Chronicles:Chapter 6, a short story by JJ. Date added: 2010-08-07. Times viewed: 4753.
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The Ship II
Harry was enthralled with the journey to the space station. His eyes were glued to the window like a wistful child outside a sweet shop. He could hear Adam prattle on but his words didn’t register. He gasped when he spied Earth from space and his jaw dropped in wonder when he saw the station come into view and slowly become larger as they headed for the docking bays. Although he was looking forward to exploring the space station, he still felt a pang of regret that they weren’t flying in space for longer. When he finally moved away from the window, Adam caught his eye. ‘Welcome to The Ship, are these guys going to be glad to see us’. Adam released the door and they headed out of the airlock where they were met by six security guards pointing weapons at them.
‘Is there anywhere in the Universe where they’re glad to see you?’ Harry asked as he raised his hands. Adam looked at the guards and smiled.
‘We come in peace, take me to your leader!’
When the spider-like drone first crawled into the escape pod, it had accessed the computer looking for a way to connect with the mother ship. It became clear very quickly that there was no automatic connection. It was unable to complete its mission. It was left with no option. It scuttled underneath one of the seats and switched to stand-by mode.
It stayed in that mode until Adam and Harry were escorted off the pod. When the guards finished search the craft, it scanned its vicinity and satisfied that there were no humanoids left aboard the pod, the drone re-activated. It made its way back to the computer console and linked with it again. Still it could find no connection with the mother ship. The computer on the pod was programmed to allow information to be added to or taken from it. It could not initiate this itself. It would once more have to be patient.
This time however, it did not scuttle away and it did not power down. It remained linked to the computer and it waited.
Captain Banner was pacing in his office while he waited for the guards to escort Adam to his quarters. The past two hours had been particularly difficult for him. Once his communicae with Adam had ended, he’d stormed into Councillor Donaldson’s room. ‘Councillor, we need to talk, now!’
‘Captain, please burst into my room unannounced, without an appointment, making demands of me, whenever you like. I do so look forward to that.’ Councillor Donaldson was sitting behind his desk completely unflustered. His lack of concern threw Banner off balance.
‘Er, well, this is important Councillor, I’ve just been speaking to Adam’.
‘Adam?’ the Councillor’s attention was grabbed, ‘The thirty year sleep then steal a life pod Adam?’ Banner nodded. ‘How? Where?’ Banner began to speak but Donaldson waved him quiet. ‘Never mind, start at the beginning’.
‘Adam contacted The Ship from the life pod about half an hour ago. He wanted to tell me that he was returning to The Ship with a friend. Another human from Earth. He’d replenished the pod’s energy stores and wanted to know why we didn’t know there were survivors on the planet. I know we regularly monitor Earth and I know you need a working generator to produce the energy cells needed for the life pod to make the return trip from Earth so if we monitor Earth closely, then we already know what’s going on down there. Except of course, I don’t. I was under the impression that everyone was dead. That Earth was effectively dead. I have, oh call it intuition, an idea that you aren’t under that impression and indeed have been deliberately hiding the truth from me. What I don’t know is why’. The Councillor sat impassively during Banner’s rant. He remained still and silent for a few moments more.
‘Are you quite finished Captain?’ Banner didn’t respond, he just continued to glare at Donaldson. ‘Very well, I’ll do my best to cover all your queries. Please feel free to interrupt if you think I’ve missed anything.
First off, you’re right, we are aware that there is some activity on Earth. This activity is minimal at best. All our readings tell us that the planet is still not liveable. The majority of activity appears to be centred around one city and that city is inhabited by humans who are badly deformed and retarded by the radioactive atmosphere. There is a generator there that they appear to be working but only one building in the city seems to be powered by it and none of the inhabitants use it, they live outside like the poor pitiful creatures they are. We can’t save them and we can’t return to Earth so it’s better if our society continues to believe it is a dead planet.
False hope would have hampered everything we’ve achieved here. People on The Ship would have been unsettled, recalcitrant, and rebellious and all we now have, would never have come about. Therefore, the Council made the decision to keep the monitoring reports classified. The communication team don’t even read the information. The computer copies all the readings onto a disk and it’s sent straight to myself.’
‘So you’re telling me Fjord knows nothing about this either?’
‘Captain, your petty rivalry with our Head of Security, Fjord Patterson belittles you. I like Fjord, I think he’s useful and it’s no secret that I’d like him to be Captain one day’. Banner raised his eyebrows at the admission. ‘You didn’t think I knew how you felt? It’s written all over your face Captain every time I mention his name. But to answer your question no, not even Fjord knows this and I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this to yourself’.
‘It’s a bit late for that Councillor. As I said, Adam is bringing a companion along. It’s going to be a bit difficult to keep that a secret. There was no mention of him being deformed or retarded either. In fact, I got the distinct impression that there is nothing wrong with him’.
‘So he found one then!’
‘Found one what?’
‘A mutate Captain, what else! When the world blew up, the station chiefs of the time ran a variety of simulations to determine survival rates. I don’t need to tell you it wasn’t good. We were aware at the time of a few people who were believed to be immune from radiation whom the media had dubbed mutates. How many of these mutates there were, was unknown at the time but the original station commander believed they were the only hope for mankind. The original reason for scanning Earth in the first place was to detect and track the mutates. None was ever found. It made no difference, the old station commander was wrong. We are the last hope for mankind not the mutates’.
‘Maybe so Councillor but Adam is about to arrive on The Ship with either a mutate or someone else who has survived on a planet we have told our citizens is dead. If we don’t handle this right, then you may end up with an unsettled community after all’.
‘I absolutely agree Captain. It looks like we’ve found some common ground at long last. How do you propose we manage this?’
‘If you or one of our other Council members could make an announcement about having to quarantine Adam on his return, I can cordon off the corridors leading down from the airlock to my office. I’ll send six guards I know I can trust to keep quiet to the airlock and they can escort Adam and his companion to my office. Professor Aldecott can examine them both and I’ll debrief them. If you want to be in attendance, I’ll call you as soon as they’ve reached my office and Aldecott has given them the all clear’.
‘I don’t like the sound of this. For one, your six guards are going to know and however much you trust them, the chances of none of them blabbing about this other person from the planet is pretty slim and as for Aldecott, I don’t think there’s a bigger gossip on the station’.
‘Even if one or two of the guards talk, it will take time for them to be believed and for it to become widespread knowledge. By that time, we’d have to go public with it anyway but at least it gives us time to control the situation and decide what the public are going to be told. I agree about Aldecott but the only people he gossips to are you, our fellow Council members and myself. I assume you intend to inform our colleagues prior to the emergency Council meeting so I think it’s the best we can do in terms of damage limitation’.
Banner’s thoughts were interrupted by his intercom. ‘Enter’. The six guards marched into his office with Adam and Harry between them. ‘Ah, Adam, it’s been too soon, we must make our little meetings more infrequent’.
‘I knew you were missing me Captain but sending a guard of honour was really touching’.
‘Are you going to introduce me to your friend or do I have to guess?’
‘Captain Banner, I’d like to introduce you to Harry. Harry is a living, breathing human from that dead planet you know as Earth. You know, the little blue planet that The Ship orbits. Where’s the doc? I was sure he’d be here for this touching reunion’.
‘Pleased to meet you Harry’. Harry nodded in acknowledgement. ‘I take it you’re one of the people that were labelled mutate?’
‘Harry isn’t much of a talker’. Captain Banner pinched his lips together questioningly. ‘No, he’s not mute, just a bit shy when faced with an armed guard and yes, he’s immune to the radiation on the planet. Where did you say the doc was? I’ve got something…’
Adam was interrupted by the intercom buzzing again. ‘Enter’ Banner shouted. He could feel a headache coming on and was glad of the distraction of Aldecott’s presence.
‘Doc! We were just talking about you. I’ve got something for you’. He rummaged underneath his clothes and pulled out the bag of anti-radiation pills. He threw them over to the professor.
‘What are these?’
‘Pills to combat the effects of radiation. Once you get used to the nausea, they work like a dream’.
‘Ironically, it was one of mankind’s last major breakthroughs. If I remember right, they used mutate DNA as the template’.
‘You already have these?’
‘Of course, we have a full supply just in case we have a radiation problem on The Ship’.
‘Let me get this straight. There’s always been a supply of anti-radiation pills which would allow exploration of the planet and I’m the first person to go home in thirty years?’
‘What would be the point of exploring a dead planet?’
‘Sorry doc, I believe I forgot to introduce you to Harry here, he’s a visitor from the dead planet!’ The professor’s jaw dropped as he noticed Harry for the first time.
‘You’re a mutate?’ Harry shrugged.
‘He doesn’t talk much’. Adam and Banner explained simultaneously.
‘Well we’ll need to change that; I’ve got so many questions for you Harry’.
‘Your questions will have to wait professor’, Banner ruled before sending his guards out of the room to guard the door. As they were leaving, Banner whispered to the lead guard, ‘You searched the pod?’ The guard nodded.
‘It was empty sir; they were the only two on board’.
Once they were alone, Banner took centre stage. ‘Adam, since we’ve revived you, you’ve been a royal pain in the ass and your antics have put four hundred and ninety-nine human beings lives on the line’. Adam tried to cut in but Banner wouldn’t let him. ‘Professor, I need you to examine both of them and ensure they haven’t brought any diseases or viruses onto The Ship that could be harmful to the population’.
‘Of course Captain, I’ll take them down to sick bay immediately’.
‘Not this time professor, you’ll have to examine them here. I don’t want either of them to leave this room’. The professor tried to protest but it was Harry who cut in.
‘We are your prisoners then?’ Harry’s body language had subtly changed. Whereas before, his face was full of curiosity, he was now more guarded. He looked ready for a fight.
‘Let’s just say you’re my guests until we get some things worked out, okay?’ Harry nodded but his posture didn’t relax.
‘It’s okay Harry, I don’t think the good Captain here is ready to throw us out of an airlock just yet’. Banner’s door opened and Councillor Donaldson stepped into the room. Everything about the man, his clothes, his arrogant gait and his body language singled him out as the person who was really in charge. ‘Although I don’t think I can say the same about our visitor’.
‘You must be Adam and I assume your friend here is a mutate. I’m Councillor Donaldson. I’m here by Captain Banner’s invitation and to be honest, my curiosity got the better of me’.
‘I think I’m getting a migraine’, Adam complained.
‘At least you’ve got the good grace to do it to yourself as well as everyone else’, Banner muttered.
‘I thought I was coming back here with major revelations about life on Earth and cures for radiation sickness and you all seem to already know the story. Can someone fill me in on what the hell is going on here?’
‘All in good time. First I want Aldecott to examine you. Professor, I had your medi-kit brought here ahead of you, its under my table’, Banner turned to the Councillor, ‘Dammit Donaldson, I told you I’d call you once they’d been examine. If they’re carrying any nasty surprises, you’re going into quarantine too’.
Professor Aldecott gave both their guests the all clear. Councillor Donaldson settled himself behind Captain Banner’s desk to ensure everyone understood who was in charge. Banner prepared drinks for everyone and they settled themselves on the long settees. Harry took a sip of his drink, decided it was the most disgusting liquid he’d ever put to his lips and quietly placed it on the nearest end of the Captain’s table. Adam was not as discerning. ‘Well this is nice and civilised, you’re making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and it’s not just the alcohol. Does this mean I’m forgiven?’
‘It’s just a drink Adam’, the Councillor replied, ‘It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not a contract of contrition, we’re civilised people. Don’t read too much into it’.
‘I’ve never taken a politician at face value in my life Councillor and I’m not about to start now so why don’t we cut to the chase?’
‘Very well then. You, Adam, are what is known as a fuck up. Perhaps before the world blew up you could get by on a bit of charm but that doesn’t work in our new world order. Here you need to contribute, prove your worth. So far, you’ve stolen an escape pod and brought a visitor from a planet our community believes is dead’.
‘And why is that Councillor? Even the good Captain here sounded surprised when I told him I was bringing a person back with me from Earth but I get the impression you weren’t in the least surprised and I’m wondering why you’re misleading the people on this space station?’
‘You’re looking for the sinister where there is none. I was as surprised as the next person when Captain Banner informed me you were on your way back with a companion. I was aware of the scientific possibility that there would be a number of mutates surviving on the planet but I was not aware of any and we’ve been scanning the planet since it blew up’.
‘Perhaps if you’d visited it, you would have bumped into them as easily as I did’.
‘There’s that many?’
‘A thriving community. In fact I think you’d get on very well with their leader, Trevor but like I said, the commute was too much of a bother for you’.
‘If we’d sent a pod down to the planet, it would have been a death sentence for the traveller. The radiation…’
‘You have anti-radiation tablets; I know this because the doc told me when I tried to present him with a bag for analysis and production’.
‘…the inability to return’, the Councillor continued, ignoring Adam.
‘And yet here I am, large as life and twice as ugly’.
‘Yes you are. How did you manage that exactly?’
Adam relayed the story of his time on the planet, what Trevor had told him, Loren’s story, the energy cell production, the androids and he finished up with his theory that they were being controlled by a power hungry politician who wanted to maintain his new world order. ‘Is that a dig?’ Donaldson asked the annoyance he felt clear in his tone.
‘Any resemblance to any person living or dead or staring me straight in the face is purely co-incidental. If you identify with anyone in my sad tale, I can only assume it’s because you have a guilty conscience’. Councillor Donaldson stared at Adam in silence for a few moments.
The entire exchange made Harry feel uneasy. He didn’t fully grasp what was going on behind the barbed exchanges but it was obvious to him that they were not welcome here and he didn’t believe Adam was doing anything to improve the situation. He watched Councillor Donaldson with fear in his eyes. He didn’t know why but he felt they’d just reached a pivotal point in their meeting.
Councillor Donaldson made up his mind. He broke off his stare and pressed the communication button on Captain Banner’s desk. ‘Fjord, I’m going down to the Communications Centre. Be there and make sure no-one else is around’. He switched off communications without waiting for a reply. He focussed back on Adam. ‘I’m going to check out your story personally. If there’s a thriving community of mutates and a working energy plant rather than a generator down there, I don’t believe we would have missed it so I’m calling your bluff’.
‘You think I’m lying?’
‘I think you get your kicks from yanking people’s chains. For all I know, the mutates you met could have stockpiled energy cells and you’re trying to exaggerate your story to sow the seeds of sedition within The Ship’. Adam opened his mouth to protest but Donaldson cut him off. ‘So we’re going to check out your story and when we find out you’re full of shit, that’s when I’m going to have you thrown out of an airlock. Banner, you’re coming with Adam and me. Professor, I assume I can trust you to look after our visitor without giving him the keys to the station?’
‘Absolutely Councillor, I have so many questions, I’m not sure I know where to begin’.
‘Be careful not to wear him out professor, from what I understand, once you get him started, you can’t get him to shut up’, Banner joked as they headed out of the room.
Fjord was pacing up and down nervously outside the Communications Centre looking every inch like a naughty school boy waiting for his punishment. He was surprised to see Captain Banner and Adam walking on either side of Councillor Donaldson and knew it could only spell trouble. They were lucky it was early evening. During the day there are four security guards operating the Comm. Centre. If he’d had to relieve all of them, his men would have been suspicious. At this time of the day however, there was only the one guard on duty. He’d been grateful for the break and couldn’t leave his post fast enough.
‘What’s he doing here?’ he asked, pointing at Adam as they approached.
‘Councillor Donaldson wants me to teach you how to work well with others’.
‘I need Adam here to co-ordinate exactly where he’s been on Earth’.
‘Godammit Fjord, I don’t need to explain myself to you, I just need you to do as you’re told.’ Fjord’s face went red. He tried to bluster a response but Councillor Donaldson had already brushed past him and walked into the Comm. Centre followed by the Captain and Adam. Fjord had no choice but to meekly follow suit. Once inside, he tried to regain some of his dented pride.
‘Okay, I assume you don’t know shit from co-ordinates’, he growled at Adam, daring him to mouth off again. Adam was about to succumb to the dare but when he saw Banner gently shake his head, he surprised himself by keeping his mouth shut and simply nodding his head. ‘That’s what I figured. Okay, we can start by downloading the landing co-ordinates from the life pod. Once we’ve got that, hopefully you’ll be able to direct us’.
It took a few minutes for the download to be completed and all the men stood in silence waiting. ‘Okay, we’re ready’, Fjord announced and he called up the image of the Earth on the large vidi-screen. After pressing a few keys, the image of the planet shifted as it zoomed in on the place where the pod had landed. ‘This is the spot where the pod landed’, Fjord informed them as a desolate area of land seemingly devoid of life, came into view.
‘Okay Adam, now is your time to shine. Where is the mutate community that had the poor judgement to take you in?’ Adam scanned the area thoughtfully. He’d been unconscious when he’d been dragged to safety so he was focussing on the journey to the pod and trying to retrace his steps.
‘Move up in that direction’, he said with more confidence than he felt as he pointed at the screen. Fjord continued to manipulate the map on the screen, following Adam’s directions. ‘That’s it! Right there, the mountain. The entrance to the mutates’ camp is in that mountain!’
‘Fjord, can you zoom in any further?’ asked Donaldson.
‘Are you kidding? This thing can zoom onto a grain of sand’. Fjord proceeded to zoom further onto the image of the mountain. The closer he panned however, the blurrier the image got.
‘I don’t understand it Councillor, there must be some kind of interference. Maybe it’s the radiation’.
‘Or whatever filters out the radiation and protects the mutates home’, added Adam.
‘Okay Adam, you’ve brought a mutate back with you so let’s accept there’s a thriving community down there that we can’t pick up, direct Fjord to the city you claim the energy plant is in. I want to see if it’s the same city’.
Adam obliged and directed Fjord’s movements until the area where the city was supposed to be, appeared before them on the screen. There were no buildings, no mutant camp, no androids, nothing at all. Adam stared at the blank area on the screen, completely speechless. ‘There appears to be some kind of force field deflecting the image below Councillor. We wouldn’t have noticed it with our general scans because we scan from a much lower zoom range. Someone or something doesn’t want us to see what’s down there!’ Fjord offered as an explanation. Adam smiled smugly at the Councillor.
‘So what do you think of my fairytale now?’
Councillor Donaldson ignored Adam. ‘Fjord, call up our previous records of the area. Go back to one from, oh say five years ago’. Fjord pushed a few buttons and the image was replaced with the city, complete with mutant camp.
‘Okay, so it’s the same city’, Donaldson confirmed before turning to Adam. ‘As you know, we knew about the mutants. From what we can see, they work a generator to provide power to this building here’. Donaldson pointed to the relevant building. ‘I can’t see any androids and I can’t see any energy plant’.
‘That’s no generator, the plant is underneath the ground, it’s like a mine. The mutants are sent down there to manufacture the energy cells because the androids can’t cope with the electromagnetic field the machines produce. I reckon the building that’s receiving the power is where the guy who’s enslaved the mutants lives. As you can see, the mutants have their own camp, they don’t live in the building but it’s got be to receiving power for a reason’. Donaldson nodded in agreement. Adam’s story was becoming more convincing.
The console lit up. The drone detected the activity immediately and searched for its source. It found the upload within milliseconds and sent data with the upload as a piggy-backed alternative programme. Once it had completed the task, it disconnected from the console. It scuttled over to the door and opened it. The lighting had been dulled in the corridors to signify early evening. Keeping to the shadows, it made its way down the corridor.
It eventually found a storage cupboard down one of the corridors. It stopped in its tracks, extended a long metal rod up to the doors controls and opened the door. It scuttled into the room and scanned the room’s contents. Satisfied the cupboard had everything it needed, it closed the door and then began gathering materials, adding to its exoskeleton at an alarming rate.
The Communication Centre’s screen went black. ‘What now Fjord?’ the Councillor asked impatiently.
‘I don’t know Councillor,’ admitted Fjord as he fumbled with the controls, ‘perhaps there’s a short in the system. I can’t get the screen to work, I’m going to have to call someone from engineering’.
‘You do that. When the glitch is fixed, meet us at the Captain’s quarters’. Donaldson turned to his companions. ‘Shall we return to your office Captain and rescue the mutate from our good professor?’
‘He’s called Harry’, Adam interjected. Councillor Donaldson nodded in acknowledgement and left the Comm. Centre. Captain Banner and Adam followed him.
When the Captain’s door opened and Adam entered the room, Harry was pleased to see him. The professor was making his head hurt with his incessant questions and theoretical musings. Harry had tried to help as much as he could but he didn’t understand half of what the professor was saying. ‘Captain Banner’, the professor greeted, glad of the more civilised company. He’d found Harry to be more than reticent and considered him to be little more than an imbecile. He hoped the other mutates showed more promise. ‘Were you able to locate the mutates and the city in question?’
‘There was some kind of interference on the planet. Fjord reckons the city was projecting a force field to camouflage it from aerial reconnaissance.’
‘Really? Fjord said that?’
‘Well I’m paraphrasing and interjecting some intelligence into the explanation but that’s about the size of it’.
‘That suggests they know we’re out here’, the professor offered worriedly.
‘No reason why they wouldn’t. The Ship was big news in its day. What I don’t understand is why they haven’t attempted to contact us and why they appear to be hiding from us’.
‘Maybe they are as indifferent to you as you’ve been to the people left alive on the planet for all these years’, Adam suggested with more than a little sarcasm in his voice.
‘That’s hardly fair Adam!’ the Councillor countered, ‘We’ve continued to scan for intelligent life for years with no success. I don’t think you can hold us to account for the interference on our scans’.
‘Your scans picked out the mutants with no problem but then you don’t consider them to be intelligent life do you? As for the mutates, your scans were never going to pick out individuals, only larger groups and even then, they’d need to hold some kind of Mardi Gras at the precise moment the satellite was covering their area for you lot to notice. Though I doubt half your security team would spot anything. Your scans have been nothing more than another tool to keep the masses in line. Well, you know what? I’m sick of the lot of you. You want the sleepers off your station and I have the means to get them off, so how about you awaken them and I’ll take them down to the planet in small groups. That way, you get your precious station back without any bloodshed’.
‘It’s not as simple as that Adam. For one, constant too-ing and fro-ing from the planet will not go unnoticed. What happens if the bulk of the citizens here decide they want to go down to the planet too?’ How will the rest of us survive?’
‘Far be it for me to usurp your position of power on this hunk of metal but if the people want to go home, why stop them?’
‘And what of the mutates? Could they cope with an influx of a couple of thousand people say? They have the resources to manage that do they?’ The Councillor sought an answer from either Adam or Harry but there was none forthcoming. ‘That’s what I thought. Secondly, what are you going to do if your sleepers don’t want to follow you down to the planet? What if, unlike you, they prefer the stability and security of what we have to offer? Are you going to tie them up and drag them down to the planet? Or are we just supposed to absorb them all in one go without proper planning?’ The Councillor was again faced with silence from Adam. ‘That’s the problem with people like you. You criticise those capable of making the hard decisions, those who consider all the possibilities and make the choices you’re not brave enough to make. We’ve survived up here for all these years because of people like me. If you’d been in charge, everyone would be dead by now’.
Adam was about to retort when Fjord ran into the room. ‘Does nobody knock anymore?’ Banner muttered.
‘Captain, we’ve got a problem. Communications are down throughout the station!’
‘Okay, get engineering onto it’.
‘I already have. There’s nothing wrong with the systems, the computer has just taken communication away from us’.
‘You’re not making any sense Fjord’.
‘There’s something wrong with the computer, it’s got some kind of virus and it’s systematically shutting us out. We’re losing control of the ship’.
‘Have you got the computer techs on it?’
‘One of my deputies is on their way to get a team together’.
‘We need to make sure we all stay calm’, Councillor Donaldson stated. ‘We can’t let panic course through The Ship especially with communications down’.
‘I agree Councillor’, Banner interjected. ‘Fjord, where are the computer techs being directed to?’
‘The Comm. Centre, that’s where it all started. I figure if they based themselves there, they could decide where else they wanted to focus on’.
‘Okay then that’s where I’m headed. Fjord, escort Councillor Donaldson back to his quarters. Professor, I want you to stay here with Adam and Harry’.
Banner was on his way to the Communications Centre when all hell broke loose. A cacophony of sirens began blaring all over The Ship signalling a red alert. ‘Everyone’s going to be wondering what’s happening and when they don’t get any answers and can’t contact anyone, they’re going to panic’. He put his thoughts to the back of his mind. He needed to prioritise and the main problem just now was how to get the sirens switched off. He broke into a run.
‘What now?’ Councillor Donaldson shouted to Fjord over the sirens.
‘It’s the red alert Councillor’.
‘I know it’s the red alert you fool! I want to know what’s happening!’
‘I don’t know. Let me contact someone and find out. Oh that’s right, communications are down’, he sneered sarcastically.
‘I don’t appreciate your tone Fjord. I would have thought with all your years of experience and being the one person who’s been at the heart of the difficulties we’re experiencing, that you could at least come up with potential scenarios to explain why The Ship is sounding the red alert’. Fjord digested the Councillor’s comments.
‘Worse case scenario, The Ship is going to self destruct; best case? The glitches in the computer system triggered the red alert and there’s nothing to worry about’.
‘That would appear to be the most likely scenario but a lot of people are going to think the worst. With communications down, we can’t even allay their fears. Change of plan Fjord, we’re going to the promenade. Most of the population will gather there. I’ll need to reassure then that they’re all safe’.
Harry nearly jumped out of his skin when The Ship’s alert first started to sound. ‘That doesn’t sound good’, the professor stated.
‘What do you think the problem is?’ Adam asked as he tried to reassure Harry.
‘Probably part of the problem with the computer, it’ll go off once the techs fix the problem’.
‘I hope you’re right professor, I don’t think Harry here could take anymore of this wonderful hospitality he’s been experiencing’.
‘Yes well, life on The Ship has certainly been eventful since we woke you’.
‘Not so loud professor, if the politicians hear, they’ll rubber stamp the mass genocide they’ve been planning in the name of survival’. Adam faced Harry and spoke in low tones. ‘Do you want to go home?’ Harry nodded. Adam signalled for Harry to stand. ‘Well professor, it’s been a blast and it was good to see you again but this is clearly not a convenient time so we’re going to go back home now. Be sure to give the good Captain our best regards’.
‘You can’t leave Adam’.
‘I think you’ll find that I can and I’m pretty sure you can’t stop me’. The professor headed to Banner’s desk. ‘The Comm. System is down doc, remember? If they’d fixed it already, big brother would be busy reassuring everyone not to panic’. Adam opened the door and he and Harry disappeared into the corridor.
‘Do you know where you’re going?’
‘I got to know my way around pretty well when I was last here’.
When Banner got to the Comm. Centre, the four techies were arguing among themselves. ‘Who’s in charge here?’ he barked to get their attention. The techies immediately stopped bickering and stood to attention. The smaller of the four replied to Banner’s question.
‘Sir, Texas Mulhern, I’m the most senior technician here’.
‘Where’s Ocean?’ Ocean Baxendale was the lead technician. She was five foot three and weighed less than 120 pounds but she had a gift around computers that had seen her rise quickly through the technician’s ranks.
‘Sir, she was working twelve hours straight trying to realign the hydroponics’ atmospheric controls. She’ll be fast asleep by now’.
‘Can you hear the red alert Texas?’
‘Could you sleep through it?’
‘Okay, so the chances are Ocean’s awake. She’ll try to contact you but communications are down. Where’s she going to go?’
‘Good. Now I want you to head there and bring her to Comms.’ The technician couldn’t leave fast enough. He’d only ever seen the Captain from a distance and he was still junior enough to be intimidated by the chain of command. Banner turned to the oldest remaining technician, ‘You, status report’.
‘Communications are down. We’ve been unable to identify the fault. For some reason the red alert sounded but we don’t know if it’s a fault in the system or whether The Ship really is in trouble. Given the proximity of the two events, Texas considered them to be related’.
‘And you don’t agree?’
‘In my experience sir, it’s never wise to discount anything until it’s been ruled out’.
‘That why you were arguing?’
‘Yes sir, I thought it would be prudent to return to engineering and check whether there was a more ominous reason for the red alert. Texas felt we should stay here and fix communications to enable us to co-ordinate work teams more efficiently across The Ship’. Banner considered the opposing views for a moment. He could see merit in both arguments but was dismayed that they were both so intent on proving they were in the right that they’d missed the most obvious solution.
‘Okay, I want you three to continue working on communications. Once you’ve fixed the problem, call me. I’m going to follow Texas down to engineering and get him to run a full diagnostic of The Ship. If any of you happen to find a way to shut off that damn alarm, do it!’ He didn’t wait for a reply. He left communications and headed down to engineering.
Adam was lost. He wasn’t prepared to admit this fact to Harry so he continued to walk down the corridors with a sense of purpose, trying to project an image that he knew what he was doing and where he was going. He could sense that Harry was becoming impatient. Adam reckoned he was about ten seconds away from asking, “are we there yet?” He decided this called for affirmative action and opened the nearest storage door. Adam found himself face to face with an android.
The android scanned Adam while Adam stood frozen at the door. ‘Humanoid’, the android concluded, ‘All humanoids must be destroyed’.
‘Sorry, wrong door’, Adam apologised as he closed the storage door. Once the door was closed, Adam prised open the door’s control panel and pulled out all the wires. There was a bang and a spark and for a brief moment, Adam thought he’d electrocuted himself. Satisfied that he was in one piece, he turned to Harry. ‘Android’, he offered by way of explanation. He nodded to the burnt out control panel. ‘That won’t hold him for long. We need to get out of here’.
Adam started running back down the corridor. ‘Where are we going? We’ve just come from here’, Harry protested as he ran after Adam.
‘Change of plans, we need to find Banner’.
As Councillor Donaldson had predicted, the promenade was full of confused and scared civilians. Many were still in the various forms of nightwear they’d worn for bed, some had made hurried attempts to get dressed and others were still wearing their clothes or uniforms depending on whether they were having a late night or working the late shift. Fjord spied some of his security detail and after grabbing the attention of a couple of them, he directed them to gather all the guards from the crowd. Once they were all together, he instructed them to set up a perimeter around the crowd to contain them within the promenade.
Councillor Donaldson pushed past some of the gathering throng as he made his way to the podium they used for public meetings. Some of the crowd recognised him and as word spread they began converging around the podium to hear what the Councillor had to say. Donaldson faced them and produced the most reassuring smile he could as he prepared to address them.
‘I hope you can all hear me over the siren. I’m not here to add to your headache’. He smiled at his little joke and hid his disappointment over the lack of laughter. ‘I know you must be wondering what’s happening and perhaps you’re a little frightened just now. I’m here to let you know there’s nothing to worry about. We’re having a little computer glitch just now but our technicians are working on the problem so those of you who have been rudely awakened will be able to get back to their bed soon. There is no need for anybody to panic’. Donaldson was in his stride now. He’d always enjoyed public speaking.
Adam took another in a long line of wrong turnings and found himself at the edge of the promenade. He was appalled to see so many people gathered together in the one place and his first thought was how easy it would be for the android to wreck havoc here, killing and maiming all of those humanoids huddled together like a large flock of sheep waiting for the wolf to attack. He spied Councillor Donaldson on the podium addressing the crowd. He appeared to have them in the palm of his hand. Adam knew he had to get to Donaldson, tell him what he saw and get him to disperse the crowd. Once he was sure they were all going to be a bit safer at least, he could go and find Banner.
‘Not so fast Rip’. Adam felt a hand clamp on his arm as he tried to move forward. He whirled round and came face to face with Fjord.
‘Let me go Fjord, I need to get to Donaldson’.
‘You need to get out of here is what you need to do. You’re supposed to be lying low. I don’t know what passed for discretion back in your day but believe me this ain’t it.’
‘I need to speak to Donaldson now’. Adam tried to pull his arm away but Fjord wasn’t letting go anytime soon. Harry came up behind Fjord and hit him at the base of his neck. Fjord fell like a stone, releasing his grip on Adam. One of Fjord’s security team witnessed the fracas and pulled his weapon. He fired just above Adam’s head. Adam crouched down instinctively and tried to pinpoint who was shooting at him. Harry had already seen him however and went racing straight towards the guard. The guard repositioned himself so he could aim the gun at Harry but he’d misjudged Harry’s speed.
Harry crashed into the guard, falling on top of him as he knocked him to the ground. The guard’s weapon discharged as he fell and hit one of the lights in the ceiling of the promenade. The other guards already had their guns drawn as they ran towards Adam and Harry.
The crowd turned away from the Councillor as the first shot rang out to see what all the excitement was about. ‘What now?’ Donaldson asked himself as he scanned the periphery of the crowd to find Fjord. He saw Harry crash into one of the guards, then spotted Adam out of the corner of his eye. ‘I might have known’, he thought to himself as the guards posted themselves around Harry and Adam. ‘Take them to security’, he shouted to the guards. He wanted Adam out of the way before someone recognised him. He could hear Adam shout as he tried to wrestle free from the guards but he couldn’t work out what he was saying.
Captain Banner was a worried man. Ocean Baxendale was indeed in engineering and had been working on the computer mainframe when he walked in. ‘Ocean, am I glad to see you!’ he greeted.
‘Sorry Captain, I’m a bit busy at the moment, can you come back later?’ Ocean was not known for her people skills and regularly opted to send her deputy to Council meetings unless she was specifically ordered to attend. She always gave the impression that her perfect world would consist of Ocean and the computer being totally cut off from the rest of the station. When she wasn’t on duty, she was invariably in her room re-writing the old technical manuals.
‘No, I can’t Ocean. In case you haven’t noticed, the red alert is sounding all over The Ship. People are scared and I need to know if it’s a glitch or if we’re really in trouble’.
‘I’m running diagnostics now. Communications are also down and so is our internal camera system’.
‘I know about communications, internal visuals being off-line is new but it all started with us losing externals scans and visuals’. Ocean furrowed her brow.
‘Why don’t I know about that?’ She didn’t appear to be talking to the Captain, the question seemed to be directed to the mainframe. Her reaction wrong footed Banner.
‘Er… we were doing routine scans on Earth and all the systems failed. Everything else has happened since’.
‘So basically I’ve been rummaging around in the wrong area. If you want to pull out a weed successfully, you need to ensure you get the roots. That’s what I should be doing, working from the root of the problem. Thank you Captain, you’ve been most helpful, you can go now’. She had continued to address the mainframe in a dreamy fashion as she spoke.
‘I’m sorry Ocean, are you trying to dismiss me?’ Banner shouted, partly to grab Ocean’s attention, partly to let her know who was in command but mostly because he didn’t know how else to react.
‘I’m sorry sir’. Ocean blushed, ‘What I meant was, that you’re probably pretty busy with everything that’s going on. I was just trying to reassure you that I’m on the case’.
‘You know Ocean, you should spend more time with people, it would help you build up your social skills’.
‘Yes sir’. Banner didn’t have anything to add. He was about to head back to his office to check on Adam and before reporting back to Donaldson when he heard Ocean let out a cry.
‘What’s wrong Ocean?’
‘It’s definitely not a glitch. The system’s infected by some kind of virus that’s shutting off our systems methodically, almost as though it knows what it’s doing’.
‘Can you kill it?’
‘Given time, sure but we’ve got bigger problems’.
‘Ocean, the computer runs all the systems on The Ship, what problem could be bigger than this?’
‘The virus just shut off life support. We’ve got about two hours before everyone asphyxiates and dies’.
‘Perfect! You’re going to have to get life support back on line’.
‘If I’m going to heal the virus, I need to start at the root, work out the core programming and write a cure. That cure has to attack the virus and destroy it’.
‘I understand the theory Ocean’.
‘What you don’t grasp Captain is that it won’t be done inside two hours. We’ll all be dead before I can even get close to healing the virus’. Banner considered the news.
‘So basically you need more time?’ Ocean nodded. ‘Is there anyway to extend the oxygen supplies on the Ship?’ Ocean started to shake her head then stopped.
‘The Hydroponics Lab!’
‘What about it?’
‘The Hydroponics Lab is used to replenish our oxygen supplies. We pump the carbon dioxide we exhale into the lab, the plants convert it into oxygen and we pump it back into life support. If life support is shut off, then the pumps in the lab won’t be working. That warehouse will give us plenty of oxygen. It’s a self contained unit so the virus can’t do anything to it other than switch the pumps on and off. There’s a terminal link up there that I can use. If we can get everyone into the lab, we can all stay alive long enough for me to sort out this virus’.
‘Ocean, I could kiss you! I want you to go to Hydroponics now, start working on that virus. I’ll start directing everybody to the lab. It’s going to get crowded down there’.
Ocean didn’t reply to the Captain’s comment. As methodically as possible, she collected all the tools together that she needed and left engineering for the Hydroponics lab. Banner followed her out, making his way to his office. His mind was racing. He couldn’t keep all the strands of what he’d been experiencing recently together. Adam, life on Earth, some despot enslaving his fellow man, a virus, sleepers. He stopped walking. He needed to focus. He closed his eyes and concentrated on clearing his mind. He had one goal just now, the survival of everyone on The Ship. That had to be his priority. Satisfied that he was back on task, he continued the journey to his office.
Hearing the commotion along the adjacent corridor, he turned his head to see Adam and Harry being manhandled along the corridor by four security guards. ‘What now?’ he asked himself before heading in their direction. Catching up with the guards, he stopped them in their tracks. ‘What’s going on here?’
‘Sir, these two were being disruptive in the promenade. This one,’ the guard nodded at Harry, ‘knocked our Head of Security, Fjord Patterson, unconscious’. Banner tried to hide a smile and failed.
‘Did he indeed? Okay Adam, what were you and the silent assassin doing out of my office?’
‘Well Harry and I got to talking and we decided we’d worn out our welcome so we figured it would be prudent if we took our leave but we took a wrong turning…’
‘Carry on men’. Banner had had enough of Adam’s antics. He had bigger worries and having Adam locked up and out the way would be one less thing on his mind. If he asphyxiated in the process then that would be a bonus. He turned to leave.
‘Captain, listen to me! There’s an android on the station that looks the image of the ones on Earth. It was going to attack me!’
‘Is there anyone in the Universe you haven’t annoyed?’ Banner stopped in his tracks. There were no androids on The Ship only work bots and they were only three feet tall and on castors.
‘It was going on about destroying humanity!’ Banner made the link with the computer virus.
‘Where is it now?’
‘I locked it in the storage cupboard I found it in’.
‘Nice going, you’ve probably pissed off a homicidal robot. Where is this storage room?’
‘I don’t know, we were kind of lost at the time’.
‘L31’, Harry interjected. Adam looked at him. ‘All the corridors have different numbers’, Harry explained. Adam was speechless, he hadn’t even noticed the numbers. All those corridors he’d walked down with Penny and not once did it register with him that the corridors were sign posted.
‘Okay, we’ll get into that later, we’ve got bigger problems’. Adam arched his left eyebrow in surprise. He couldn’t imagine a bigger problem that a killer robot. ‘Life support is offline. There’s less than two hours of air left on the station. Everyone needs to head to the Hydroponics Lab immediately. With communications down that means we’re going to have to cover every inch of The Ship to make sure everyone gets the message. You,’ he nodded at the nearest guard, ‘take Adam and Harry to Hydroponics; I don’t want them getting lost again. Stay with them and if they so much as breathe funny, shoot them. You,’ he barked at the next guard, ‘head to my office and tell the professor to go to hydroponics then go back to the promenade. You two, come with me’. Banner headed to the promenade.
Fjord was back on his feet when Banner arrived. He looked a little flushed but otherwise unhurt. He nodded to Fjord in acknowledgement and pushed through the throng, heading for the podium where Councillor Donaldson was still holding court. Donaldson looked at Banner in surprise and completely misread the situation. He addressed the crowd with a big smile on his face. ‘Here comes Captain Banner now to keep us informed with the work our wonderful technicians and engineers are doing to fix the fault’. Banner stepped onto the podium and whispered in the Councillor’s ear.
‘Life support has failed, we’ve got less than two hours’. Donaldson paled visibly at Banner’s words and it took him a few moments to rally himself. With a shaky smile he faced the citizens of The Ship. ‘Friends, Captain Banner has an important announcement to make. I want you to listen carefully and follow his instructions’. He moved aside to allow Banner to take centre stage. ‘Try not to panic them’, he whispered, ‘we don’t want a riot on our hands’.
‘Evening everyone. As you are well aware, we are having some difficulty with our station’s systems. We want to use this time to practice some new emergency protocols. I want everyone to make their way to the Hydroponics Lab. That is going to be our new emergency congregation centre’. Banner winced at his clumsy use of words. He was thankful he wasn’t a politician. ‘As you probably know, our communications are down so we cannot issue a station wide alert. If you are aware of anyone who is missing from the promenade, kindly let our Head of Security, Fjord Patterson, know their names. My security guards will search the entire station to ensure everyone gets the message. As with all emergency procedural drills, we will be timing how long it takes to complete the drill. You are expected to make your way to the lab in an orderly manner. I’d like the registered fire marshals to make their way to the front. Once I’ve given them their instructions, they will guide you to Hydroponics via the specified route. Does everyone understand my instruction?’ There was a mutual murmuring in the crowd that Banner took as assent as he signalled Fjord over.
Donaldson pulled him to one side. ‘What do you mean, life support is offline?’
‘That’s not the worst of it, there’s apparently a homicidal android on board as well’.
‘Will you tell me what’s going on?’ he hissed.
‘I don’t have the time Councillor. Once I’m satisfied everyone is safe, I’ll give you a full briefing’. Donaldson’s jaw dropped open. He wasn’t used to being told no. He considered arguing the point but accepted that Banner was right about one thing, time was of the essence. He didn’t have time to acknowledge Banner’s last statement. The Captain had already moved on to give the fire marshals strict instructions to avoid L31. Donaldson meekly joined the throng to await being guided to the Hydroponics Lab.
Fjord reached Captain Banner just as he’d finished his briefing to the marshals. ‘Ah Fjord, so glad you could make it’.
‘What the hell is going on Banner? New emergency protocols my eye and Councillor Donaldson looks as white as a sheet!’
‘That’s because I told him that life support has been shut down, we have under two hours of air left and there’s a robot on the loose and it’s out for our blood’. Fjord visibly gulped.
‘What do you mean there’s a robot out for our blood? Says who? Where’s it come from?’
‘And you believe him?’
‘No but I believe the young man that’s with him’.
‘That hooligan? He hit me!’
‘I heard but I don’t have time to give him a medal just now’.
‘I don’t like your tone Banner’. Banner held up his hands in appeasement.
‘Okay, enough. We don’t like each other but we’ve learned to live with it. Right now we’ve got a bigger problem and I need your co-operation so truce?’
‘You know me Captain, I’m not one to bear grudges. The responsibility of the job comes first.’
‘Good man Fjord. I knew I could rely on you in a crisis. One of the guards is keeping an eye on Adam, I need two of your toughest guards to come with me while I investigate this robot claim and I want you and the rest of your team to secure the station and round up every stray you can find and get them to Hydroponics. You’ve got an hour. I’m not risking your lives on the chance we’ve got our sums wrong’.
‘On my way. You can have Amsterdam and Canal. They’re not the brightest but they follow instructions and are two of the strongest men on the station’. Banner smiled at the thought of two guards dumber than Fjord and nodded his acceptance.
Amsterdam and Canal were huge men who looked like they could tear Banner apart without breaking sweat. He felt more comfortable trying to find this android with them in tow. He quickly explained what they were doing and the three of them made their way to L31. With only the emergency night lighting on, Banner became more aware of the dark shadows it cast down the corridor. ‘Perfect’, he thought. He’d grown up on the station and had never once felt threatened in his home environment. Now though, the dark corridors made his flesh crawl. Subconsciously all three of them began walking slower as they walked down L31. The door to the storage room had been ripped open. The android was gone.
Banner examined the destroyed door. ‘That must be one strong robot sir’, Amsterdam observed.
‘You don’t think a man could do this?’
‘No way sir, Canal and me are the strongest guys on The Ship and we couldn’t do this’.
‘You sure? You do look pretty strong’. Amsterdam turned slightly red.
‘We’ve er, tried sir’. Banner smiled.
‘Don’t worry lad, your secret’s safe with me’. Banner had to work out where this creature had gone. He found himself debating whether “creature” was an accurate description and forced his mind back on task. Adam had had contact with this thing. He’d tried to lock it in the storage cupboard and ran back the way he’d came. If he’d been the robot, he’d have sought out Adam. From Banner’s quarters, Adam could only have reached the storage room from the other end of the corridor. That’s where he’d go if it was him. Adam ended up at the promenade but there’d been no sign of any robot when he’d got there so they couldn’t be that far behind it. He signalled to the two guards to follow him.
Chicago Jones was going through the main personnel quarters where the majority of the crew lived, including himself. He had a master code to open all the individual rooms and he was going through them systematically to ensure every room was empty. So far he hadn’t found anyone. He considered the task that Fjord Patterson had given him to be pointless. No-one could sleep through the shrill alert siren, he was sure those who hadn’t headed for the promenade were on shift and carrying out their duties. He was surprised then when he opened one of the doors to see a young female still lying in bed, snoring away. ‘Miss’ he called out as he switched on the light, ‘Miss wake up! The Ship’s on red alert!’
Peninsula Grade was having a nice dream where she was singing to the plants in the Hydroponics Lab. The plants were swaying in time to the music and she felt entirely fulfilled. From somewhere out of the periphery of her dream, she could hear someone calling to her. She slowly stirred in her bed, stretched and sat up. ‘That’s the best sleep I’ve had in years’, she said between yawns. ‘What’s going on?’ she asked Chicago Jones.
‘Can’t you hear the siren?’ he wondered if she was perhaps deaf.
‘Of course I can hear the siren, I’m awake aren’t I? Why is the siren going off?’ She couldn’t understand what was so difficult about her original question.
‘The Captain has instigated a new emergency drill. Everyone has to make their way to the Hydroponics Lab’.
‘The lab? That’s where I work! I’m a botanist, why don’t I know about this?’ She didn’t give Chicago a chance to answer. ‘Oh my God, the plants! You can’t have all those people there, the ecological impact will affect The Ship for a generation at least. I need to get dressed’. She began discarding the clothes she’d been sleeping in.
‘Er, miss’, the rather embarrassed Chicago called, trying to attract her attention.
‘Are you still here? Get out, I’m trying to get dressed!’
‘Miss, emergency procedures are in place you…’
‘That gives you the right to be a pervert?’
‘What? No but you need to…’
‘Get out!’ she yelled. Despite himself, Chicago Jones clambered out of her quarters and closed the door.
His initial though was that Fjord Patterson was going to be pissed. He’d been given the simplest task available and he was messing it up. He realised he hadn’t finished checking all the quarters and hurriedly set about finishing his task. He’d only had time to check another four rooms before Penny exited her room. ‘I’m ready! Let’s go already’.
‘Just a minute miss, I need to finish checking the rest of the quarters’.
‘Are you cracked? Do you think anyone slept through that noise?’
‘You did miss’.
‘Do I strike you as being like everyone else?’
‘No miss, I can honestly say you’re not like anyone else I’ve ever met’.
‘Good that’s settled. Let’s go already!’ Peninsula walked on ahead. Chicago was left with no option but to follow her. Luckily for him, she was heading in the right direction. He quickened his step until he caught up with her just before they reached the promenade. As they entered the promenade, the sirens went off, leaving them in complete silence.
‘The place is so empty. It’s never this empty, not even in the early hours of the morning. Do you find it eerie?’ she didn’t pause for a reply, ‘I often walk about The Ship in the early hours, I don’t sleep very well, but even then there are engineers, security guards, young couples’. She paused momentarily, ‘Our voices really carry when it’s this empty don’t they?’ Chicago would have told her that he wouldn’t know but he still wasn’t allowed to get a word in edgeways. ‘I imagine this is how we’d sound walking through a large cave on Earth. Do you ever think about what it would have been like living on the planet? I do all the time. I often wonder what the different plants feel like, smell like, the ones we don’t have on The Ship that is, I know what the ones on The Ship feel and smell like. Did I tell you I was a botanist? What was that?’
They were halfway through the promenade when they heard the sound of something being knocked over or dropped from somewhere behind them. Chicago signalled to Peninsula to stay quiet and she surprised him by complying. Chicago turned round, laser at the ready. Sweat was beginning to bead on his forehead as he scanned the promenade. There was another sound to his right. Chicago swirled round just as the android stepped into the main promenade from behind one of the pillars that marked out the dais where Councillor Donaldson had held court earlier. Penny let out a high-pitched scream. Startled by the sudden noise of Penny’s scream, Chicago dropped his laser. He bent down to pick it back up as the android strode towards him.
It was lumbering over him, reaching out to grab him when a laser blast halted it in its tracks. ‘Run!’ Banner shouted, hoping Peninsula Grade and the young guard would head towards his voice. As soon as Canal had stopped firing at the android, it reached out to grab Chicago. He scrambled backwards to move away from it. Another burst of laser fire halted it in its tracks again and Chicago got back on his feet and headed towards Captain Banner. Penny was already there, holding on to Amsterdam for protection.
Once the laser fire stopped, the android began moving towards the group. Canal fired again to stop it moving closer. Banner joined in the firing as he glanced towards Amsterdam. ‘Get these two down to the Hydroponics Lab, Canal and me will hold off the android. We’ll catch up with you as soon as possible’.
Banner and Canal took turns sustaining laser blasts at the android. ‘We’re not even scratching it Captain’, Canal shouted nervously, ‘I don’t know how long we can keep this up for’.
‘You’re right, we’re going to have to make a run for it and hope we can lose it in the corridors. Get ready, we’re going on the count of three’. At three, they ran as fast as they could. Banner was in front taking Canal down a series of corridors before heading for the Hydroponics Lab. From what Banner had seen, the android wasn’t a runner so he was hoping they could lose it so that it couldn’t follow them to the lab.
By the time they got to the lab, they were exhausted and gasping for breath. Banner recognised that the air was getting thinner. He was hoping Ocean’s theory about the lab was correct because they didn’t have much time left. He pressed the intercom button, announced himself and the door slid open. Banner and Canal virtually fell into the room. Two of Fjord’s guards helped them to their feet and the professor hurried over to ensure they were alright. Banner waved him away as he scanned the inhabitants of The Ship, now crammed into the Hydroponics Lab, looking for Ocean.
The Hydroponics Lab was the largest area of The Ship and it was filled with rows and rows of high yielding oxygen plants and vegetables. It was a calm, serene area, carefully temperature controlled to maintain an ecological balance. The botanists that worked there always worked in relative silence. A lot of The Ship’s population booked time to spend in the lab to meditate. Because the botanists were so protective of the lab’s ecology, only two “outsiders” as they called everyone else, were allowed in at any one time and the lab was general booked out three months in advance.
Today, the lab was in chaos. To allow as big a space as possible, the rows of plants had been moved beside each other by one side of the room. All Banner could see were thousands of scared faces. He had never felt the responsibility of being The Ship’s Captain more than he did at that point. There was a parting in the crowd and Councillor Donaldson pushed his way through, accompanied by Fjord Patterson. ‘Perfect’, Banner murmured as the Councillor approached.
‘Banner, I want to know what’s going on and I want to know now!’
‘Councillor, attending to you ignorance is not my priority right now. If you want to help, you can tell me where our head techie, Ocean Baxendale, is’.
‘Dammit Banner, the Councillor asked you a question and he deserves an answer’, Fjord growled as he tried to stare menacingly at Banner. Banner ignored him.
‘She’s at one of the terminal points at the far wall’, Donaldson conceded, ‘Once you’ve had you little tête-à-tête, I want a full report’. Banner started to move toward the far wall but he was stopped by a very agitated Peninsula Grade.
‘Captain, I need to speak to you. I understand this emergency protocol was your idea. As The Ship’s senior botanist, I have to protest. I was not consulted about this and I can’t even begin to tell you the ecological damage being caused by this carnage. Don’t you understand that it’s a finely balanced environment in the lab? Slight changes can be disastrous…’
‘Ms Grade,’ Banner interrupted, ‘it’s so nice to see you again. Can I ask that you lodge any and all protests with Councillor Donaldson, it’ll make him feel useful.’ Banner pushed passed Penny and continued to weave his way towards the terminal point.
Despite the cramped conditions in the lab, Ocean had managed to create enough space around her to work comfortably. She’d attached a programming interface to the terminal she was working at and she was typing furiously. When Banner reached her, he had second thoughts about interrupting her and he found himself hovering over her. ‘Captain?’ she queried without losing a beat on the keyboard.
‘Sorry to disturb you Ocean but I need to know what kind of progress you’re making’.
‘So you’ll disturb me anyway’. Banner said nothing, he just continued to stand over Ocean. She sighed, ‘Very well Captain, this isn’t like any virus I’ve ever read about. I went to where you thought it had originated from and I managed to catch a glimpse of its tail’.
‘Tail? You make it sound as though it’s alive’.
‘That’s just it Captain, in a way it is alive or at least automated. This thing was inserted into our system and it’s happily swimming about in there targeting specific systems. It started with our scanner, then communications, the life support and now our shields have been disabled’.
‘Our shields?’ Ocean nodded, ‘Can you fix this?’
‘This may come as a surprise to you Captain but that’s what I’m trying to do’.
Banner decided to ignore Ocean’s abrasive manner, he didn’t want to get distracted. He was trying to work out who could have infected the system. He didn’t believe any of the citizens would do this and there was no political gain in it which ruled out Donaldson, Fjord was too stupid, Adam… He stopped at Adam. Adam certainly didn’t approve of how The Ship was run and he had been an engineer in his previous life. He also appeared to be protective of the other sleepers and he knew their lives were in the hands of the Council. Could this be some kind of elaborate blackmail plot to waken the sleepers? Banner wouldn’t put it past Adam. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. He knew he had to find Adam among the crowd and put an end to this.
He didn’t have to look for Adam however, Adam and Harry approached him while he was still standing over Ocean. ‘I thought I saw you come in Captain, I need to talk to you’. Adam didn’t get a chance to highlight what he wanted to discuss because Banner punched him square in the jaw sending Adam backwards into the crowd. Harry tried to protect Adam but Banner sent him sprawling. Spotting one of the guards at the periphery of the crowd, he signalled him to hold Harry. Adam got back on his feet and was rubbing his jaw quizzically. Banner grabbed him by his shirt and slammed him against the wall. Still holding his shirt, Banner moved his faced to within an inch of Adam’s.
‘What’s this all about?’
‘I was wanting to know what your plans were for the sleepers’.
‘I know all about your little blackmail scam Adam, I’ve worked it out for myself’.
‘Blackmail? Scam? Look Captain, I realise this is a high pressure situation but I think you’re starting to crack’.
‘You want me to agree to the sleepers being woken up and you’ll get life support back on line right?’
‘No,’ Adam paused trying to work out what was going on, ‘I wanted to know what your plans were for keeping the sleepers safe. It seems to me that systems are failing all over the place and with the homicidal android on the loose, I’m concerned about their safety’.
‘How did you get the android on board?’
‘The android?’ Adam was beginning to question his sanity; the conversation wasn’t making any sense to him.
‘It was outside wasn’t it? Just waiting for the sensors to be switched off. It’s all been very clever Adam but I want you to end it right now before anyone gets hurt. I’m warning you now, if a single person on The Ship is killed all your precious sleepers die, understand?’
‘Captain, will you let go of me?’ Banner maintained his hold on Adam. ‘I don’t really know what you’re talking about but you seem to blame me for what’s going on. All I know is that life support is offline and you have a robot with serious issues running around on The Ship. I know it’s popular to blame the new guy but this isn’t anything to do with me’. Banner began to calm down. He realised this wasn’t Adam’s style and he figured Adam would want to brag about how clever he was when confronted. He released his grip on Adam’s shirt. ‘Thank you!’
‘What about him?’
‘Harry? No way. Trust me Captain, whatever is going on around here, it has nothing to do with us’.
‘Maybe, maybe not but you don’t seem to be doing anything deliberately so I’ll leave it for now but believe me, if we get out of this alive, I’m going to conduct a full investigation and whether by design or not, if you’re to blame in anyway, I’ll have you executed’.
‘Thank you for the vote of confidence’. Banner told the guard to release Harry. ‘So what’s your plan Captain?’
‘I intend to leave my Head Technician here to fix life support and then I’m going on an android hunt’.
‘If the android doesn’t find us first’.
‘Sometimes you just have to rely on a bit of luck’.
‘Cause you’ve been really lucky so far’.
Banner didn’t have to worry about not having a retort. Ocean crying out was enough of a distraction. ‘What now Ocean?’
‘The Ship’s moved out of orbit’.
‘So now we’re going to be hurtling through space?’
‘No, The Ship’s heading directly for Earth’.
‘Earth?’ He turned to Adam, ‘Looks like your going back home after all, how convenient’.
‘Captain’, Ocean interrupted, ‘with our shields down, The Ship will burn up on re-entry long before the station crashes on the planet’.
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