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Transdimensional Blues

Raymond Coulombe
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The Wizard's House

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Worlds Apart


Michael Bishop

I sat on the bridge of our ship “Golden Adventurer” trying for the umpteenth time to get a reading from the scanner. The display in front of me was lit up like a Christmas tree as system after system went down. The main computer sounded like an Angel of Death as it related a damage report that grew longer every minute. It is tough luck to be hit by a tachyon storm. Still, experienced deep space explorers such as Maria and I have learned to take the rough with the smooth.

This one was going to be pretty rough.

My wife was standing behind me watching the display. After a while, she said, “Looks as if I better start clearing the mess up.” She went to leave then suddenly turned and gave me a peck on the cheek and whispered in my ear, “I love you.”  

In return, I squeezed her arm and replied, “I love you too.” Then, she was gone.

Before the scanner joined the list of casualties, I finally got a fix on CD 1497, the star whose system we were here to chart, then laid in a course sunward. It seemed prudent to do so. If Maria and our astrobot Arnie could repair the “Golden Adventurer” then no harm was done. If not, then our chances of a rescue were much greater if we were on an inhabitable (and hopefully hospitable) planet. Assuming that there was one in this system. If not, then the only alternative would be months in stasis in an escape pods.

To me this is nothing less than a living death.

Suddenly, our luck changed. The main computer reported a planet in the biosphere. Immediately, I set up a flight plan to it. Then, I reviewed the meagre data from the scanner. There had been insufficient time for a full reading, but what had come in was the best news since the appearance of the storm. I immediately called Maria.

“There is an inhabitable planet about four days travel away.  Any chance of more power so we can reach it a bit quicker.”

Her reply was less than optimistic. “No. There is only one main engine left and it is  becoming a full time job keeping them running. If you want more power you will have to find something to shut down.”

I examined the board in front of me looking for a break. I did not get one. The only systems running were the one's we needed. I changed the subject.

" How about taking a nap? Arnie can easily take over from you.” She was sounding tired in spite of the stims that she had been taking.

“No!  We need it working on the thrusters. Anyway, with a bit of luck I will have one of the auxiliary generators working soon,” she spat in reply. I did my best to avoid snapping back. Rowing wasn’t going to help the situation. We would only end up hurting either other. Besides, she was the last one in the universe that I wanted a fight with.

Maria never did get to finish work on that generator. The remaining main engine shut down  so I had to send Arnie anyway. We were already on course for the planet so it was a dead hulk that drifted through space towards an unknown destination whilst it’s crew fought to get life back into it.

When at last the main engines was running again, I checked our flight plan and made a minor course correction.  Then, I left the bridge for an equally important task.  The “Golden Adventurer” was finished and it was now when not if we would abandon her. With the shuttle a burnt out shell, the only way to land for us land on the planet was by lifeboat or escape pod. Of course, the former are supposed to be able to survive almost any damage because everything is either indestructible or has triple backups. Still, I was going to check it over, just in case.

Hours later, I returned to the bridge. The inspection had turned out to be vital. The boat’s batteries had been drained  by the storm and I had had to re-route precious power to recharge them.

The scanner was back on line, but when I glanced at it, I wished that it wasn’t. The sight of its display caused my blood to run cold. Our destination had a moon, and a very large one at that. It had been on the other side of the planet when we had come of hyperspace and with the state that it had been in, the scanner had been too screwed to spot it before. And of course, the astrogation computer had not taken into consideration any other body when writing the flight plan.

I immediately added the extra data and reran the program. There was a short delay, and not just because of storm damage. Then I read the result. It was a sentence of death. On our present course, we would collide with the moon. On enquiry, the computer came up with exactly one alternative: shoot back out into space. That I knew would finish us. All main engines, even the one we had working were so shot so sooner or later  the ship would be running on emergency batteries alone. We had to abandon now and hope that the lifeboat could make it to the planet.

When I informed Maria of our fate, she took it like a man. My earplugs rang from the sound of some tool striking a bulkhead quickly followed by a flood of language that could be best described as unladylike to say the least. I did not wait for the luxury of a flood of tears. At the first opening, I brusquely ordered her to get the hell out of there. Then, I switched off my link.

After sending Arnie to the lifeboat, I went to our cabin to pack our belongings. On top of one bag, I put a small picture. It was my wife and I in either others’ arms on our wedding day.  I was in my best suit with a pink carnation in the buttonhole. For her part, Maria looked absolutely radiant in her long white dress. The sun was shining and our faces beamed with promise. We had been so much in love then. In spite of all the years that had past since, we still were. After gazing at the picture for a moment longer, I zipped up the bag.

I must have sat in the lifeboat for five minutes wondering where Maria had got to when I remembered that my commo link was still off. Guiltily, I switched it back on. Almost immediately, her voice came on over the air.

“Are you still there?” I replied that I was.

“There is a problem down here.” She sounded as if she was starting to panic.

“What is it?” I asked.

“There has been a radiation leak and it has trapped me in the engine room.”

 I thought for a moment then asked, “Shall I send Arnie?”

“No!” Her voice suddenly took on an air of confidence. “There isn’t time. Anyway the central module is probably too hot for it to enter. I’ll use an escape pod.”

I didn’t like the idea of that one bit. “Are you sure? Perhaps you could put on a suit and make your way along the outside of the hull.”

“No.” If I was starting to crack, Maria was now unruffled by the situation. “That’s too risky. I am better off in a pod.”

I gave up. This was one argument that I was not going to win. My wife can be very strong willed at times and I prefer to quit whilst I am not too far behind. “OK, then. But, once we are both clear, I will dock with it and pick you up.”

“Don’t you dare! You will need the power that you have for landing. I will be all right, dear. Honest, I will.” There was a short pause then she asked, “What is the planet like?”

“Just like Earth”, I replied. The scanner had given me that news at least.

“Then, I will see you when we have landed. Take care of yourself and Arnie, because I will miss both of you if you don’t.”

“I will,” I promised.  Then I added, “And care yourself.”

For the first time in days, everything worked properly. On the lifeboat’s display there was a clear view all round: Maria’s pod, the planet, that damned moon, the hulk that had been the  “Golden Adventurer”, even some space junk. Behind me, Arnie stood there softly whistling to itself and thinking about whatever bots think about when they have no work to do. Once I had turned the lifeboat towards the planet, I let the automatics took over. It was a chance to take well-earned forty winks. I rolled over on my couch and slowly drifted away....

Arnie’s warbling awoke me from my slumber. I hoped that it had a good reason or a particular astrobot was going to be turned into spittoons. At first, I could not see the reason for its alarm. Admittedly, the lifeboat was losing power faster than anticipated, but there was sufficient to run all the systems and still have enough to land with. Everything else looked fine.

The problem turned out to be the scanner, or should I say, what the scanner was showing. What I saw was nothing less than catastrophic. Maria’s escape pod was no longer matching the same course as my lifeboat. And it was nothing to do with it aiming for a point on the planet. No, its auto pilot had locked on to the moon and steering  in that direction.

At the sight of that, I went ballistic. I literally tried to seize control of the lifeboat by hitting every panel and button that I find, but to no avail. The automatics cut me out completely. An icy, mechanical voice ordered all passengers to strap down so that they would not injured on touch down. In my grief, I shut it out. My eyes were fixed on the scanner display, the rest of my senses dead to the world.

Then, the lifeboat swung round the planet and the blip that was my life slipped off the screen. In spite of that, I continued to battle with the controls in the hope of hijacking it. I was still fighting when it hit the ground.  

The next thing that I can remember is lying on the floor of the cabin, my head still reeling from a blow taken during landing. Arnie was standing over me. On seeing me move it warbled to ask me if I was OK. I was, but I did not reply. Instead, I hopped back into the pilot’s seat and prepared to take the craft back into space. However, the thrusters did not fire and when I took the trouble to investigate, I saw that the batteries were completely drained. In anguish, I smashed my fist down on the controls. My wife’s language on learning about the moon had been bad. Mine was even worse. It would have stripped the paint off the bulkheads had there been any.

In the end, I went outside to cool down and take a look around. The lifeboat had landed in a valley, marking its trail with a line of burnt vegetation. What plants had survived vaguely resembled bracken interspersed with a few bushes of gorse and some large cacti. Ahead of me were a couple of peaks and when I turned to gaze in the opposite direction, I could see that the valley curved down onto a plain. To get a better view of my new home I set out to climb one slope.

It was slow going towards the top, but when I reached it, I was able to look into another valley very similar to the one that I had just left. However, it was not that which caught my eye. No, in the sky was a faint white crescent, barely visible against the deep blue. The sight of it caused me to weep, half in anger, half in sorrow. Somewhere on it was my wife, dead yet not dead, alive yet not alive.

The pain within me was so great that I fell to my knees. It was doing me no good, but I remained there staring at the crescent. Then, I raised my fist in a challenge to it.

“I swear that I will reach you and rescue Maria if it is the last thing that I ever do. And God help you if she is dead.” Then I collapsed on the ground.

One month later. Life is harsh. The lifeboat has only limited supplies so I have to forage far and wide for food. However, whenever the moon rises then I stop and go to the top of a hill and sit and wait. If he is around, then Arnie joins me and places one metallic appendage on my shoulder, but I really don’t really notice it. Instead, my gaze is drawn to the light above me circling the heavens.

My vigil continues as long as it majestically traces a path across the sky before setting. Somewhere on its surface is Maria. Perhaps, her pod is lying in state on a crater-studded plain.  On the other hand, it could be sheltered within a tomb-like valley. It doesn’t really matter. Where ever it is there too is my heart, my soul, my all.

A rescue ship will come, may be tomorrow, maybe not for years. Nevertheless, one will come and then we two will be together again. Until then, she is up there. I am down here.

Read more stories by this author

2010-02-03 09:15:20
Well done story. Tightly constucted and engaging. The ending may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it fit in very well.

2009-12-11 16:38:11
It was a good story until you mushed it up at the end.

2009-12-06 17:58:15

2009-12-03 19:17:53
Ok. The story did not have the amount of action I like and the ending had to little infomation on how he was to survice. But it continued to read.

2009-12-02 20:48:19
Man, that sucked even worse than the average suck-ass story in here.

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