By Kenneth Shumaker
Episode 005, Northern Lights Purple Puppy
June 9, 2017
Challenge: issue 115
- Northern Lights
- Bev Riley
- High Prairie, Alberta
Our story takes place in Kenneth Shumaker’s 5th Galaxy science fiction realm of the Toran sector with the crew of the starship, Star Grean. Her captain is the enigmatic and sly thirty-six-year-old Veran humar male, Levan, who is default owner of Flind Exploration Corporation. Levan lives in a society that is dominated by females, ran by corporate political organisations, which obeys the female ran Venkaer religious institution. This is a society where no male is given the opportunity to command or own property. Yet, we find Levan to be Captain of the Star Grean and her crew, even with a Venkaer’s 3rd Purist on board.
In the previous episode 004 on 216:04:27:13:05
Still flying at high velocity, the crew of the Star Grean must deal with klaxons and alarm warnings of catastrophic failures and damages that are life threatening. One incident requires 3rd Purist Frena to perform five hours of life-saving surgery. With a large loss of their supply of air and a loss of fuel, the crew of the Star Grean deals with the emergencies while Captain Levan continues to pilot the ship through deceleration into an unknown star system.
We now continue in episode 005 on 216:04:28:06:08 with:
Life or no life? That is the question of existence in this new system of Tunda. It is Kni’s job to confirm an answer to this question for Captain Levan and the crew of the Star Grean.
They talk together – Kni and Levan – which seems to have spurred Kni into performing better than his previous efforts. The geobioscientist is busy at his station’s monitors scanning each of the star system’s planets and moons in search of life. He starts with searching for radio signals as signs of advanced civilizations, and then any anomalies showing signs of organics or atmospheres with organic compounds.
He joked with Levan about the planet that was found in the Ges star system that was discovered to have no atmosphere to speak of, but the planet had a liquid surface and a semi-intelligent species among its thousands of copper-based swimming life-forms. They had no advanced civilizations yet, and the humar left them to their own. The system is still uninhabited permanently by the humar, but is well explored and is being exploited, except for the three planets holding life.
When the Star Grean is closing in on the first planet, Kni informs Levan that he notes eighteen percent of the surface is covered with water, with a light one-hundred-kilometer atmosphere. Levan has also notes three rocky moons, one having a thick atmosphere.
Frustrated, Levan swears violently, “Damn the gods, we have trouble. There’s a damn asteroid belt coming up in our path. By my readings, the thing is too thick to go over or under now. We’re too close to avoid it totally. Where it’s at, directly in our path, it’s damn near two AU thick.”
Hitting the com panel control to the speaker monitors to all decks, he commands as calmly as he can. “Everyone, get into your manoeuvring couches, now! We’re going into evasive course changes in five minutes.”
He waits the five minutes as he gets into his survival spacesuit and straps himself into his jump couch.
Nervously, 3rd Purist Frena also suits up and straps in, saying, “What are you going to do?”
Shrugging half-hearted, Levan replies casually. “Change course, hoping to go over the damned belt and avoid more collisions with rocks. But we don’t want to go too high, so we don’t burn too much fuel when we’re recovering.”
At the end of the five minute warning, the captain clips the com again, saying, “Here we go.”
Levan rapidly adjusts the ship’s course with the drive thrusts, firing to adjust their course, aiming the Star Grean to go over the top of the belt of stones. Then, when he finishes, after nearly crushing the crew with his quick manoeuvres, Levan coms yet again. “That’s it folks, back to work.”
Almost two hours later with everyone strapped again into their couches and wearing their space survival suits, the Star Grean flies over the top of the leading edge of the belt. Suddenly, Levan sees ice and rocky asteroids directly in their path. He shouts into the com to Gunner Lieutenant Kendra. “Fire that laser, burst those ice rocks in our flight path, Kendra.”
Without a verbal response, the Star Grean reverberates as Kendra begins firing bursts, blowing apart asteroids that are directly in their path. Levan must make a few small course adjustments to avoid a few of the bigger chunks as they zip through the debris at over 5.5 AU-an-hour. Rushing through the rocks, the Star Grean still take hits as they’re flying through. Solar cell sail three is totally ripped off, and then ion engine two takes a direct strike, knocking it offline.
The Star Grean is still flying through the debris as Levan estimates that they have five more minutes of traveling through while he struggles to keep control and maintain an even horizon. Then, with less than three minutes to go, another small two-meter rock which he can’t avoid, smashes into deck five – the cargo deck – this is immediately followed by another strike to the deck four accumulator covering, taking the accumulators off the network, shutting down the laser. With a final burst shot, the laser dies, shutting down. They have a minute to fly through of debris, yet.
Levan goes into a mode of full commando, taking more drastic and aggressive manoeuvres to avoid obstacles so he can get the ship through the debris field. They survive the flight, coming out the far side without any more large hits. Levan has kept a clear level horizon for the Star Grean. He aims the star ship for its sling shot swing around the starboard side of the Tunda star.
Then, with no more manoeuvres to make, he relaxes before keying the com to all decks, saying, “We’re through. Report damages and get busy with recovery repairs.” He looks at his monitors and can see that they’ll pass the first of the system’s planets in ten minutes.
Turning to the 3rd Purist, he sees that she has her eyes closed and is still desperately praying.
Levan asks Talla, “Damages, Engineer Talla?”
After scanning the ship with sensors and reading his monitors amid the klaxons and alarms, the Senior Engineer replies, “We entirely lost solar cell sail three. Ion engine two is shut down, as are the accumulator banks, and deck five is airless with two large holes in the cargo bay. We lost nine percent of the volume of our air with the voiding of 96 k cubic decimeters of air from the cargo deck.”
Swearing vehemently, yet again, Levan says, “Damn the gods. Why? Why us? Are we really a blue bottle donkey?”
Laughing, Talla then replies, “Maybe, but that means we’ll return home as heroes.”
Clicking his com, Talla contacts the two junior engineers. “You two, get outside to patch the hull of deck five’s cargo bay; we’ve got serious breaches there. I’ll hit the accumulators as soon as I get my work spacesuit on.” He looks at Levan who nods in agreement.
The engineers work diligently for several hours until all three are finished. As they return inside, Levan gives them a rest break, along with the rest of the crew. Frustrated with events, Levan wants to yell at someone. Instead, he verbally curses the dirt god, Zorendal, loudly.
Hearing him, 3rd Purist Frena wags a finger at Levan, saying, “Males should not curse the gods, or we’ll in turn, be cursed with bad luck. Captain you should pray for forgiveness, revoking your curse.”
Chuckling, Levan replies, “Then this may be the root of our issues, as I often curse the gods when frustrated.”
Sighing in sadness, Frena says, “Then we need to make a chapel on board, and you need to do penance and start prayers. Start by revoking your cursing, doing it no more.”
Bowing to Frena, the Veran captain responds, “Yes, 3rd Purist, as you say. We’ll use the central deck mess hall for the chapel. I’ll pray during our rest period, before taking a two-hour sleep and then return to the command deck.”
Sitting idly in the command chair, alone on the deck, Levan ponders as to what effects his hour of prayers to Rendfendal can possibly have here. Here, far away from civilization and the bulk of the clergy. He had lain with 3rd Purist Frena after praying and eating, for nearly an-hour-and-a-half, trying to sleep, or at least rest. But his mind was on the Star Grean and her crew. They’re still in a high-velocity flight, in which a direct impact could obliterate any section of the ship. He missed seeing the belt in his early observations, making it too late to fully avoid the belt. Then he miscalculated the avoidance of the asteroids, causing the ship to take more damages … It could have been worse. He did spot the belt when it was far enough away to adjust their course; they didn’t fly directly into the central masses. But still, d … whoops … almost. Don’t make those prayers a waste now.
Looking up from his monitors, as he was scanning ahead for more objects between them and the Tunda star, he sees Kni arriving on the command deck. The young Lior scientist looks as beat as Levan feels. Likely, he never slept either.
Saluting Levan, Kni asks, “Permission to take my station?”
Gesturing to the science station jump couch, Levan nods. Without speaking, Levan turns back to his monitors.
Kni quickly takes his seat and then turns to Levan. “Talla says that the engineers aren’t able to fix the deep space radio, as the transmitter took a direct hit. So, we’re on our own out here, Captain … I’m nervous, to tell you the truth. Why don’t we just gather velocity and jump back out?”
Laughing at the suggestion, Levan answers, “We’re here to explore, assess, and report, to fulfil a government contract that will score us a cool one mil credits. If we turn tail and run now, we get nothing for our journey when we return. The total costs of the repairs and wages will come out of my pockets, and the Star Grean may simply have to be turned over for salvage, and you’ll be looking for work again, along with the rest of us. We’ll be disgraced with a blemish on our work records. But if we succeed, we’re heroes. I don’t give a shit if you want to run out of the system with your tail between your legs; I set out to do a job, and I’m going to finish it. I don’t fail. If you’re a quitter, get you ass off my ship – now!”
Going pale, especially for his dark Lior complexion, Kni is shaking as he whispers, “Understood Sir.”
Looking up from his monitors, now satisfied that there are no more obstructions ahead that need to be avoided, Levan gazes at Kni, saying, “Get me readings on those two planets, the best you can. Find out as much as you can – also about their moons, etc. With all the data you can glean from here, we’re going to be slinging shot around Tunda in a few hours, and I want to have a start on the data collection before we are in orbit of planet two … get readings on Tunda as well.”
Saluting Levan, Kni answers, “Yes Captain.” He eagerly begins working on the science monitor station.
3rd Purist Frena arrives with navigator Yar as Levan yawns and is rubbing his tired eyes. The 3rd Purist sits in her first-mate’s seat and pats Levan’s hand, saying, “You should have slept. How good are you going to be at flying this beasty now?”
Grinning, Levan replies, “I think we have a crewman who believes I can fly her blind. We may find out.”
Kni shudders, as does Frena; she grips and squeezes Levan’s hand.
The Veran captain turns to Yar. “So, you’re certain that this is Tunda, and that there are only two planets, their moons, one star, with the two debris belts?”
Nodding firmly, Yar says, “As certain as I’m here with you, Captain.”
Breathing out deeply, Levan replies cold as Veran berg ice, “Okay!”
Arriving later then the rest, looking somewhat more rested than the other command crew, Talla takes his seat as Levan asks, “Report on repairs?”
The senior engineer groans. “Our blue bottle donkey has taken a beating. We’ve fixed darn near everything we have parts for that we can fix. The rest will have to wait until we’re in drydock at a major port. We can’t do this too many more times, Captain.”
Levan chuckles and says, “And ruin a perfectly good blu …” the alarm klaxons sound as the bridge goes dark and emergency lighting comes on, lighting the command deck in a red glow.
Talla checks the series of alarms and klaxons as the Star Grean is careening about wildly and drifting into a sideway swinging motion.
Frantic, Levan fights with the piloting control as he’s swearing in the name of Zorendal while trying to regain his ship’s horizon. But he’s failing. Levan shouts to Talla. “I only have one ion drive burning. Shut it down now! So that I can use thrusters to gain control.”
Manoeuvring the few emergency controls he has use of, Talla shuts down the only functioning drive, the recently repaired and restarted, drive two.
For half-an-hour, Levan finesses the thrusters to regain his horizon. Returning back to even an straight forward pointing horizon, while Talla tries to assess their damages. Everyone has swiftly buckled into their couches for the wild ride Levan has them on as he is firing the thrusters.
Finally reporting to Levan, Talla says, “The accumulators are offline, and more than seventy-five percent of our electronics have shut down. Ion engines one and three have shut down for any ion burn. I’m not sure what happened, Captain, but we’re pretty much debris in space. Most of the monitoring systems, engine two, the laser, and most of the reactors are still functioning, along with the planetary thrusters and life-support … You were mentioning, blue?”
Hysterically laughing, Levan calms and then says, “Someone believes in my piloting? I’m taking the Star Grean through the sling shot around Tunda with ion engine two and planetary thrusters. Can you get me anything else operating?”
Humbly, Kni interrupts, “Captain it was a solar flare from Tunda that we flew through, burning us, kicking out our systems.”
Leaning back into his couch, Talla utters dejected. “We can’t go outside to work on the drives. We can work on the internal electronics, bringing as much back online as possible. This close to Tunda it’s just too dangerous to spacewalk.”
Leaning forward, Levan looks at his several dead monitors. Turning back to Talla, Levan says, “Do what you can.”
Sitting in the mess hall with his crew, Levan asks Talla “So repeat for the crew what you told me.”
Clearing his throat, yet again, and sitting straight and firm, the senior engineer repeats, “We have no internal ship’s defences left, nor are the geology computers going to be working. The accumulators can only charge to eighty-four percent because of their damages. We’re operating with seventy-one percent efficiency of life support, and it’s not going to get any better. Our air supply is at seventy-nine percent capacity and our fuel to air converters will only function at ninety percent ability, producing just over two-hundred cubic decimeters of air every hour. We’re in bad shape; we have one ion drive and the three planetary drives running now, along with all fifteen fusion reactors, but we only have two solar cell sails remaining. We’re going to start work on ion drive one, then move to drive three, hoping that we can fire them up and they’ll run.”
The sad look among the crew is disheartening. Levan adds, “You will all take a rest period at 29:15:00 for six hours. No exceptions. We’ll hope to be in a stable polar orbit at the closest plant in two days. I got us through a sling shot around Tunda safely. We’re now on a trajectory to an orbit of the inner plant which is a gas giant. Kni is going to assess the possibility of going moon-side for us. Maybe we’ll be gathering resources from the moons.”
Intimately, 3rd Purist holds Levan, cuddling on their bed as she tries to get the captain to relax. The crew is finally on a Galactic work schedule with their rest/work shift of ten hours each. They started the new rest shift at 30:00:00.
But even after eating a meagre ration in the mess hall with the crew, Levan isn’t finding it easy to relax, as he’s too wound up and invested in the ship and crew. He asks, “So you’re sure Private Horrace will live?”
Becoming frustrated with her mate for not letting go of work, Frena answers, “For the fourth time, yes. Now give me your hand and don’t pull away, no matter what you hear or see.”
Relenting and taking hold of the 3rd Purist’s hand, feeling her firm grip, Levan suddenly feels the sand of Torent Beach beneath his bare feet, and he sees the early morning rising bluish light of Mort on the western horizon. He feels 3rd Purist Frena’s hand gripping his hand as they stand there watching the small star rise. He can smell salty boric scent of the ocean air and her flowery petunia perfume. Shocked by the transition of arriving from their bed to here, simply by taking hold of her hands, he stammers and tries to speak, but then gives up. Squeezing his hand, she smiles at him as he looks up into her eyes.
Frena laughs and says gleefully. “So, this shuts you up about work. I’ll remember this. Shall we walk? I believe you said we have to be on the command deck in six hours and I want at least four hours’ sleep. So, this leaves us about an hour to walk, enjoy the star rise, my sweet male.”
Levan finally finds his voice as they begin walking the secluded lonely beach. This is likely the secluded remote north shore of the coast. He asks, “How did you get us here?”
She places her index finger to his lips and shushes him. “No questions like that are allowed, and no more cursing the gods, or Purists, is allowed, boy. Now enjoy.”
They walk for some time, with Frena walking them closer to the dark aqua waters of the ocean. Then, suddenly, she laughs rushing forward she drags him into the frigid water asking, “Do you know how to swim?” Already knowing the answer.
Not knowing how to swim, Levan begins to feel fear as he panics with the water going into his eyes, nostrils and ears, rising over his head.
Frena is kissing him passionately while trying not to laugh. They’re laying in their bed, nice, dry and warm. Backing away, she calms herself and says, “You dragged me into space danger, scaring the life from me. It was my turn to do likewise, boy. Now get some sleep, or I’ll do worse next time. I don’t have to hold your hand to take you over.” She snuggles up to Levan and closes her eyes after gently kissing his lips.
They lay there a few minutes as Levan digests what just happened. He can feel the imprint of the grains of sand from the beach on his feet, yet he’s certain if he checks there is no sand on his feet, just as there is no ocean water on his face. He wraps his arms around Frena and drifts into a light slumber.
Watching the monitors, as the Star Grean drifts into the equatorial orbit instead of the intended polar orbit, a thousand kilometres away from the gas giant, the crew assesses their situation. The beast-of-a-planet has an atmosphere of oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen, but also has a majority of the gases that are sulphurous in nature – a mixture deadly to any who venture into it, or who attempt to breath it.
The crew is relegated to searching the moons. Of the twenty-seven moons around this planet, only half a dozen have atmospheres and water; three of which have methane in their atmosphere or on their surface.
Life here is going to be tough for any humar type forms, but there is life beyond the twelve members of the crew.
Intensely 3rd Purist Frena is watching the lightning in the northern lights of one of the moons. She laughs lighthearted as she is motioning the video monitor. “To me, the northern lights of this one looks like a purple puppy.”
Levan watches the playback of the same feed, and he laughs. “Yes, a northern light’s purple puppy. Perhaps that’s the moon we should investigate. It has some life forms so we may be able to recover useable resources from the moon.”
By, Kenneth Shumaker
To be continued in Episode 006 on 216:04:31:03:00 …
Having arrived in an equatorial orbit of the gas giant, Levan wants Kni to assess the moons, to try to decide if they can acquire air to replace their lost air. The crew has issues happening on board the Star Grean as well. They discover something else unexpected.
© 2017 by Kenneth Shumaker with Inevitable Unicorn Press
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