Archive for August, 2012

Space Madness: Episode XIII

Posted in science fiction on August 29, 2012 by Alex

ORION’S BELT OF BRAVERY

“Welcome, citizens of Orion. Today is an historic day. A day we welcome back a brother from our distant past. He has spent over two hundred years in deep space, seeing wonders, and dangers, that few can possibly imagine. I remember when his ship first returned to our system, hoping that…”

Paps sat behind the governor’s podium, taking in the speech, waiting to be introduced to the whole colony. It was a good turnout, a couple thousand people were packed into the auditorium. General Salazar sat next to him, still as a statue. An official military statue to be sure, but he was not moving a muscle. Paps leaned over and poked him. “General,” he whispered, “how long can the governor go on like this?”

The general leaned toward Paps without moving his lower body at all. He was clearly well trained at sitting through long, meandering speeches. “He’s been known to spend over an hour introducing the guest of honor. He doesn’t ever want to be upstaged.”

“And my political opponents all thought I was crazy for letting this man, this hero, lead our efforts to bolster our defenses…”

The general leaned over again. “Oh, and it’s an election year. He could go on for two hours. It’s a good thing he doesn’t get to make any actual decisions around here.”

Paps nodded. “You know, just two days ago you guys were ready to throw me in prison for the rest of my life…”

“I still am. Just give me a reason.”

Paps laughed. “At least I know where you stand, General. This whole ceremony gives me the creeps. It’s artificial. Not a single person who speaks today is going to mean a word of it.”

“…and he was amazed at the progress our society has made during the last two hundred years. And how that progress has accelerated over just the last four years…”

General Salazar smiled a smile designed to be caught on camera. “This ceremony is not for you, Captain. It’s for them. It’s to give them a hero, a good story to tell, a reason to vote for Governor Stone in 6 weeks. It’s to give them a reason not to doubt their leaders, to let us go about our business getting some work done. So whenever he finishes this speech, get up there, let him pin a medal on you, and thank all the wonderful people who made this possible. Afterward you can go back to the station and drown yourself with a bottle of scotch.”

“You sound like a veteran of this process.”

“…the new technologies he has brought back have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the universe, and I plan on ushering in a new era of prosperity for us all…”

Paps was getting irritated. He hadn’t even met Governor Stone yet. Supposedly the governor was still afraid that Paps might kill and eat him if they met in private.

“…for the people, I, Governor Rocky Stone, do swear…”

Paps sat upright in his chair. “His name is Rocky Stone? What is it with people’s names around here?”

General Salazar was getting less amused. “You have a problem with my name too?”

“I wouldn’t, except that you look like you’re Swedish.”

The general returned to his statuesque pose. He didn’t want to know what ‘Swedish’ meant. Clearly it was some sort of outdated insult that the undisciplined men of 200 years ago hurled at each other.

And now, here to be presented with Orion’s Belt of Bravery, Captain Anton K. Pappas!”

An usher, or possibly a security guard, tapped Paps on the shoulder and motioned him to go onto the stage. Governor Stone held up a giant gold belt, reminiscent of a professional wrestling championship belt, walked over to Paps as the crowd applauded, and fastened the belt around Paps’ waist. The governor whispered into Paps’ ear. “Don’t say anything crazy up there, you’ll wreck the election for me.”

Paps was unaware that he was required to say anything. He whispered back into the governor’s ear. “Until three days ago, I hadn’t spoken to a single human being in ten years. What could possibly go wrong?”

Governor Stone backed up and led Paps to the podium, still wearing his public smile, but now there was fear in his eyes.

The applause died down as Paps stepped in front of the microphone. “Thank you… Rocky, for this tremendous honor.”

The crowd laughed, and Governor Stone laughed with them, uneasily.

“I have to say that it is great to be back among the human race after spending so much time in deep space. I’ve never felt more at home.”

The crowd erupted in applause. Paps turned and glanced in General Salazar’s direction, and the general’s eyes, and only his eyes looked at Paps in acknowledgement. Hal was standing next to the general, bouncing up and down and almost giggling. He seemed to know what was coming next.

Paps waved his arms to quiet the crowd down. “As you may have heard, I encountered an advanced alien race out there, and they were definitely not friendly. I have reason to believe that they may come here, to Orion, to wipe us all out.”

The crowd fell silent. If there were crickets on this planet, they would have been the only things making noise.

“If they decide to come here, however…”

The crowd was ready for a rally to war, a ‘we’re gonna give ’em what for’ type of pronouncement. The tension in the air could be cut with a positron beam.

“…they’ll probably kill us all before we even know they’re here. Thank you.”

The stunned crowd stood mouths agape. A lone spectator in the back began to clap, realized his mistake, then stopped.

Advertisements

Space Madness: Episode XII

Posted in science fiction on August 7, 2012 by Alex

THE CAPTAIN PICKS A CREW

Paps read the personnel reports, hoping to find some competent people for his crew. There were twenty names, and he needed to pick out three: a navigator, a computer specialist, and an engineer. The communications and weapons duties could be split among the crew. No need to have more nutjobs on the ship than necessary.

Of course, Paps couldn’t be completely sure that the ship needed a crew at all. The thing could practically fly itself. It just needed someone on the inside to push buttons and polish the displays. If nothing else, he wanted people he could get along with for an extended period of time.

“Picked a crew yet, Captain?” Dr. Capitate was not one of those people. Even when she was being pleasant, Paps couldn’t help thinking that she was reading his behavior, in search of some kind of ground breaking mental disorder. “I can help. A couple of those people are former patients of mine.”

This was getting better and better. “Have a seat. Tell me what’s wrong with these people.” He threw a couple of files on the table in front of her.

She picked one up and leafed through it. “Ah, Wendy Crowley, A.k.A. The Worm. Computer specialist. You don’t need a psychiatrist to tell you what’s wrong with her. She’s in prison.”

Paps reached over and flipped to the next page. “But the interesting thing about her is why she’s in prison.”

Dr. Capitate kept reading. “Oh yes! I remember her. She hacked into the military mainframe and released a bunch of top secret documents to the general public. Some consider her a hero. Most people consider her to be way too dangerous. She’s been locked away for about a year now, and hasn’t been allowed near a computer that whole time.”

Paps nodded. “I think she needs a challenge. I can’t think of a better one than cracking a system of alien design.”

Dr. Capitate hesitated before going on to the next file. “You’re not putting together an all female crew, are you?”

Paps laughed out loud. The thought had crossed his mind, but only briefly. “No, of course not. Get to the next one.”

She flipped open the next file. “Richard Polk. Engineer. Formerly a technician on Orion’s Lobby. Was dismissed for making unauthorized alterations to the atmosphere on the station.”

Paps wanted to know more. “I couldn’t find out from the report exactly what he did, but according to the file he is currently working in sewage treatment. I don’t get it.”

Dr. Capitate seemed to know something about this man. “First of all, Captain, sewage treatment is an incredibly important part of the colony’s operation, especially since the land won’t be fully terraformed for another 300 years or so. Second, Mr. Polk had a problem with the military structure on the space station. He always had trouble following orders, filing reports. He would often fix things that nobody asked him to and then not tell his superiors about it. The incident with the atmosphere on the station was simply the raindrop that broke the bio-dome’s frame.”

Paps sat back, startled. “Where the hell did that expression come from? Is that supposed to be like ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ or something?”

Dr. Capitate looked intently at Paps, searching for signs of mental instability. She snapped out of it and laughed smugly. “Look around, Captain. Do you see any camels in here?”

Paps looked around, as if expecting to a see a camel trot in through the door of the conference room. Stranger things have happened to him. “I suppose not, but at least it’s an expression that makes some kind of sense.”

Dr. Capitate sighed. “Captain, you’ve been gone a long time, so I realize that you haven’t absorbed all of our history. About 40 years ago, there was a movement to build up a distinct cultural identity for the colony. Some of our most talented artists, poets, writers, and linguists decided that we should replace some of the old folksy sayings brought here from Earth with new ones more appropriate to our new home.”

“And that’s what they came up with? And these new expressions caught on with the general public?”

“Well, they’ve caught on in academic circles.”

Paps couldn’t take this conversation any longer. He needed to finish picking a crew so this unnerving woman would leave. “All I really wanted to know was how…” he looked at the file again. “What this Polk guy did to the atmosphere of the station.”

“Oh. He made it snow inside the station during Christmas.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

Dr. Capitate smiled professionally. “It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that it waterlogged all the carpets on the station, ruined some of the equipment in main storage, and caused four shocks and severe burns among people working with high voltage equipment. It took months to fix all the damage it caused.”

Paps thought about this for a moment. It was apparent that the good doctor did not want Mr. Polk on board. “He’s in. Look at the next one.”

Dr. Capitate glared at him. “Professor Harvey Garvey. Astronomer. He’s done good work in theoretical astronomy and in deep space object detection. How did he get on this list?”

Paps shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe because his name rhymes. He’s definitely my navigator, though.”

Dr. Capitate stared off into the distance for a moment. “Aha! He was the work obsessed astronomer whose wife burned down his house!”

Paps was a little surprised at Dr. Capitate’s excitement level. “Work obsessed, huh? I’m liking him more and more.”

“He had some pet theory about a black hole that wasn’t a black hole. Used to spend months at a time at the deep space observatory orbiting the planet’s second moon. All of his colleagues thought he was chasing a phantom. His wife got so upset with him for never coming home that she burned their house down.”

“Sounds like his wife was the crazy one.”

“Yes and no. The engineers and architects who design all the housing units do their best to make them fireproof. All the walls are made of carbon nanotube reinforced steel, and access to flammable material is severely restricted. She fashioned something that would burn hot enough to melt the whole thing out of chemicals produced by native bacteria. She got a research grant out of the whole ordeal.”

Paps’ surprise level continued to rise. “She didn’t get thrown in prison?”

“I guess the fuel source she invented was too important. Professor Garvey has been holed up in his observatory ever since, either too afraid to come back or maybe just still obsessed with his black hole theory, or both.”

“How long has he been in his observatory?”

“Five years or so.”

Paps was pleased with this. The work obsessed navigator would certainly require more time with the ship’s shrink than the captain himself. Two asteroids with one laser. Paps didn’t want Dr. Capitate analyzing his every move. He didn’t want her to discover that he had regular conversations with an imaginary friend that was currently rolling around on the floor in hysterics. He didn’t want her to discover his growing obsession with finding and wiping out the Remotes so he and his ship could fly away and be together for all eternity. Paps wasn’t sure about that last bit himself.

“I think we’ve got ourselves a crew.”

Dr. Capitate had a look of sheer horror on her face. This made Paps happy for the first time in ages.