him, adapting to the motion quite well. Continuing on, the lights progressed ahead of them, keeping a definite lead they could easily track.

After some ten minutes of floating down several different corridors, the lights stopped in front of a bulkhead door, which slid open at their approach. Inside the compartment, rows of dark, empty chambers lined an expanse of floor, with a solitary chamber glowing a pale blue color.

“What are these things?” Minerva asked.

SusAn chambers,” Cranston replied. “They hold a person in suspended animation for the duration of the voyage, since it takes so long to travel between stars.” He floated over to the single illuminated one. “They can also keep someone alive almost indefinitely if they’re awaiting rescue.” He stared down at the face visible through the single window in the chamber. She had the olive skin and dark hair of someone with Mediterranean heritage from Earth, and her slightly parted lips allowed her breath to repeatedly fog the window directly in front of her mouth. “Status?” he asked.

SusAn field collapse complete. Vital signs at sixty percent normal and increasing at acceptable rate,” Erikson replied.

“Well, it’s going to be several more hours until she’s awake enough to try and talk,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had near enough sleep the last couple of days, and I could really use a nap.”

“How do we sleep in here?”

He pointed to a series of cots beyond the farthest row of chambers. “Standard practice is to keep a few beds in the SusAn compartments, for those who need some extra recovery time.” He hooked his fingers on the edge of the chamber, and gently launched himself in the right direction, walking his hands across other chambers to keep control. When he reached the first cot, he pulled the stretchy tubular cover open, and slid inside. The material held him gently in place. He watched Minerva similarly glide along the chambers towards him, her rags fluttering with her motion. “Erikson, scan Minerva for dimensions and search for a uniform that will fit her.”

“Non-standard dimensional ratios,” the vessel said. “Fabrication system is operative. Create uniform?”

“Affirmative,” he said, and then turned to her. “When I wake up, we should have something better for you to wear.”

To be continued…

2 comments:

Stina Rose said...

Looking forward to reading the next part on Monday. I've enjoyed this story!

BethL said...

Can't wait for it to all "come together" on Monday. I could visualize this, "The world’s binary mate glowed bright on the horizon of the planet below." I enjoyed where this episode took me.

As far as who the ship was named after, the only person I could think of was Leif Ericson (or Erikson). I wait curiously for the answer. :)