Adrift

The rookie quietly stepped into Lieutenant Grantas’s quarters. Light from the hallway cut through the dark but did not hint at what existed beyond where its rays landed.

“Sir?” the rookie whispered. He waited a few seconds then tried again, a little louder, “Sir?”

A sharp intake of breath was followed by a sigh. “What is it?” a deep voice asked from within the dark room.

The rookie straightened and replied, “Sir, Commander Brun has requested your presence on the bridge.”

“Answer my question first. What’s the bump?”

“It’s…we’ve come across a vessel.”

“An enemy?”

“No sir. It appears to be empty. Our scanners have not picked up any life on board, but the hull is possibly thick enough to prevent an accurate reading. Commander Brun has requested your-”

“Yeah. I heard you. Go tell him I’ll be there in three minutes.”

The rookie hesitated.

“Leave the door open,” Grantas encouraged him.

The young man left and Grantas sat up. The room was not much bigger than the doorway. Only a bed and a small table. Grantas was a minimalist. Not out of necessity, but out of fairness. He limited himself to less than what his soldiers received. The only luxury he couldn’t pass up because of his position were his own, private quarters.

He stood and soaked in the brightness as if it were sunlight. His tired eyes did not shy away. His frame was larger than the doorway, and he had to make himself smaller as he exited. He wore a simple t-shirt, standard issue pants, and black boots which clattered on the steel floor as he made his way to the bridge.

“You asked for me Commander?”

“Lieutenant. Sorry to wake you.” Brun turned toward Grantas as he entered. “You should move your quarters closer to the command center.”

“I’m fine where I am, sir. What’s the situation?”

“Straight to the point. We have an unregistered, seemingly abandoned vessel eight hundred meters starboard. Scans don’t indicate a threat or any heat signature of any kind.” Brun pulled up a hologram of the ship. Grantas leaned on the table to get a better look at it.

“If it were an enemy ship,” Brun continued, “I’d simply blow it to pieces and move on. However, there are no marking to indicate it as friend or foe as well as no signal coming from it to aid in that determination. It’s structure is also bothersome. I’ve never seen a model like this from any shipyard.”

“The cylindrical architecture reminds me of a pre-contact exploration vessel.”

“One of my initial thoughts as well, but the size is beyond the technology of the time.”

Grantas nodded in agreement. Something about the ship made him uneasy. “Have you tried communicating?”

“No response.”

“A warning shot?”

“Also no reaction.”

“I suggest a wrecker crew sir. Have them haul it to the nearest deconstruction base and use it for parts. Looks like it has plenty.”

“A fine assessment, but protocol dictates, if this is a ship from the pre-contact era, that we search it for any atomic weaponry and seize said weapons as both asset denial and procurement. Your first instinct made my decision. I want you to search the vessel and report. If it’s clean. We’ll call the wrecker and be on our way.”

“Understood sir.”

“Take as many men as you need.”


 

Grantas finished pulling his undersuit on and helped Mathis into his exosuit. Mathis returned the favor and they prepared to jump.

“I’d prefer to have more than two men for this mission,” Brun’s voice came over the comms.

“Two is plenty, sir. I assure you.”

“I don’t doubt your track record Lieutenant.”

Mathis smiled at Grantas before pulling his helmet on.

“Distance?” Grantas asked.

“Just reaching 600 meters now.”

Grantas raised his eyebrows to Mathis who responded with a thumbs up. They crouched low and prepared for expulsion. 600 meters was a lot to cover. In the vacuum, they would cover it quickly, but it still be would be dangerous. Grantas held his hand over the hatch release then punched the button.

They shot out of the hull directly toward the cold barrel of the empty ship’s engines. There was little debris around the ship.

“Applying jets now,” Grantas said calmly.

“Applying jets,” Mathis repeated.

Their suits began pulsing air to slow their approach and adjust their trajectory. Another thirty seconds passed and they landed within the domed engine pads. Two large holes lay ahead of them. One was the designed propulsion release. The other was obvious damage to the ship.

Grantas opened his comms. “Damage within the engine walls. Possible critical failure to propulsion.”

“Take it slow,” Brun’s voice called into their ears, “We don’t know what could be aboard.”

They entered the damaged area. The engines were cold.

“There’s no way this thing is moving again,” Mathis said.

“Engines dead. Damage irreparable. I’d get that wrecker crew on standby sir.”

“Confirmed. I’ll make the call once you give the all clear.”

Grantas and Mathis moved through the hull and into the innards of the ship. They cleared each floor of the living quarters and found no one.

“No atmosphere in the living quarters.” Grantas checked-in.

“Confirmed.”

“Make your way to the bridge and find a blueprint of this vessel. I’d like a designation if possible,” Brun said.

“Yes sir.”

They moved to the bridge. They found no atmosphere there either. Mathis tried a screen but there was no power. He popped a panel and looked inside.

“No go,” he told Grantas.

“Please confirm.”

“No power,” Grantas said. He pulled a small unit from his suit and hooked it up to what he guessed was the main display. “I’m using a portable to see if we can pull some data.”

“Proceed.” Brun said over the comms as Grantas finished connecting the unit and powered on the display.

“All escape pods have jettisoned. Distress signal was…disabled.”

“Confirm. You said disabled?”

“Correct sir.”

“I don’t like it,” Brun said, “Let’s wrap this up. Is there a weapons bay?”

“Yes. Centrally located. Looks like we passed it on our way here.”

“Confirm any atomic designations and get back to the ship.”

“Yes sir.”

They descended into the belly of the ship. They entered the armory. Grantas’s heart sank as the chamber extended beyond the lights of his suit in all directions.

“I don’t like this.” Mathis said over the local comm channel.

“Neither do I. Lets check the perimeter and don’t lose visuals. Make sure you set way-points so we can get an accurate reading. Then we can make ensure we search the entire area.”

They walked for thirty minutes before they came across their first munition box. It was six feet in length, three feet wide, and three tall. They unlatched and lifted the lid. Grantas hadn’t thought his luck could turn worse. Inside was a designation two atomic missile.

“Atomic weapon confirmed,” he commed, then signaled for Mathis to continue their search.

“Atomics confirmed. How many Lieutenant?”

“Sir” Mathis called out. Even over the comms Grantas could tell it was hushed. He made his way over to where Mathis was standing in front of another munitions box. Another was a few feet further. They followed the growing trail toward the center of the room where they discovered mountain.

“Oh my god.”

“Confirm Lieutenant. How many Atomics?”

“Commander. If I tell you to leave us behind, I want you to warp to the nearest weapons facility.”

“What going on in there?”

“It’s a World Eater.”

“Dear God.” Brun’s words were so quiet Grantas nearly didn’t hear them. “Get out of there immediately.”

Atop the mountain consisting of hundreds of atomic missiles was resting the head of a creature. It’s jaw extended into the darkness beyond the range of their suit lights. Grantas and Mathis slowly backed away from the creature as if their silent footsteps would wake it from its hibernation.

“If we detonated those missiles-,” Mathis began as they finally made it back to the door, but Grantas cut him off.

“Those things are drawn to radiation. They thrive off of it. If we detonated even one of those, let alone hundreds, it would only make it stronger. Our best option is to return with enough firepower, draw it out of this husk of a ship away from those things, and kill it.”

They moved as fast as Grantas deemed safe. They made it to the engine pads and jumped, blasting their propulsion gear to its max speed. They were halfway to their ship when Grantas saw another ship appear at the edge of his vision. It’s deep orange color and geometrical design immediately designated it as an enemy ship. Three more appeared, each twice the size of their own ship.

“Sir,” Grantas called.

“We see them Lieutenant. Notify me when you’re on board. We can’t win this fight.”

Mathis reached the hull first and opened the hatch. He entered and waited for Grantas.

“Maybe we don’t even have to fight this one,” Grantas said. He reached the hatch and closed it.

“On board,” Mathis relayed.

“What’re you suggesting?” Brun asked.

“Fire at the World Eater.”

“Are you insane Lieutenant?”

“Fire at the World Eater. Once we see movement from it, we warp to the nearest facility and prepare to return. Let them fight that thing while we make ready. With any luck, they take each other out.”

“But if they somehow do manage to kill it. They will have…what did you say? Hundreds of atomic missiles?”

“It’s our only chance sir.”

Grantas looked through the small window of the hatch as the enemy ships approached. They would all be dead once they got in range. He almost sighed in relief when he saw a projectile fire from the bridge. It headed straight for the abandoned ship, impacting near the engines. A few seconds later, the World Eater burst forth. Grantas barely caught a glimpse of it before his view turned black as his ship entered warp speed.

 

Breaking Free

They sat on a cloud and watched the city below. Each hugging their knees to their chests. Connie was thirteen. His body, however, was twenty-six with strong muscles, short but shaggy hair, and crystal blue eyes. Beneath the stained shirt and patch-worked jeans was deeply tanned skin littered with scars. He was born for labor in the metal factories and had been doing so for eleven years knowing nothing else. He met Brendan by chance.

Brendan was a year younger. Twelve years old, but biologically her body was twenty-two, and male. She had strong muscles made for heavy lifting. Her skin was pale due to working the night shift loading ships headed off-world. She first saw Connie by chance after her work day ended. She was exhausted and making her way back to her room when she was him heading toward the shipyards. He had just woken up, hair disheveled, and groggily walking through Lexington Park. His eyes were what caught her attention. They seemed sad, but also caring. She knew him in that moment to be someone who longed for a connection. Just as she had.

For the next three weeks, she would come to call him “the boy with blue eyes” because she was too afraid to approach him. She would linger in the park after her shifts see him. He always walked the same path and his hair always seemed to be disheveled in the same pattern. He would also have a burrito hanging out of his mouth most days. She almost believed him to be a machine like the rest of the population did. Bred for a purpose and treated like property. Not born but grown. But she knew his habits were his own despite being trained and regulated at every moment, because she was created his equal. She had her own habits outside of her parameters.

Her walk home had slowly changed course the previous weeks to coincide with his, albeit in reverse. Two men. One walking away from a hard day’s work, the other walking toward one.

“Hi,” she said in a voice she always hated. It was deep. Fitting for her body, but torture for her self.

“Hey,” Connie replied.

The interaction was brief as they quickly passed and headed toward their destinations. Brendan went home and thought about it the remainder of the night. Connie worked his ten-hour shift then went home to bed.

They repeated their hellos the remainder of the week. The next day started the weekend and the park had a few more citizens around in the morning when they passed each other yet again. Brendan’s body grew less exhausted as she saw Connie come into view.

“Hi,” she said, her voice a tad higher from her excitement.

“Hey,” Connie said. Then, just before they passed, he stopped. “What’s your name?”

Brendan almost continued but her surprise halted her stride. “Me?”

“Yeah, I’ve been seeing you a lot lately. Seems only right to know your name.”

“I’m Brendan,” she said. Her heart threatening to rise further into her throat and prevent further speech.

“Connie,” he said and extended a hand.

“Nice…nice to meet you.”


 

They’d perfected their routine within a few weeks. Every morning they could spend one hour together before their monitors warned them of breaking curfew. Connie would often have to sprint to work while Brendan wandered to her small cube. The room was the same as every other workers. Furnished with only a bed, a microwave, and a small screen in the ceiling. She hadn’t turned hers on since meeting Connie.

She would wake up a little early to meet up with Connie as he got off work. They would spend an hour together, just talking, before their monitors called them away. They tried not to talk about work, which was hard at first as it defined their lives, but they soon began asking more intimate questions. Learning each other’s quirks. The things that set them apart from the thousands of other workers that lived hidden in the city. Forced to their cubes when not working except for the trips in between.

They found the cloud a few days after they noticed the citizens eyeing them. During the week, the park was usually empty, but on weekends a handful citizens decided to enjoy the small patch of nature. The only one within one hundred miles of the coast. The cloud was an older installment meant to increase use of the park. It was a novelty that died quickly, but it became their safe haven. They would rise into the cloud and sit for their stolen hour before returning to the ground and parting ways.

They grew close. Shared secrets they didn’t know they had. Desires destined to go unfulfilled. Connie wanted to learn music. Brendan wanted to travel off world. Every night, she loaded ships with containers. Never knowing what was in them, but knowing it was something valued more than she was. Meant for people who lived lives above the labor she performed. She wanted to go out into the universe with what little time she had left. She contemplated hiding in a container but knew she would be found and returned if not retired.

“You could do it you know.”

“Do what?” she asked.

“Get off world. Find a life out there somewhere.”

“I’d be lucky to make it five minutes before getting caught.”

“But what if you weren’t?”

“You know how to get these off, smart guy?” she asked, lifting the monitor.

“I have a few ideas.” He said it jokingly, but a seriousness settled with the words.

“Real funny,” Brendan said. She tried to force a laugh but Connie’s face stopped her. “You’re serious?”

“I’ve been sneaking shards of metal from the yard-”

“You know what they’ll do if they catch you.”

“Just listen. There is more for us outside of these.” This time Connie lifted his monitor. “We may have been bred to work, but there is a life out there we could live. Even if they caught us in five years, ten, or even one, it would be better to than staying here until they throw us away. Any amount of time away from this life is worth it.”

Brendan agreed with everything Connie was saying, but she realized she valued his life too much when weighed against the risks.

“Think about it,” he continued, “We could build something for ourselves. We have to give ourselves this chance. You’re the only family I’ll ever have. You’re like a brother to me.”

He’d been holding these feelings back from her. Now that he had finally said them, he seemed more open about the idea and spoke freely as the weight lifted from him. She noticed how he grew more animated, but the weight he threw off had crushed her. Suppressed her own weight that she struggled with. Solidified the fears that prevented her from speaking her own feelings. From telling him her truth.

“What do you say?” he asked.

“I say…. it’s risky.”

He looked at her, waiting for an answer.

“But…” she finally added, “not impossible. We would need to plan it very carefully.”


 

Everything was in place. Connie would remove his monitor while in his cube where it would look like he was sleeping. Then he would meet Brendan as she finished her shift. She would have two containers ready with the necessary supplies to survive the deep space travel in the crates. He would remove her monitor and place it along her usual route home to reduce suspicion before they took off. Her monitor would get noticed once the two-hour time limit passed and she wasn’t back in her cube.

Connie arrived as planned and Brendan had him climb in the crate she’d placed out of sight of the other workers and foreman. She sealed it and carried it onto the ship. She loaded two more crates before grabbing her own. She stacked it on top of the field of supplies and hopped in during a brief moment when no one was looking. She sealed the crate as best she could from the inside and hoped no one noticed her absence.

A half hour passed before she heard the ship bay doors closing. The containers vibrated slightly as the engines came to life and an excitement flourished within her stomach and chest. She let it escape into a smile as she lay in the dark. She smiled despite the immense fear still gripping her. The fear that someone would open her crate and find her indiscretion. Find her trapped within the small space that was her entire life. She smiled through the fear at the life she was dreaming in that moment.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. The title story of this collection was the inspiration for the movie Arrival, which came out two years ago in 2016. The movie was good and when I found out it was based on a written work, I went out and read it. I’ve discovered so many good books because of movies and have seen many movies because they were based on a book I’d previously read. It’s fun when a book you enjoy gets a screen adaptation. It’s also exciting to discover new authors because of screen adaptations, especially when the old adage “the book is always better” rings true.

As for this case, the movie was based on a short story. This means the movie had more room to create new or original content. When a movie is based on a book, it often has to cut out material while also changing things to make them exciting on screen. With a shorty story, there is usually little to cut for a full two-hour movie and there is actually room to add some content.

There are some excellent stories beyond the title story of this collection. The first page opens to “Tower of Babylon” which made me immediately become a fan of Ted Chiang’s ingenuity and style (I’m actually wanting to get a book of his and read it right now).

A great thing about a short story collection is that you can put it down and pick it back up whenever you like because each story is complete and you don’t need to remember what had happened previously as with a book. I went through and read every story in this collection is short time though. Another great thing is, due to their structure, you can read them quickly and in between the busy tasks of life.

If you liked the movie Arrival, read “Stories of Your Life” which inspired it. If you didn’t like it, then read the other stories in this collection because they are great. “Stories of Your Life” wasn’t my favorite honestly. I liked it, but I liked some of the “and Others” better. If you’ve never read Ted Chiang, I suggest trying at least one of his stories to see if his writing captures your interest. The world of stories is vast and wild. May this gem just be only one that you find along your way.

Happy Reading.

Nothing Lasts Forever

Immortality has been a dream weaved through the history of humanity. In the past, many tried to extend their lives with medicines or spent their faith believing in a religion that would grant immortality once they left the mortal plane. These were tossed aside as more tangible steps were taken in the forms of technology. Many believed the key to living forever was to abandon their bodies and welcome artificial constructs. Though this brought them closer to their goal, it was soon realized that technology alone was not the solution as a human mind deteriorated within the data centers that held them.

It was a biotech breakthrough that brought immortality truly within reach. Trost Industries was the first to discover a seamless integration of technology and biology. A way to fuse flesh and machine into one harmonious entity without biological rejection or deterioration. The first successful case was a mouse. It was alive for two years before a rabbit became the second success. They both lived on base nutrients in the form of pellets. Not enough to sustain a normal member of their species, but enough to provide the materials needed to continue the regeneration of the biological components within these hybrids.

Within a century, ninety percent of humans had welcomed the bio-integration. Many social conflicts disappeared. Healthcare all but disappeared. Food became abundant as the need for it decreased. All prejudice and hatred was veered toward those deemed too stubborn to accept the integration, but no violence was acted upon as those outside of time simply waited for those within it to simply pass away into the past.

But the integration did not grant true immortality. It prevented time from killing those who had accepted the fusion of man and machine, but it did not prevent the heinous act of a violent death. Man could still kill man. Though their bodies were much stronger and could walk away from plane crashes and the crushing depths of the ocean with little protection, they were not truly impervious to destruction.

Astin Trost, owner of Trost Industries, was found dead on his island anchored above the city formerly known as Menlo Park. The following is a transcription of the final forty-three minutes of his life.


 

The sun was nearing the horizon of clouds casting an orange glow as Trost stared down through broken patches to see the city below.

“So that’s it then? We’ve given life while taking it away?”

A miniature hologram his board of trustees hovered over the table behind him.

“There is no need to worry,” Matthew said, the oldest of the group who still maintained the physique of when he first made the transition at fifty-six years old. “A few may be upset once we break the news, but our sample groups indicate a vast majority won’t be bothered. No one will care if they can’t have kids anymore. They will live forever.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” Trost said quietly.

“Speak up, Astin,” Miriam told him in the maternal tone he loathed.

“I said I’m not so sure of that.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because people are still dying.”

“Only in the most extreme events,” Paul clarified.

“And only when the victim is left damaged longer than twenty-four hours,” Miriam added.

“The population if effectively stabilized,” Matthew said, “Which will stabilize economies and only increase the wealth of the individual. What we’ve done is create a utopia. No one will want for anything. If they truly want something, they can work until they have it. There is nothing out of their reach now.”

“Except building a family. A future.” Trost finally turned to face them. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the window.

“They are their own future. We no longer have pass on our lives to others. We can continue to live them ourselves.”

“What’s really bothering you about this Astin?” Miriam asked. The entire board looked at him expectantly.

“I’m starting to think we aren’t supposed to live forever,” he said.

“Nonsense.”

“Hold on,” Paul waved Jackson down, “What do you mean by that Astin?”

“Physically we can thanks to this company.”

“Thanks to you,” Matthew said.

“But mentally,” Trost continued, “I’m not sure the human mind can withstand it. Remember when they first mapped a human mind onto an android frame? The mind deteriorated within a few years.”

“So? That was due to the risk of transference. It was impossible to get one hundred percent accuracy. With biotech, the mind remains in its original state.”

“Yes, but humans have always been selfish creatures. I look out there and I don’t see everyone taking the time to sit down and talk to each other as they had in the past. Without families, there is nothing to stabilize the mind as it progresses beyond what was previously possible.”

“You’re worried about development?” Matthew asked. He was surprised to find Trost worried. “We can invest in academia to promote the pursuit of knowledge. Hasn’t that always been a cornerstone of human curiosity? Combined with our exploration investments dated to begin next month, I think we’ve already addressed your concerns.”

“Perhaps,” Trost said and turned back to the window, “but let’s keep researching the reproduction issue.”

“We’ve depleted all possibilities,” Miriam said. She caught her next words as Matthew signaled toward her. After a second motion, the holographic figures all stood and left the table leaving only Matthew behind.

“What’s really troubling you Astin?” he said.

“I’m pushing one hundred and eighty years old Matthew. The oldest man alive. They cheer me for it but believe me when I say something is wrong.”

“An imbalance? Come to the lab and we can get you looked at and corrected within the hour.”

“It’s not an imbalance. It’s an intuition. A feeling that something is out of place. I’m beginning to feel like ghost. Clinging to this world when I should be in the next.”

“You don’t believe that. There is nothing after this life. What you need is to get out more. Go see some friends. Go have some fun. You’ve been isolating yourself too much lately.”

“Perhaps you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right. Let’s meet up at Vixels. We haven’t been there in decades. It’ll be like the good old days. Yeah?”

Trost turned and rubbed his face. He looked at the hologram of Matthew and nodded.

“Good,” Matthew said, “I’ll see you at eight.”

The hologram disappeared entirely. Trost went to the small bar in his study and grabbed tumbler and a bottle of bourbon. He turned his toxin receptors to the max and the filters off. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be truly intoxicated. All it took was a few sips to get him there. He held the small tumbler in one hand and fiddled with the inputs with the other. He perused news reports, videos, social sites, and took in everything humanity had and was making of itself the last several decades.

He poured himself another drink and continued his search to find worth in what he had done. An answer to the question burning within him. He searched and searched and searched. Drinking all the while. Refusing to stop until he found that answer.

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This book has a lot going on and it all works in amazing ways. I strongly believe that time travel is a really hard topic to pull off because there are many opportunities for plot holes or for something to leave the audience unsatisfied about. Even popular movies that venture into that territory often falter. This book, and the movie based on it, do a great job of avoiding the many pitfalls surrounding the subject. Just as it is for the characters in the book, the time travel element seems second nature/a random event that is both problematic but sometimes good.

The premise is Henry DeTamble involuntarily travels through time at random moments. He first travels at a young age (around 4?). He can’t control it. Every time he travels, he doesn’t know where or when he will show up, but his clothes never go with him so he ends up naked wherever he ends up. He has to find clothes and eventually just wait for the “jump” to pass because he eventually travels back to his original time and place from where he first disappears. Essentially, he lives a linear life but disappears every so often to visit other time periods of his life and other places he may have never been before.

Anyway, the rules are laid down and adhered to within the book and the fantastical element works extremely well, especially when creating complications for Henry and his eventual wife Clare. The movie came out in 2009, which I saw and thought was an excellent adaptation. I recommend both, but of course encourage the option of reading. Though the movie does have one scene that makes me hold back a tear. Not many movies do this but this one does.

Rare moment of vulnerability aside, this book does contain a lot of sex and drug use (not a ton, but enough to not recommend it to children/younger/immature persons). The movie cut a lot of those things out so it is safe to watch. They do show Eric Bana’s butt a few times though (I’m sure some of you may be pushing play on the movie right now because of that). Other than the few omissions of “suggestive themes,” the book is pretty much spot on in capturing the major moments and most of the smaller ones. Of course, movies never include everything in the book.

The story centers on the relationship of Clare and Henry and focuses on each character equally. It’s a gripping story that incorporates time travel extremely well and isn’t even a typical science fiction book that you might expect. It’s more of a fiction with the time travel element added for a bit of excitement (to put it mildly).

Happy Reading.