Tuesday, March 16, 2010

GreatHites Season 2 Episoide 10

This week's prompt was, broken equipment and we had two great stories.
This week we had Stories by:

Philip Carroll (Norval Joe)
And Jeffrey Hite

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The Galactic Battle Base - The Engagement
By: Philip (Norval Joe) Carroll

"Jump station interface will commence in 16 hours," the announcement was faint but could still be heard through the door of their personal compartment.
"Sixteen hours, Kev. When does that mean you have to check in?" the woman asked her lips close to his ear as she twirled her index finger in his short brown curls.
He sat forward on the couch, so suddenly she fell into the space between his back and the cushion. Feeling her body wedged in behind him he helped her sit back up and said, "Sorry, Shara. I'm a bit jumpy with this mission coming up. I was dozing and you startled me."
He shook his head trying to clear out the cobwebs, "I guess I was dreaming. I was already headed for the engagement. There were a thousand ships coming for us and all of a sudden, it was only our one ship against them all. And then, it was just me in the ship, the pilot and the other gunner were gone. I knew I was going to die. I was frantically looking for an escape pod when you woke me up."
Shara leaned forward and rubbed the back of his neck then ran her fingers back up into his hair, "you sound really worried about the engagement. You can't let it eat you up. This is what you signed up for you know."
"Yes, I know," he said anger shortening his words. "And you signed up to be a magnetic field generator technician. It doesn't seem like you appreciate the difference. I could die out there, while you sit here and spin your dials."
She moved away from him, pushed his shoulder gently, and said, "Don't get all bent out of shape with me, Assault gunner first class, Kevin Dennis. I appreciate the difference clearly. You enlisted for a twenty year tour knowing there was a small possibility you would be sent into combat against alien insurgents. I enlisted for twenty years in the MFG section to maintain the bases magnetic field generators. our only fear is the generators may go down and before we can get them back on line, the docking platform and all your ships will drift out the back of the battle base."
She chuckled softly. Kevin looked at her and marvelled. That little laugh was a melody to him that almost completely evaporated his oppressive mood. "We joke about it over lunch," she said, "but can you imagine if the fields went down and we lost the ships out the back? It wouldn't be life threatening, but still catastrophic. It would take us a year just to stop the base, probably two years to go back and retrieve what couldn't fly or be towed to base, and probably five years to get back to cruising speed. By that time, two of the other bases in the circuit would have passed by us, laughing and waving as they did."
Kevin pictured two of the Galactic Battle Bases, built like giant tubes five kilometers in dimeter, and more than 15 kilometers long, side by side in deep space as the one passed the other. He was smiling now. "I'm always amazed at the awesome size of the battle base as we fly our weekly inspections around the tube. I would love to see two of them side by side. Or end to end, that would be more than thirty kilometers long. It would be so cool to go right through center, one after the other.
"Jump station interface will commence in 15 hours and thirty minutes,"
Kevin sobered at the reminder of his impending departure.
"How long will you be gone?" Shara asked him.
"It depends," he said with a shrug. "All but the actual engagement has been calculated to the second. So that's the wild card. If the battle takes less than three hours we will be able to jump back to the station we are leaving from. It will take about a two weeks to catch up to the base once we jump back out here. It the engagement takes more than 3 hours we'll have to jump to the next station and either wait for you there, or fly to you. You should be there in about six weeks. If things go really bad, well..." he trailed off.
"I guess the best of the worst case scenarios is I would have to finish up my enlistment on the next base to pass the jump station," he said, and left the less positive scenarios unspoken.
Kevin stood up and wiped the palms of his hands on his coveralls. He said, "OK, well, I need to try and get some sleep, and you need to get to your shift soon."
Shara stood, placed her hands on Kevin shoulders, and leaned in for a kiss. After a long moment, he stepped back, looked sadly into her eyes and said, "I love you Shara. If I die, don't forget me too quickly."
He turned to leave, but she grabbed his arm. "Wait a minute," she said, any humor absent from her voice. "You are running off to your death, and all I get is a quick kiss and a dramatic exit?"
"I'm sorry babe, I'm not good for much right now. If I come back alive, I promise I'll make it up to you," Kevin said and sighed. He looked back into her eyes for sympathy.
"Ok," Shara said and hugged him quickly. "You'll come back. I'm sure of it."

Instead of heading back to his own compartment to rest, he went directly to his squadron prep lounge. He sat back in one of the vinyl padded chairs and stared up through the windows set in the ceiling. the windows offered a view of the inside of the battle base tube, the floating docking stations held in place by the magnetic field of Shara's generators, and across to the other side of the base, barely visible in the dim ambient light. From his perspective the docking platforms appeared to turn over slowly as the tubular battle base spun to create comfortable gravity on the giant ship. His own fighter waited for him on one of those platforms out in the vacuum.

Shara kept one eye on her assigned generators, twenty five of the two thousand, their function statistics were refreshed every thirty seconds on a desk top console. With her other eye she monitored the large wall screen in the MFG command center. Every few minutes an update on the status of the engagement scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Her throat tightened and she had to blink back tears as the command center screen flashed to a view of the fore opening of the battle base. One hundred squadrons of ten ships each, took advantage of the battle base's momentum and blasted out the front of the tube. They veered off and away to the jump station. Shara knew Kevin was on one of those ships, and hoped he was on one that would return.
Her shift ended, but Shara remained in the command room to watch for updates of the engagements progress. Two hours after their departure, news came that the squadrons had successfully jumped out of deep space. Shara began counting the minutes. Kevin had said if the engagement took longer than three hours they would have to jump to the next station in the circuit. She kept a close eye on her chronometer.
Shortly before her timer reached one hundred eighty minutes an announcement sounded on the address system. "Attention. 643 ships have jumped back in from the engagement. Estimated docking time is ten days, eleven hours and twenty seventy minutes. The status of the remaining 357 will remain unknown until the commanders reports are received and analyzed. This may take up to five days. Please remain patient and respectful. Thank you."
The message repeated several times, but Shara was no longer listening.
An oppressive mood hung over the room. The three thousand personnel participating in the engagement was only a small fraction of the million people aboard the battle cruiser, yet at that moment, everyone on the base was emotionally connected with the entire squadron.
Shara wandered slowly back to her compartment. She slid open the light plastic door and jumped back in shock. "Kevin," she shrieked, "What are you doing here?"
"The navigation system wasn't responding," he said with a sigh and a shake of his head. "Every week for the last seven years I have flown tube inspection. That's what, almost 3000 fight hours I've logged, and never once have we had a nav system malfunction. They told us, "You got broken equipment, you can't fly, take the day off."
Shara wrinkled up her nose in a confused smile and asked, "sixteen hours ago you were all worried about the engagement, and now you sound almost disappointed you're not going."
"Really," he said, non committally. "When they told us our team was grounded, I was relieved. But there were nine thousand other combat teams that were in line to take our place, whether they wanted to or not. Now there are more than 300 teams that haven't returned. They may have had to jump ahead to the next station, or maybe they aren't coming back at all. We don't know."
He pressed the heels of his hands against his temples and pressed hard, and said, "before, when we were preparing to leave, I was afraid I would die. Now I feel guilty that I didn't since someone else was in my place."
Shara crossed the small compartment's lounge and sat next to Kevin. She rubbed his back, leaned against him, and said, "there are a million people on this ship. You are one guy and you do your job. You're not responsible for everything that happens here. We can't second guess fate. She has her own plans for us. We'll just have to wait to see what those plans bear out to be."
"Thanks, Shara. You're right," Kevin said. "I'm glad to be back and I'm happier you're here. We'll just see what the future has for us."
Shara had a gleam in her eye. "I know one thing the future has for us. You promised if you came back alive, you would make up for that one lame kiss you left me with.
"That's right," Kevin's face lit up.
"I am glad to be back," he said, and kissed her for a long time.

Invasion of the Potty Snatchers
By: Jeff Hite

It has been five years three days and twenty two hours since we crash landed on this forsaken back water planet. I only know that because today we managed to get the computer up and running again, and that was the first message it gave us. The last time we powered it up was right after we crashed. Since then fixing everything on the ship has taken higher priority. Life support for one, the air here is mostly breathable, but there is a funny taste to it, and it leaves you very sleepy. Food generation for another, we have found a good number of edible plants, but we believe that we need to try to use our own supplies so we don't have any more problems like the last one we had.
One of the fruits that we found has a psychotropic drug in it's skin, that if you touch it starts to effect you pretty quickly afterward. Which partially explains why we have been unable to fix things for so long. We spent most of the first three years in a drug induced haze, where as many things got broken by carelessness and down right recklessness. The drug itself does not induce violent behavior, but when you're under it's influence you tend to do irrational things and those can be destructive, or just down right odd. That fact in the end was what led to most of our problems.
When we first landed, we knew we would be here for a while and our food supplies were very limited, so we immediately sent out foraging parties. With a planet as lush and green as this one, there should not have been a problem finding food. In fact, the problem was quite the opposite. The foraging parties brought back hundreds of different varieties of fruits and vegetables for the science team to check over. That is probably why they missed the drug on the skin of, what we have now dubbed the psychedelic pear. There were a good number of items and had to be tossed immediately as being poisonous, or just nothing that we could digest. There was one that seemed to produce a kind of plastic, that we have used in some of our repairs. The psychedelic pear however, proved to be a good source of what we needed and they had a good water content, so we were encouraged to eat it.
Unfortunately toxic side effects were not among this plants listed features. The first week after we landed here one of the team members, we don't know which one, dismantled our bathroom facilities. On a planet this lush and plentiful that is not normally a problem. There was plenty of drinkable water, and the psychic pear also provided us with a great deal of liquids so we carried them with us. We also discovered that if we urinated out side, that seeds of the tree that grew the psychic pear, were so small that they passed through our bodies, and our urine was in fact a great fertilizer for them. They literally were growing over night, and the fruits were produced in days. This of course encouraged us to eat more of them. They were after all right there, right outside our ship. It caused and interesting feedback loop that I am sure scientists will study for years to come.
The problems with this are obvious to any observer, but they were not to us, as we were consuming the fruit and an alarming rate. Most of us were still able to function, and were only slightly impaired, by the drug, but it made is slow in our actions, and clumsy in our execution of the things that we did do. We did make repairs to the ship, but just as much damage was done, while trying to make those repairs. It was a never ending cycle of damage and repair.
Some time in the second year, one of the engine team was injured as they worked on the over head blast tanks. Our records of the time were not clear about who he was, noting him in the medical logs only as engine team personnel. He was brought to the medical bay and treated for minor injuries. While he was being scanned, during our normal process, it was noted that he was on a psychotropic drug. It took us a long time to figure out how this had happened, nearly another six months. As I said our methods were often very sloppy.
When we did finally figure it out, we had the problem of trying to get rid of all of the trees that had grown up around our ship. We needed to not only prevent any one further from eating them, but also needed to find a way to handle them without getting the drug on our skin or uniforms or equipment. This proved harder than it might have seen, as we were all still urinating nearly two years of seeds, and we never had gotten around to repairing our toilet facilities. As have i stated before, our urine was a perfect fertilizer, and we had been encouraged to help the plants grow. There had been no need to repair them, so the trees were every where. Whoever had damaged the toilet facilities had in the process also damaged the water recycling system of the entire ship. Thus damaging the laundry facilities. We could not wash the clothing that we had worn while we were destroying the plants surrounding the ship. As I said a feedback cycle that is worthy of study.
We don't know if one of the effects of the plant's drug was to cause one of the crew members to damage the ships water supply, none of us can remember such an urge. We suspect that this was just a random act of mindlessness. We do not think that the plant is sentient, or looking out for it's own good or anything like that. Now the water system has been repaired, and the water has been purified. All of us have been scanned my our medical technicians, and they say that we are drug free. Oddly enough we cannot isolate the exact compound that was causing the problem. And as much as we are drinking and encouraging everyone to drink to help flush out whatever seeds might still be in our systems, we do not seem to be using the water recycling system very much. There must be a glitch in the computer somewhere, possibly from it being down for so long. I will have to debug it later. For now I need to get the launch systems back on line, so that we can get off this back water whole, and continue to spread the seeds of humanity through out the universe.