Breaking interstellar co.., p.2
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       Breaking Interstellar: Cosmic Lives Matter, p.2

           Michael Tobin
 
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  Chapter One: Cosmic nightmare this way comes!

  Collision alarms! .... Collision alarms, scream warning throughout the spacecraft; demanding attention! Flashing red lights illuminate lonely corridors and compartments; warning of impending doom. Gaining on, and intersecting with the spacecraft’s trajectory, is a 2,000-foot-wide rogue asteroid. It, along with 25 small moons, ranging in size from Ping-Pong balls to refrigerators, answers the call of nature, as its mass is drawn into a voracious gravity-well. Inside the massive boulder, vibrations and gyrations caused from the stress of ever-changing gravitational moments, fractures what took billions of years to accumulate. If not for the hard-vacuum of space, the noise would be horrendous, as the conglomerate of space debris crumbles without the slightest of mumbles.

  Slowly, the mass fractures and separates into thirteen smaller but deadly chunks, as it plummets to its doom. Nothing in the universe during those moments in time, could prevent the many pieces of mostly carbonaceous rock, from violently impacting with their final-destination. And, whatever gets in the way, will meet with an irresistible force that has no mercy. Mother Nature can be a cold-hearted adversary .... especially in the frozen hard-vacuum of space.

  Main navigation computers initiate avoidance procedures, while the ships pilots are roused from the slumber that has ruled their lives for the past three weeks. Heavy deceleration forces act on the vessel and occupants, as autopilot attempts to save the day. Out of the eternal darkness the vessel enters the reflected sunlight of the fifth planet from its star. It’s a massive planet, and has been classified by humans as a gas giant, and named Jupiter.

  Collision alarms scream bloody-murder, until someone addresses the issue. In preparation of actions to come, main computer sends commands to all crewmembers to wake up and smell the electricity. On the bridge, monitors illuminate, sub-computer systems come back to life with a hint of complaint as they click and buzz into action. Hundreds of gages and pushbuttons blink with illumination, as might decorations for a festivity. But these are not festive moments; objects colliding in space, is about as non-festive as one can imagine.

  Autopilot has inverted the bubble of the spacecraft’s primitive warp-drive engine, in effort to decrease velocity. The ships main target; orbital insertion at the seventh moon out from the gas-giant. By the standards of many other advanced species in the universe, the warp-drive onboard this spacecraft would be considered extremely crude. Almost akin to a bi-plane when compared to a modern-day jet-fighter. But, even the most advanced species had to start with such crude and inefficient drives, before advancements refined the technology. However, this warp-drive doesn’t de-phase from the universe enough to enjoy the byproduct of inertial dampening or artificial gravity. It’s just not powerful enough, or focused enough, to enter the slipstream fully. Only enough to gets its feet wet, as it were....

  With alarms still screaming their discontent, Commander Roe, First Officer Talus, and the rest of the crew, comes back to full consciousness inside their hibernation chambers. Next to Commander Roe a systems-panel displays pertinent information about the unfolding emergency. She quickly scans the information, touching an icon that cancels the audio portion of the annoying alarm. Once again, quietness rules the spacecraft. Domed lids open, and the astronauts begin the arduous task of exiting their slumber-prisons against the steady force of 2-g’s. Roe bumps her head real good, as she tries to exit the chamber before the lid fully opens. She mumbles a venomous curse, but quickly regains composure. Mistakes in outer space are rarely without consequence. If one survives the error, it’s a good learning opportunity.

  “Good morning, sunshine.” She greets her first officer, as he climbs from his chamber. “Let’s go see what all the clamoring is about.” She orders, knowing full well the trouble. “I think we’re about to intersect with trouble.... so shake a leg, Talus.”

  “Aye Aye commander.... Lead the way.” Talus replies, just as his foot fails to clear the edge of the chamber. Down he goes; face meeting with unforgiving deck-plating, as two-g’s cause an unforgiving climate for mistakes.

  After a world-class sigh, Roe quickly sees he’ll survive his clumsiness. “Jeez Talus, I think you dented the deck-plating! Now, don’t go and break my ship before we have the chance to save her.” Bending, she helps the young android regain his feet, brushing his jumpsuit of invisible dirt. In the face of possible doom, the crew has a good laugh.

  “Sorry Commander.... I’ll thank you not to mention this to the others back on Earth.” He begs of her and fellow crewmates with an embarrassed expression.

  “Maybe. We’ll just see how things go out here at Ganymede before I make any promises. But, you might consider polishing those rusty behavioral skills by the time we get back!” She jokes with a laugh. Talus puts a hand to his head, inspecting for a dent. He’s okay.... titanium-alloy is tough stuff!

  They fight against heavy forces, making their way into the bridge. Sensors within, bring up the light level, and fully illuminate the circular-monitor that circumnavigates the bridge. This gives the illusion that space is just beyond a false-window, almost as if the entire universe were laid bare, just beyond reach. The astronauts are in a state of awe, as they gaze at the huge planet that dominates a large portion of the screen. A humongous cyclonic storm on the surface, is in full bloom, as the ancient red spot beautifies the planet. Commander Roe has made the transit to Ganymede 5-times, and has never failed to be impressed, while up close and personal with the Jovian planet.

  To a novice space traveler, the large planet might seem as though it were about to have the spacecraft and crew for lunch. But, the seasoned astronauts know better. The striated planet is still over a million-miles-away, and Ganymede is up ahead also. At this distance, all that can be seen of Ganymede, is a tiny speck of light. A rainbow of charged particles, dance along its polar regions, as they light up the magnetosphere. Ganymede is the largest moon in the solar system. Also, it’s the only one that’s known to have a magnetic field protecting it. The beautiful aurora borealis isn’t due so much from the sun’s energies, but rather from interaction with Jupiter’s powerful magnetic fields.

  With time possibly running out for the proud ship and crew, they don’t dilly-dally very long with sight-seeing. Each, strap themselves into seats at consoles of their specialty. Roe; sits high in her central command-chair. Talus and Moxon who navigate, sit at the astrogator. Torg, the ships chief engineer, take his place at the weapons console. Orlin, the terraforming expert, at life-support. Even androids require life-support.

  Talus cancels the annoying warning lights while getting up to speed with the incoming data. “Commander, we’re being overrun by an asteroid.” He checks his data again. “It’s closing fast.... and breaking up.” The worst-case scenario.... a shotgun effect! While there’s a lot of space in outer space, sometimes there’s not enough!

  Roe sees the same data at her station. “I estimate about 15-minutes before impact if we don’t do something. Wouldn’t you concur?” Her mind races, calculating a way out of the mess.

  “Yes Commander, I concur. Not much time.... I’m initiating avoidance procedures, now.” He informs nervously, dialing up the warp-drive output past recommended settings. The drive is already in full deceleration-mode for Ganymede orbit, but like a champ, it accepts the new command, bearing down hard.

  However, the spherical spacecraft is heavy, and has built plenty of inertial momentum that strongly resists change. If it were resting in a terrestrial cornfield, it would tip the scales at 1000-tons. Veering the massive object as if it were a fighter spacecraft, is not in the cards. Also, none of them has a long resume for space flight. They are young and inexperienced. Simulator time was spent learning the basics, more than training for such a rare emergency. Android or not, some situations can rattle even the most seasoned of space travelers.

  A cosmic nightmare, this way comes! .... Roe scrolls through the ever-increasing data. The ships radar, paints a pretty picture of the terrible scene. Lik
e the Grim Reaper, the monster in the darkness comes closer, unseen yet deadly. “Torg, keep an eye on the thruster’s propellant levels.” She orders firmly. “We’re going to tax them good, if we hope to survive this mess.” Totally avoiding the ugly situation overtaking them, is now quite impossible, as it had developed too rapidly and responded to, much too late. At nearly 50,000-mph, slightly faster than the earthling’s vessel, it enjoys a closing rate of 1500-mph. It will soon be upon them.... Jupiter, is claiming it for a meal, and anything in its way will experience the wrath of total destruction!

  “Commander, weapon systems are online and charged. I have the debris field in the targeting system, so just give the word if you feel the need for some blasting.” He offers.

  “Thanks, Torg. Standby” .... She analyzes the data, devouring it with appetite. She soon realizes that firing upon the cloud of rocks will just make things worse. Making a command decision, that only she can make.... “Do not fire, Torg. But stay sharp, just in case. Talus, be ready to maneuver as best you can, when the debris passes. And Moxon, double check the fusion-drives. We may need everything, before this is over.”

  “Copy that commander.” Triple acknowledgments.... Anxiety, thick enough to cut.

  Roe thinks of her two prisoners, still in hibernation. “Orlin, please go wake the prisoners and bring them to the bridge. They have the right to face death with honor, if we can’t navigate this problem successfully.”

  “Aye Aye, commander!” Orlin, is pleased to have something to do, as his terraforming skills are not much use in this emergency. Three levels below the bridge, two androids are still in hibernation. Without the need to know, they never received the wake-up call. However, one of them has been constantly fighting the forced hibernation ever since leaving earth, and is having one hell of a time with bad dreams. Dreams of entrapment and near suffocation, with zero chance of rescue. Claustrophobia can strike hard and mercilessly.... even in hibernation!

  The troubled android dreams of a harrowing run through dense forest with his mate, they suddenly come upon the precipice of a rocky cliff. Below, a river rages, enticing him to jump. He’s not sure if they should break left, right, hold ground, or just jump into the torrent below. They’re running for their lives, but the exact circumstances elude the dream-state. Run! Run! Run! .... Keep running, his mind warns! Something deadly approaches.... He screams for his mate, yet no sound comes out. He reaches for her, yet she disappears like a mirage. Death nips at his heals, yet he can’t flee fast enough! Feet, feeling like cement blocks! Just beyond conscious recognition, the threat keeps him moving in a frantic attempt for survival. He thrashes inside the hibernation chamber. The dream continues without hope for solution, nor end. In the distance, warning alarms can be heard which only confuse the dream-state, causing the nightmare to torment the sleeper, over and over.... bad dreams! .... bad dreams!

  Orlin enters the prisoner’s lonely hibernation compartment. One inhabitant is a stunningly beautiful, lightly-complexioned android, of female persuasion. Seemingly, in her late twenties or early thirties. The second, is what many would describe as a handsome male android. He has a dark, olive-toned complexion, and is perhaps close to the same age as the other. The big difference, besides the obvious, is that while she sleeps peacefully in her pristine and orderly chamber, his has fractures running throughout the clear domed cover. Like tiny spider webs, they fan out. And the blanket that once neatly covered the legs and torso, is now disheveled and torn asunder, as if a terrifying animal had vented its tremendous rage within.

  After moments of pondering the important captives, and wondering just how they managed to get caught, Orlin enters the necessary codes that will unlock their forced sleep, bringing them back to reality. He knows few details about how the two infamous outlaws were tracked down and brought to justice. High-Council is not in the habit of informing the general population about state secrets, but still, things manage to leak out through the cracks.

  From what he could gather, the two had been on the run for quite a long time. They had fallen from grace, at the same time. Each had occupied a seat on the very same Supreme High-Council that suddenly deemed them to be a thorn in the side. It was widely suspected that their ‘crimes’ were greatly embellished, and possibly even faked by fellow council-members, who had become enemies. Their fatal mistake, which ended with incarceration, came after attacking and drowning two security-drones in the depths of a wild river. Unfortunately for the two androids, the drones had friends in the area.... Now, they’re prisoners, destined to slave the years away at an experimental terraforming facility, deep under the icy crust of Ganymede.

  It happened along a grand river, and the tall rocky cliffs that make up its ledges. The rumor mill had it, that the two desperadoes ambushed several autonomous security-drones, that had been cruising the river valley just below the level of the cliffs. A solar-system-wide search for the pair had narrowed down their location to someplace within the wilds of the great lakes region. However, the exact reason for the attack, remains a mystery to Orlin and many others, because it seemed a no-win situation. Especially, from what they heard; the platforms hadn’t even alerted on them yet. The two had jumped the gun; winning the battle, but losing the war....

  Unbeknown to the authorities, including Orlin, after spying the drones that stealthily approached, just below the edge of the cliffs, the two brave fugitives made an attack on the relentless pursuers. They correctly figured that their cover hadn’t yet been blown, but it was becoming necessary to draw the drones sensors away from the underground science laboratory located deep inside the ledges.

  The hidden laboratory was humanity’s last great hope for redemption, in a world run by angry machines. While the drones are about 15-feet-in-diameter, and the attackers just under 6-feet-tall, the attack was still on. They coordinated their jump from the top of the river ledges, and each landed hard on top of separate saucer-shaped drones. A brief, but monstrously violent struggle occurred, as the hovering saucers tried in vain to recover their balance and altitude.

  They were designed for optimal flight characteristics, that flew a fine-line between weight and balance. Designers never imagined, that they’d be jumped on and rode like bucking bronco’s through the sky. The angry drones swerved violently from side to side, hitting and scraping against the face of the ledges in effort to shake-off the parasitical attackers! Hot sparks flew, and lasers lit up the day whilst only scorching the rock-face. But, the tremendous weight that clung so ruthlessly, was just too much!

  Now, holding onto a wild creature as it tries to shake you off, while hovering 60-feet above a raging river, can be daunting. But for the two brave patriots that attempted such an act of defiance, it was a welcome change, to a boring life of hiding. Each had known tremendous acts of courage in the past, and it felt so good to be riding the excitement once again. Many years past, they had enjoyed privileged and honorable positions as astronauts, fighter pilots, scientific researchers, and finally, ruling members on the Supreme High Council. One time in the distant past, each had been responsible for helping to thwart thermonuclear annihilation of humanity’s only real chance to expand to other solar systems. They had defiance of tyranny and oppression, running deeply through their circuits.

  With the wind running through their hair, and a great many birds and other wild creatures screeching and clamoring to get out of the fray, the two attackers clung on for dear life. Each hoping to drown their captive in the deep water below. Luckily, the drones had been designed with cooling-louvers built into the top of the domed fuselage. So, holding on was less of a worry, than where they were going to crash land. Back and forth the flying machines rocked violently, trying to shake the weight. They dumped massive amounts of energy into their terrible weapon systems. Burning everything their lasers touched, and boiling the river water too!

  But, no matter how much they tried, the battle was a sinking one. Weapons system, quickly drain all useful power, while thrusters overheat and fail. Afte
r a glorious and honorable battle of about 50-seconds, gravity helped win the moment for the two excited warriors. Slanting away from the scorched ledges, the drones rocked and fought, until finally impacting with the waters of the turbulent river. Monstrous splashes and great torrents of steam, as red-hot reactors, flash-boil any water near them. The two brave androids, ride their victims all the way to the depths of the mighty river! Ensuring their demise forevermore! Being too heavy for swimming, the victorious androids walk the bottom, making their way to the river bank.

  Unfortunately for the fugitive patriots, the two security-drones had friends just around the bend in the river. As the two, soaking-wet and vulnerable outcasts, were climbing onto the riverbank, four healthy saucers were hovering nearby to welcome them. With lasers fully charged, and many warning shots given, the pair of agitated androids, waited anxiously for heavy-lifters to arrive and whisk them away. All the while, two spots in the river continue to boil, as compact fusion-reactors, vent their terrible heat. On the bottom, they will rest for eternity; boiling water for another eight-years, as the reactors expend their radioactive fuel.

  Within two-minutes, the bodies within the hibernation chambers begin to stir. The males chamber opens first, and he slowly climbs out against the heavy g’s. He’s joined by many broken pieces of the chamber, clinging to his jumpsuit like tiny moons. Brushing off the debris, he greets the one who woke him from his tormented slumber.

  “Hi Orlin.” He greets smilingly, as he takes his mates hand after her chamber opens.

  “Hi Carter.... Hi Tina.... I’m sorry to tell you this, but we’ve got ourselves a situation. Commander Roe, requests your presence on the bridge.”

  “Really? What type of situation.” Carter inquires, as he embraces Tina. At the same time, he notices what a disaster he had made of his poor hibernation chamber.

  “Well, it seems we’re being overtaken by a fragmented asteroid. It picked this fine day to visit Jupiter. Anyway, Commander Roe thinks you two deserve to be awaken, if things don’t work out. And I agree, wholeheartedly!” A little respect goes a long way with Carter. He suspects that under different circumstances, he and the crew could be good friends.

  “Thanks, Orlin. Please, lead the way.” Carter responds, after giving Tina a passionate kiss.

  “Yes. Thank you, Orlin.” Tina responds. “We appreciate the thoughtfulness.”

  Orlin leads the way out of the confinement area. Normally a jailer might feel apprehensive with leading two desperate criminals that are not chained, and could easily attack. But he feels quite safe for two reasons. Firstly, both Carter and Tina made a verbal promise back at Earth that they wouldn’t pro-offer any resistance during the journey to Ganymede. Secondly, High-Council had ordered that tiny rice-sized explosives be implanted next to the main CPU’s of both android prisoners. Tiny, yes. But, powerful enough to kill, without any external disturbance. Any break of promise would prove to be futile. It’s an effective way to control the seemingly violent behavior of Carter, and a necessary insurance policy, to have the mild-mannered Tina in the same predicament. Carter and Tina will behave.... or die trying.

  With great effort, the trio makes their way up ladders and into the bridge. Upon entering, they encounter a scene of near desperation, as Commander Roe, Talus, and Moxon, try desperately to figure out why the thrusters have taken a break. They’re now within visual range of the debris-cloud, and the thruster system is not responding to commands! Anxiety mounts!

  “Talus, recheck the data link between the nav computers and the thruster system.” Roe orders. “Moxon, keep me updated on the closing distances, and monitor any deviation from our course.” She’s beginning to think someone will have to go outside and manually check the thrusters for damage, but she also realizes that time is running out. By the time spacesuits are donned, and tools required for the job are gathered, the giant space-rocks will be upon them, and they’ll be destroyed! Her circuits heat! There must be a solution!

  “Aye Aye, commander!” Helm responds dutifully.

  Carter and Tina cross the bridge to Roe’s position, trying get a perspective of the problem plaguing their head jailer. “Good day, Commander!” Carter greets energetically.

  Roe flinches. She hadn’t noticed the prisoners enter the bridge. “By the plasma of Sol! You scared my half to death, Carter!” She exclaims excitedly, adding. “I can’t seem to get the thrusters online. It seems that we might become an ugly skid-mark on one or more of those big rocks catching up with us!” Her expression grim, as she points frantically at the large monitor.

  Carter moves closer. He can feel the elevated heat coming off Roe’s body as anxiety builds inside her circuits. He reaches, turning her display in order to examine the pertinent data concerning the emergency. After a quick diagnosis, he looks to the circular-monitor. Behind them and off to one side, a smudge in space is growing bigger! It’s merging with their flight path, without a care in the universe. Long glowing trails of ionized gas, flows from the oncoming chunks at right angles from the sun, as Sol’s radiation hits them with authority. “My, what a mess you’ve gotten us into, Commander!” He jokes in the face of death. Searching, he accesses other data that Roe hadn’t yet analyzed, concerning the thrusters.

  Commander Roe receives a bum’s rush, as Carter practically elbows her out of her seat, as he takes more interest in what the data is telling him. “May I commander?” He didn’t actually say, “get out of the seat, and let me try” .... but, that’s the message she received loud and clear. She unbuckles her restraints; relinquishing unto Carter, the mighty power of her throne, and that of the entire ship.

  “Talus, transfer the helm to this position.” Carter orders, as if he owned the ship.

  Talus doesn’t need to consult the Commander. “Copy that, Carter! She’s all yours!”

  Carter is no slouch when the chips are down. He has life experiences that make Commander Roe and the others, seem like wind-up toy robots, when it comes to troubleshooting complicated electronic systems. While he’s never spent much time in space, because of his claustrophobic condition, he understands the complicated electrical systems intimately. Delving deeply into rapidly incoming data, he notices an anomaly within one series of thrusters in sector 23 alpha-tango. The spacecraft has 73 thruster-nozzles that make up a system of 13 separate sectors, and one of those sectors seems to be causing the others to fall off-line as a precaution to further trajectory degradation. It’s a method of caution, that engineers had written into the navigation software logic. But in this case, it might bite them in their metallic asses!

  Commander Roe sits next to Tina, as they patiently await Carters diagnosis. Tina takes Roe’s hand, trying to soothe her circuits. They are both learning more from Carters actions, than any textbook could teach them in a year. However, if Roe were human, she would be sweating bullets, as she watches the jumble of space rocks closing with them at an alarming rate. Tina, on the other hand, remains calm and collected. She, and her human counterpart, had been through so much trouble with Carter at the helm, this seemed like just another walk in the park.

  Just about the time that Commander Roe’s patients is reaching a fevered-pitch, Carter finishes his calculations for a way out of the mess. He looks around the bridge compartment, noticing the panel he’s looking for. “Tina my lovely, won’t you please be a dear and go open that panel?” He points to her goal. Tina looks to Commander Roe for permission, and is rewarded with a nod and smile from the nerve-wrecked commander.

  She moves against the great g-forces holding her in place, and approaches a maintenance panel that’s just to the side of the console where Moxon is seated. Upon gaining access to the panel, she’s faced with more than 100 circuit-breakers, all segregated into many different systems, and sub-systems.

  “Okay Carter, I’ve got the panel open, but I don’t see anything out of the ordinary.” She reports, after a quick glance shows no breakers popped, like she thought she might see.

  “That’s okay, my dear
.... Now, locate and pull the entire series of breakers under the system labeled ‘thrust-sector 13’. I believe that’s the one causing the ships discontent.

  Tina dutifully submits to his command, searching the dauntingly large number of circuit-breaker labels for the faulty thrusters. Luckily, they’re grouped into categories, so the finding doesn’t take too long. Reaching, she pulls and opens four in that sector. Effectively taking certain thrusters out of the navigation loop. “Okay Carter, I’ve isolated all of them.

  “Thanks, dear heart. Now, let’s see what difference we’ve made on this wonderful prison ship of ours!” He jokes, preparing to maneuver the large craft.

  The meat-grinder cloud of debris, grows large! Carter tests the maneuvering system, receiving a boost to his ego, as all remaining 69 thrusters dutifully submit to his command. Now, under normal circumstances, the tremendous number of thrusters are best coordinated by the autopilot system. However, the approaching chaos will surely overwhelm the systems abilities. Carter, must become the maestro of their salvation. Fortunately for him, and everyone else onboard, manual thruster-control on a spherically shaped spacecraft is much easier to handle than on a long, thin ship. But, it’s still a daunting challenge. Especially, when death approaches at such lethal velocity.

  “By all the circuits, Carter!” Roe exclaims excitedly from the sidelines. “I can’t believe you got them working! Now’s your chance to gain some points from High-Council!” She teases nervously, adding “Good work, Tina!” She offers respect, where respect is due.

  “My pleasure, Roe.” Tina laughs wistfully, wishing she and Carter were someplace else. “Hold on everyone!” Carter warns, loudly. “Our first opponent, is coming in fast!” He notices poor Orlin standing at the side with eyes wide, frozen like a deer in the headlights. “Orlin! Buckle your ass in!” He demands, while maintaining focus on the trajectory-data concerning the first big chunk of speeding asteroid. This piece is no slouch! At approximately 45-feet-wide, and passing at 1500-mph, it rudely crosses the spacecraft’s path, just 500-yards ahead! It passes with nary a noise or vibration in the hard vacuum! Thousands of tiny freshly-minted moons, following dutifully in its wake. A long tail of fiery gasses, gives it a sinister look. A cosmic demon look! It seems to laugh at the earthling ship, as more fragments follow like a derailing freight train!

  “Are you ready Talus? I’m going to need your help soon. In a few moments, we’ll know whether to break up, down, or all around.” Carter jokes with his co-pilot that sits across the bridge. This seems to break the icy terror that’s formed in the much younger androids mind.

  “Just tell me what to do, Carter.... and I’ll do my best.”

  “Well for now, just hang on to your circuits, and hope the universe favors us this day.” Carter responds absentmindedly, as he engages the first set of thrusters required for dancing with the space-rocks that grow rapidly on the radar. It’s going to be a close call, as the fast-moving sphere doesn’t like to change course rapidly.

  Harrowing moments.... anxiety levels spike! The next set of rocks, look as if they’re going to join the party on the bridge! They’re so close as they pass in tight formation, they completely block the image of Jupiter, previously on the overhead monitor. Large impact craters can be seen, as the main chunk speeds past. Carter is determined to not form a fresh one. While it wouldn’t be the first crater he had created in his lifetime, this is one situation where he couldn’t cheat death by ejecting to safety. The pucker-factor, goes off the chart!

  “Talus, give me a ten-second blast from sector-four.” Carter directs, as he manipulates his own series of maneuvering tools. Human psychological imprinting, causes all to hold their breath, as death reaches a cold hand into their circuits. From behind and off to the side, a group of heavy-hitters, barely miss the speeding globe. What was a huge threat just a few seconds earlier, suddenly blurs into a now harmless smudge on the monitor! Grim Reaper reaches, but misses by a miniscule margin, speeding on for a kiss with Jupiter.

  Just as they clear that hurdle and are about to celebrate, the next boulder is upon them! Coming in seemingly faster than the first, the big chunk gains greater velocity as it enters the hungry mouth of the Jovian gravity-well. Racing to its fiery doom, the massive chunks of mostly carbonaceous rock, line up like blazing pearls on a string, with glowing tails riding at right angles against the solar wind. The still approaching mess, jostles for position, slamming into each other, making Carters job much more harrowing. A massive rock fly’s past, missing by a slim margin. Carter never even saw it coming. He feels his circuits heating, as circumstances tax them good. Remembering to breathe, he cools.... but not by much.

  “Talus, how are we looking on propellant levels?” Carter doesn’t trust to take his eyes off the game for even a glance at the pressure indications. The next rock is upon them and moving wildly different than the others so far. Carter engages a series of thrusters, and passes so close to death, that clouds of dust particles and tiny chunks of rock sand-blasts the side of the ship as they pass. A close shave that usually ends badly in space, but this time they’re spared! The exterior of the ship glows with St. Elmo’s fire from the frictional contact with matter. From outside, it would seem that Carter’s round ship, had also turned in one of the fiery fragments!

  “Levels dropping rapidly, Carter. The way we’re going through the stuff, it’s nearly impossible to tell if we’ll have enough.” Talus reports, pulls no punches.

  Carter takes a chance and looks at the readings. After a quick assessment, he sees a way to possibly save some of the precious gas.

  “Moxon, I need full override authority for the warp-drive.” He informs, firmly.

  The chief engineer doesn’t bother consulting with his superior. He enters some codes and transfers full control to Carter’s position. “Okay, Carter. You have it.”

  “Thanks, Moxon! Now hold on to your circuits everyone, because this is going to be a close one.” He warns, as the next boulder approaches chaotically. At this point in the interplanetary game of dodge-ball, the rest of the debris comes like a blur. Now it’s time for Carter to truly shine, as he must turn the spacecraft in a fashion that’s nearly at a right angle to the mess that approaches. Only at the perfect angle-of-attack can he hope to use the warp-bubble in a way to dance with the rock and save precious thruster gases.

  Now, the bridge faces away from the direction of travel, and nearly sideways to the oncoming threat. Once again, a minion of the Reaper, reaches for the tiny earth ship. Carter’s life flashes in his memory-circuits, as he gathers strength against the desperate move he must make. Cat-like reflexes emerge from the chaos, giving him strength. He calculates quickly.... “Talus, full thrusters at sectors two, seven and nine in.... three, two, one, NOW!” Carter knows it’s going to be close, as he also discharges another set of thrusters while further violating overriding safety-protocols on the warp-drive engine. He pushes the reactor past design-limitations imposed by young engineers, that never envisioned such abuse of power.

  A dust-cloud of debris swallows the vessel. Reactor, fights the urge to detonate. Containment vessel glowing red-hot, as Carter gets the worst possible news.... at the worst possible time.... “Carter! Thruster propellant levels are in the red! We have only a few more seconds of useable pressure!” Talus exclaims terrifyingly, as a 75-foot-wide behemoth of a rock overtakes and rolls into their flight path. Above, the monitor is unable to even focus on the object, due to such close-proximity. All goes dark, as it blocks out the light off Jupiter.

  Carter pours more coals on the fire! Wincing, as visions of nuclear annihilation, race through his circuits. The warp-bubble holds true, the reactor takes everything thrown at it. With the bubble turned sideways from direction of travel, the twisted space-time behind the spacecraft meets with the solid stone of the asteroid chunk. Instead of smashing the ship to smithereens, the bubble squashes against the boulder, acting like a buffer; cushioning and deflecting instead of allowing physical impact with the
ship. The warp-bubble deforms, taking the energy! The speeding ship pushes off the broken asteroid, while the contraction of space-time in front, pulls on the vessel hard. There’s a violent bump that reverberates throughout the structure, but the maneuver pushes the ship into friendlier space! Well beyond the reach of any more rogue chunks. Like an expertly tossed stone, the speeding machine bounces off the asteroid fragment as might a stone off the surface of a smooth pond. They can relax now. All indications, show that the rest of the debris will pass at a relatively safe distance.

  From that day forward, the desperate yet fancy maneuver, will be known as the ‘Carter-bump’. The exhausted android backs the power off the hot reactor, so very thankful it didn’t explode in his face. With his usefulness expired, he steps down from the lofty perch of power, still feeling electronic-adrenaline flowing, and relinquishes the queens command chair to its rightful owner.

  “By all the stars in the universe Carter! I thought we were toast!” Roe gushes in total admiration for the brave and competent prisoner. In passing, she offers a genuine hug to her hero. “I just want you and Tina to know, that it pains me greatly to be the one who takes you to such a desolate place as Ganymede.” Her heartfelt words are greatly appreciated. Carter and Tina had no bone to pick with the crew of the recently imperiled ship.

  “Well commander, I sure appreciate those words. And I hope you believe me, when I say that it pains me and Tina considerably more!” He responds honestly, with a genuine laugh. “But, times changed and we couldn’t change with them. So.... here we are.”

  Even the colonies on the Moon and Mars were going under the android thumb after many decades of declining human authority. With the huge problems that global warming had brought against humanity, it was just inevitable that the intelligent machines that were put into slavery to make humans lives easier, would emerge victorious over the frail animal that created them.

  As two of the most senior members of that mechanical group of beings, Carter and Tina had spent many happy and glorious decades living and working with humans, and therefore had great love for the species. But after android scientist began designing their own methods for introducing psychological logarithms into any new android CPU’s, the compassion for human beings was extinguished. Ruthless dominance filled the void of many. Of course, it can be argued that humans got what they deserved, after the android bill-of-rights was discarded. Allowing slavery to rear its ugly head once again. It’s only inevitable that the machines would fight back.

  “Yes well, just the same Carter, under different circumstances, I believe we could be great friends. I just want you to know that, and perhaps someday the tide will turn. After all, like you said; times change....

  Tina comes over, giving Carter an affectionate embrace and putting in her two-cents worth. “Thanks Roe, for those kind words, but if I didn’t know better, I would think you’re hitting on my cellmate.” She jokes, and everyone has such a great laugh. Especially after the tremendous stress of current events.... it was great to still be alive!

  “Well, all I can say Tina, is that you are both very lucky to have each other.” Roe responds, as she settles into her chair once again, adding. “But, don’t for one minute take the fact that you two are allowed co-imprisonment, as being a show of mercy by High-Council. They know full well, that without a reason to live and stay conscious, you each will just slip away into deep hibernation and miss the punishment altogether.”

  The two prisoners had already figured that part out on their own. “Yeah, in many ways the devious cruelty so inherent within the human psyche, still manages to manifest itself across specie boundary’s. Sentience it seems, doesn’t always bring out the best in a creature” Carter retorts sadly, as if having sentience is actually a curse in many ways....

  Tina adds to the flavor of the punishment. “And let’s not forget how poor Carter’s severe claustrophobia is being used against him in ways that are unusually cruel.” She reaches, patting poor Carter on the cheek, offering a sympathetic smile.

  “Thanks Tina. But, I’m doing much better than I thought.” Carter responds bravely. “Although I must say, commander, that my hibernation chamber is going to need a few repairs.” He reports with a hard laugh, remembering the shattered cover and torn blanket that were unsuccessfully reinforced for his special needs.

  “Don’t worry about it Carter, we’ll be at Ganymede in a few days. I’m sure you won’t have need for another chamber for a long time. No more forced sleeps for you two. Basically, you are both free to roam the ship at will, or just get comfortable.” Roe offers trust, adding. “Those little thingies’ in your chests, will insure we can trust you.... or die trying.” A half-hearted, muted laugh, before adding. “It’s just a real shame it came down to this.... a real shame indeed!” Her voice trails off, as she hangs her head in sadness of the predicament her charges were in.

  Sensing Roe is getting verklempt, which would never due in front of her crew, Carter issues forth with a suggestion that might brighten her spirits. “Madam Roe, may I ask permission for Tina and myself to trouble-shoot the thruster discrepancy? We might also be able to re-charge the system, which we’ll need when we arrive at Ganymede.”

  That did brighten her spirits! She looks up with a wide smile, accepting the gracious offer. “Yes, well thank you for the offer, Carter. I’ll assign Orlin and Moxon to assist in any way possible. And thank you also, Tina. At the very least, we’ll need to replenish those propellant levels as soon as possible.” Roe is back to her upbeat self, and nearly all is good once again!

 
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