11 09 2009

The view-screen flickered to life. Jason and Atlanta looked on as Manuel navigated his way through the antiquated computer operating system. Brandon loitered in the background, taking no interest in the venture.

“The menus are in English,” Manuel was saying as he found the ship’s log portion. “Looks like the name of the ship is the Proteus.”

The Proteus?” The name was familiar to all of them. It was the name of the first manned ship to leave the solar system in the late 21st century and the last ship to leave before the Terrible War. Mankind had been set back a couple centuries with that war. It wasn’t until the discovery of the fifth dimension initiated a second technological revolution that man returned to interstellar space. “How is that possible?” Atlanta wondered aloud.

“They didn’t even have gravity field propulsion when this ship launched.” Jason let out a slow whistle. “In fact, the crew had to be put in stasis to even survive the journey. They had to leave everything behind knowing that not even their grandkids would still be around when they woke up.

Atlanta did a quick calculation in her head. “How did they get this far out with 21st century technology? You wouldn’t expect them to get even half this far with out a gravity drive.”

Jason looked over at Atlanta. The wonder he saw in her face made him smile in spite of himself. It was that look that had smitten him so long ago. She glanced back at him and he saw a darkness flash there. The spell was broken and he looked away, his face reddening with guilt. There was guilt for not being able to keep their ship out of the black hole, but even more overwhelming was the guilt he felt for attempting to harness her will. It was her adventurous spirit that he had first fallen in love with and it was that same attribute that drove him mad with fear – fear that he’d lose her.

Altanta leaned in over Manuel’s shoulder. “What happened to the crew? Do we have a ship’s log or something?”

“I don’t think they ever came out of hibernation,” Manuel said.

“So they’ve been just following their pre-programmed course for centuries.” Atlanta said.

“That isn’t quite right either. This ship is not on autopilot. In fact there is evidence here that someone has been tampering with the computer system. There is some encrypted code here that tastes modern.” Manuel said.

A sudden thought hit Jason. “Wait a minute, didn’t they find the Proteus? I seem to remember a news spot about it some years ago.” Both Atlanta and Manuel looked at him with blank faces. “Yeah, well I thought it was the Proteus. Some freight runners came across some ancient ship with one guy on board. He was mad as a loon.”

“You’re thinking of a different ship, I bet.” Brandon had quietly appeared at Jason’s elbow, startling him.

“Well, it looks like all of the stasis beds are still occupied,” Manuel said.

“Let’s split up,” Brandon interjected. “Two of us check out the engine room – see if there is anything here that can help us. Two of us take a look at the stiffs, maybe we can thaw ’em out, pick their brains.”

Atlanta cut a severe look at him. But Jason seemed to brighten a bit. “Alright, Manuel and I will take a look in the engine space and you and Atlanta can check out the crew.”

Atlanta was about to protest when Brandon spoke up again. “Actually, wouldn’t it be better to take Atlanta with you to the engine? She is the hot shot mechanic, after all. Besides I’m sure I can use some of computer whiz’s skills with me in the hibernation deck.”

Jason was about to say something and then looked at Atlanta. He clomped his mouth shut and started again. “Good idea, Brandon. You got the directions for us, Manuel?”

He no sooner asked and Manuel had a schematic of the ship up on the view screen. “How’s that for service?”






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