There is something about Science Fiction (films, stories, computer games and everything in between) that just seems to appeal to me throughout my life. Being hunted by an unknown entity on a derelict space craft, lost on a strange world and struggling to survive, or space marines fighting against a wave of unstoppable aliens horrors, are just a few examples of the stories that I really get a good kick out.
With that in mind, I have decided to write my own anthology series (titled: Sol) that will tell a collection of short stories and novellas set within various different Science Fiction universes. Some will be linked to one another, and others will be standalone stories set within their own self contained world.
I have decided that I would use mine and Peter’s Bearded Robot website to preview or showcase my current, ongoing, piece of work from the story I am currently working on.
I have not written properly for about a year and a half (since my psychological horror; Before Dusk – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Before-Dusk-Danny-Hughes-ebook/dp/B01FZIBRQM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1516185284&sr=8-1&keywords=before+dusk), so I may be a little rusty. This is a work in progress, so it is subject to change over time as the story develops further.
The below is the opening chapter of one of the novellas that helps set the scene and create the world in which the story is set. It is a Science Fiction horror story, but it does not jump into the horror element right away, I will leave the surprise of what actually occurs in the story a close-kept secret until the book is finished (whenever that will be), but I will say that the title is relevant to it.
Of course I will not be posting the entire story on here, but I wanted to share this to either get some feedback or create a bit of a buzz for it.
Each story in the volumes of Sol will be different and be various lengths, from novellas to short stories, but the below is one of the larger stories that will feature in the book. I would love to turn this into an ongoing series with multiple volumes, but we’ll see how I get on with this one.
I would love any feedback or ideas that you have, and I’d like to point out that this has only been proofed once, so there may still be a few errors in there I need to iron out.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and keep and eye out my anthology book at some point in the future (hopefully not as long as it takes George R.R. Martin to write something as this will be nowhere near as good).
An extract from Sol: An Anthology of Science Fiction
By Danny Hughes
3rd Cycle – ETA: 70.2 Yrs
Part One: The World You Left Behind
Gilbey’s vital signs began to resume their normal rhythm.
“Good morning, Maintenance Engineer: Gilbey” ADAM; the ships A.I. computer’s voice was clear and not too inhuman.
He felt hazed as he wiped his face and tried to pull himself out of his stasis pod. His legs began to buckle beneath him, causing him grab hold of the oxygen pipe leading out. “Please try and refrain from breaking the equipment Sir, you do not want to have to spend the next seventy point two years of our journey awake with no one but myself as company”.
Gilbey would have laughed, were it not for the currently overwhelming task of staying on his feet.
Every time he woke up and waited for his limbs to feel like his own again, he would experience the same pang of nostalgia; he couldn’t help but think of that little dear that ran out onto the ice in that ancient film. He’d never seen a real dear before or a block of ice bigger than a cube floating in a drink for that matter. It was all just memories built from the huge archive of films and pictures stored on his community’s bunker computer, back on earth.
ADAM began to speak “Maintenance Engineer…” before Gilbey cut him off.
“I told you in the last cycle to stop calling me that” he managed to state despite his mouth felt as dry as a sand dune. He coughed but it was coarse and painful.
“My apologies Sir. What do you mean?” ADAM questioned.
His eyes felt almost as dry as his mouth and feeling began to painfully return to his legs, in a cold rush of pins and needles. “Stop using the whole damn title” he grunted.
“Playback” ADAM stated and the recording from the previous maintenance cycle began to play. “Just call me Gilbey” His own voice echoing back to him after two decades, the playback finished and he was left with the electronic hiss of his small stasis pod.
He remained silent and he motionless for a while. For the first time in twenty years, his mind was able to be truly empty.
Unfortunately, before long he couldn’t help but noticed that only the emergency lights were on.
“ADAM” Gilbey called out to the in no direction in particular. “Lights” and with that stasis bay lit up. It was so bright that it felt like they were flying past the sun; something he had done a few times back in his days of deep-space salvaging missions, back when it was still safe to get ships to break atmosphere and still have to worry about getting them back.
The stasis bay was white and lifeless; a common feature on the Eden. The various computers around could be heard humming softly as they recorded and monitored his time held in suspended animation. Various displays could be seen on the walls showing innumerable pieces of information running endlessly like the Solar systems themselves. Flickering lights and buttons littered one side of the wall in amongst more displays showing his own heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity. A macabre art project that would make sure that he completes the trip to Delta Tauris.
The lights felt for a moment as if they were growing stronger. They began to burn right into Gilbey’s retinas. His dry eyes felt as if they were going to catch alight. He screwed his eyes up and flapped his half recovered arms over his face groaning at the annoyance of the pain. “Goddammit… ADAM dim lights forty percent” and as he said it the room grew slightly darker once more, but even that felt like his eyes were on fire.
“Be careful Mainten…” the computer seemed to think for a moment and remember the man’s request. “Gilbey… your eyes will take some adjusting to this. You haven’t used them in over two decades”.
Gilbey scoffed at the remark. “This isn’t my first dance kiddo” he replied as he grabbed the sachet of coolant ADAM had deposited beside the stasis tank kindly before he had woken. Even the sachet felt refreshing in his hand.
“Yes, but not for this long. No human has ever been in stasis for longer than fifteen years, and even then it was under the watchful eye of an advanced medical team who were standing by… and it safely back on Earth” ADAM informed him.
Gilbey paid the machine no mind, instead he ripped the seal of the sachet and poured the contents into his mouth. Instantly his mouth became a whirlpool. In a euphoric moment, he breathed deep through his nose before spitting it into the drainage port beside him. A small jet of ice cold recycled water rinsed the port clean once more. Gilbey was pleased to see that the water systems did not need repairing, at least in this section of the ship. It was a surprisingly disgusting job and, quite possibly, one of the most convoluted task he could get stuck with. Something like that would have taken nearly the entire cycle to complete.
Work. Gilbey didn’t want to even think about half the tedious little repairs he knew he would have to make, but the reality he had to face was: that is the reason he and the other members of the maintenance crew were even here.
“Where are the others?” Gilbey asked the AI, as he felt his legs begin to return to normal.
ADAM took a few moments to answer, almost as if he was gathering precise coordinates on the ship to give him the exact locations at that moment in time. Gilbey decided to just go ahead and change the question to avoid the inevitable complex answer that was inbound. He was still tired despite sleeping just over twenty two years, and was not in the mood for dealing with an over thinking computer.
“Belay that.” Gilbey dragged one of his hands down his face and scratched at his facial hair. “Is everyone awake?” he asked. He did not want to ask the machine if anyone had died as a result of being stasis for too long. The few deaths so far in the last few cycles had made the entire team concerned about returning to stasis.
On the monitor closest to him blinked as the widow for his medical charts was closed remotely and another opened. The faces of the ship’s maintenance crew began to appear, displaying their vital signs and key information on them. The names Dietrich, Reids, Carter, Gilbey, Eckhart, Lane, and Graves were all displayed. All appeared alive and well.
“All members of the Eden Maintenance Unit are healthy and out of their stasis pods with the exception of Dr. Reids, who appears to be suffering from Awakening Sickness and is currently still residing inside his personal stasis bay”.
Gilbey smiled to himself. He had suffered a mild case of A.S. on his first cycle, but thankfully it had only lasted for a few hours. It is a horrific ordeal where your body fails to adjust to the length of time you have been in stasis for. It feels as if your stomach is desperately trying to claw its way out of your body. Long distance space travel had been done many times before, but nothing quite like this. Gilbey had no idea how the colonists on board were going to feel once they reached their destination. Being asleep for nearly a century and a half is going to do tremendously awful things to your body. He imagined that most of them would suffer with some form of Awakening Sickness, if not all. He did not envy them. All he knew, was that they were going to need to dig a lot of sick buckets out of storage at some point in the next century..
As for Dr. Reids, Gilbey could not think of a nicer person it was happening to. The good doctor was the unit’s chief medical officer and thought himself higher than the rest of the crew. Even though Officer Dietrich was the highest ranking member awake during the cycles, Reids acted as if he was in charge.
During the first and second cycles the Dr.’s attitude had rubbed Gilbey the wrong way and he was now, in his own words “Tired of his crap”. His main role in this mission is to check the conditions of the Eden’s flight crew and the colonists still held in stasis; ensuring that everyone is still alive.
Being a crew of only seven on interstellar star ship that was over fifty miles long and weighs in at over a thousand tons dry, the maintenance team do find themselves short-handed and too often struggle to complete the necessary tasks during a single cycle, even with ADAM’s help. Dr. Reids often believes that anything other than his own primary task is beneath him. Gilbey saw it in the way he flared his nostrils slightly when you asked him. His Nan had a word for people like him: “Tosser”. The doctor usually makes up research jobs to preoccupy himself during the weeks that the rest of the crew work on the ship, claiming it to be for “the good of the new world”.
Thinking of him retching into the drainage port of his bay brought a well needed smile to Gilbey’s face, but at least now he had a good enough excuse not to get into the thick of it.
Gilbey walked over to the sink and held his hands below the sensor. He pulled away suddenly, jerking his already sore muscles.
“Whaaaaaaay! Fuck off.” He groaned.
The water was ice cold. It was clear that the ship’s functions were still taking some time to warm up at the start of this cycle, and so the water had not reached the right temperature yet. It was still refreshing none the less.
“ADAM, can you give me a very brief sit rep, please?” Gilbey asked splashing the water onto his face. His dry skin absorbing it instantly and he began to feel human again. He saw his reflection staring back at him in the mirror and thought to himself how strange that his beard and haircut had not changed in over twenty years. He tried to think about how many years it had been since he was born, he had lost track a very long time ago. As far as he was concerned, he was 34 years old, give or take a few months. Though even that could be wrong by a year or so. He appeared older. His eyes looked deep and dark, like he hadn’t properly slept for the last few decades, which was kind of how it was when you went into Stasis, although you do find yourself dreaming. It is almost like one of those restless night’s sleep where you wake up feeling even more tired than when you originally went to bed.
“The Eden is operating at ninety-eight point seven four percent with no change to our current flight time” replied ADAM.
“That’s a shame.” Mused the engineer. “I could have done with being there now”. Gilbey smirked at his own reflection as if to congratulate himself on his terrible joke.
“There does appear to be a minor hull breach in section C on the western Sigma wing” ADAM informed him.
The moment the words touched Gilbey’s ear his gradually improving mood took a nose dive and his stomach sank and for a brief second, he felt as if he was going to suffer the same fate as Dr. Reids and begin throwing up. “Oh for fuck sake!” he croakingly growled, as loud as his vocal cords would allow, before kicking the panel below the basin, for he knew what this would mean a ridiculous amount of repair work that would be involved in such a job ontop of his schedule maintenance tasks. “This cycle is going to suck” he said to himself as he wiped his dripping face with his vest before putting it on. Leaving the garment even more stretched and shapeless than it already had been.
“What was that Sir?” ADAM asked inquisitively.
“Nothing” Gilbey said and waved his hand as though brushing away a bothersome insect. He was already deep in thought about the work he had already had to do since they first left Earth over sixty years ago and what a ‘small hull breach’ would mean if they didn’t get to work on it right away would do to their flight time, not to mention their lives and the lives of the thousands of colonists currently held in stasis on board.
“Thank you, ADAM. That will be all for now.”
“Of course, sir.” With that, Gilbey heard the feint white electrical hiss of ADAM’s intercom system fall silent.
During the first cycle, they only had a few engine issues that were expected from the fallout of leaving Earth’s atmosphere and turning the primary thrusters on. There is the make or break moment in leaving the poison filled atmosphere of earth, the main thrusters fire and the ship is carried by the blast for the next twenty years before they need to fire again and the maintenance crew is awoken to make the always needed repairs. Unfortunately on occasion the thrusters don’t fire; the ship is left to orbit the planet with both a flight and maintenance crew awake, while they wait for the optimal time to try and plot a course once more. This can take any time from a year. With the longest recorded time of a craft being held in Earth’s orbit being six years.
The problem is that cutting through the smog caused a fair bit of damage to idling thrusters while they waited to be fired, especially once the jet stream caused the methane clouds to combust. This means that although the explosions actually help the craft to be propelled out of the cloud and leave the atmosphere, once the rockets are turned off, the tail back will always over heat the stern and aft of the ship. It was a common issue and of course countermeasures have been developed and are taken to reinforce the exhaust ports, but there are weight limits. So strategically placing the main engine in the amidships is necessary and even a ship like Eden, fitted with huge launch rockets and a powerful engine to match her size couldn’t carry enough plating to keep the flames from reaching the engine; twenty miles and countless decks deep.
These were the things you needed with off-world trips, more so since the Gloom had worsened over the year. Thankfully they didn’t need to worry about re-entry or they would have been in serious trouble.
After their first awakening ADAM had informed Gilbey and the rest of the maintenance crew that the heat had caused one of the cooling ducts in the Lambda deck to warp to the point where it had stopped working completely. Meaning the ships engine could not begin to power up for the next thruster blast until repairs were complete. It took them the better part of a week just to stabilise the pressure in the maintenance tunnel before they could get in there to actually do the repairs.
ADAM had sealed the area after the initial thruster blast, to keep the gasses from affecting the sensitive network of cabling that ran through the entirety of the ship and not only powered ADAM but all other systems, resulting in catastrophic damage. This had kept the workload to a gratefully received minimum, but they had nearly reached their maximum maintenance cycle time before by the time the duct was repaired and some of the routine system checks had to be put off till next cycle so that the next thruster blast wasn’t delayed. Thank fully nothing was missed and ADAM did not have to wake them up prematurely for emergency repairs, as this would have meant that they would spend over four months awake and working before their bodies were allowed back into status so as to avoid heart failure, which was the most common caused of death whilst in stasis, unless of course the ship suddenly exploded; which was second. ADAM would have woken them up before that ever happened, Gilbey hoped.
It took them nearly the whole cycle to get everything up to scratch. ADAM assured them that he had ran various calculations and said that the cooling duct had a good percentage chance of the repairs they had made would keep the ship from tearing apart in space, which had almost put Gilbey’s mind at ease.
As for the second cycle, the repairs the crew had previously made to the primary thrusters meant that they were still on time for reaching Hyades star cluster. If they hadn’t managed to repair them, then it could have added nearly a decade to the flight time. Gilbey was pretty such that no one wanted to spend any more time inside this tin can than they needed to. Unfortunately the thruster damage had caused multiple issues in the engine deck which took the entire cycle time to complete. They had to replace ignition coils and a starter solenoid, on an engine the size of a house.
The team watched as the ship drifted passed the star cluster from a completely new perspective. No other humans would ever get to see this. Unfortunately upon making the belated system checks Graves came to realise that the ships magnetic deflector shields had begun to flicker and lose power for a few seconds at a time once every two or tree years. The magnetic field, which covered the entire ship, had flickered and lost power for a few seconds at a time. Without it, any piece of debris could easily crash through the hull of the ship and bring the whole thing down from the inside. They were lucky that it was only a small hull breach this time around, but it was most likely the long lasting effects from the damage to the shield generator previously. Gilbey was sure they had fixed it perfectly, but these things were still a little temperamental. They had spent all of the second cycle working on the Interplanetary magnetic shield Generator, so surely they had done the job, but regardless of that, something had managed to break through in-between the second and third cycle.
Fortunately the person in charge; Senior Maintenance Office Dietrich, wasn’t as big a slave driver as Gilbey had endured on previous journeys over the Sol, so the crew did get some downtime during the cycles. Being the only people awake on an interstellar transport for a couple of weeks every twenty two years was something to behold, especially for a trip like the one that the Eden was taking. It was a journey that no human had ever done before, but also most likely one that no one will ever do again, so they may as well have enjoyed it.
The thought brought Gilbey back to the moment. He had tried to block out what this journey really meant for the human race. All the people that were left behind, and all the people on board who would never see most of their friends or family again, leaving them to their fate in the overpopulated underground metropolises buried deep in the ground.
He could feel the sensations of dread growing inside of him and beginning to clog his throat, as if someone had their cold fingers wrapped around it. He breathed deep and pushed his way through his feelings, sending them back into the dark recesses of his mind. He finished getting dressed thinking all the while that these thoughts were trying to remind him of the truth; there was nothing there for him any more. Not that there ever had been.
It was the furthest anyone had ever ventured outside of the Sol. He had been on deep-space salvages before, maintaining the engine and making repairs as he had done here, but those ships always returned back to Earth, which you’d think would have been the easy part, but cutting through the smog safely was always tricky. Gilbey could remember all of the times he had thought that he was going to die as whatever ship he was on attempted to break through.
The Eden was not coming back. It had left Earth and they had not heard a single word from it since the maintenance and flight crews first went into stasis shortly after leaving registered space over sixty six years ago. The world they have left behind would not be the same one they remember. The pollution had brought civilisation to the brink of destruction. They had become the engineers of their own downfall. The cyanogenic smog that covered the face of the planet and the trauma they had caused to the atmosphere were mankind’s punishment for trying to create a way to reverse the incurable effects that humanity had caused the planet over the last few thousand years.
“Gilbey” ADAM’s voice called out as Gilbey strapped on his wrist monitoring system and suddenly ADAM’s voice changed to sound as if it was coming through the speaker on the side beisde the door. “Senior Officer Dietrich and the rest of the unit are in the Operations Room and are awaiting for your arrival. Dr. Reids has been medicated and will be joining them soon”.
“Thank you ADAM” Gilbey replied as he zipped up his jacket and went to the door.
Talking to ADAM was like talking to your conscious. His voice was very human and only occasionally had a twang of computerisation to it. Sometimes Gilbey would forget that he was actually talking to a machine, as if he was simply having a conversation with a voice in his head. Instead it was in every gadget and computer that is on board the Eden.
“Open it up”.
ADAM fired up the mechanism and the door slid open revealing the pre-lit passageway. Most of the team had already passed through here, which was why everything was now up and running. Gilbey had been the first awake during the second cycle and previously when he had opened the door of stasis bay, had had been greeted with nothing but a cold and dark abyss standing before him, almost as if he was staring out into the dark emptiness of space itself.
Now the corridor was a tunnel of always blinding white light. The great task of repairing the Eden’s hull awaited him.
The passageway felt cooler than the stasis bay. It seems that even though their awakening had been predetermined, ADAM had not thought to get the ship warmed up ahead of time. During the last cycle it had taken a few hours before the crew felt as if they could take off their jackets.
Gilbey remembered that he had meant to ask Carter about changing ADAM’s functions to do so before they came out of stasis, but he had obviously been too busy with the shield generator repairs and it must have slipped his mind.
Carter was ADAM’s Operator and if there was anyone to ask about getting ADAM reprogrammed, it was him.
Just then the door to another stasis bay opened across the way and Dr. Reids emerged from the entrance. He wiped his mouth in a rather improper way, which was uncommon for him. He was a very well spoken man who rarely engaged with the rest of the grubby engine monkeys he has had the rotten luck of being stuck with. Gilbey imagine that back on Earth he was a respectable doctor, which obviously landed him a spot on the Eden, but not respectable enough as he had been appointed to the maintenance crew.
As he brought his hand back down, Reids noticed the other man in the hallway. “Oh” he said, collecting himself and straightening his coat. “I thought you would be in Operations with the others”.
“I’m heading there now” Gilbey replied. “How are you feeling?” It was a really a rhetorical question. He didn’t really care how Reids felt or how bad the sickness had affected him, but if he was trapped inside an enormous interstellar spaceship with the man, so he may as well try and keep it as civil as possible.
The doctor tried his hardest to put on a brave show, but Gilbey could see the small muscle spasms he was suffering from whenever his stomach twitched as if the sickness was about to return at any moment. “I am fine” he told him in a tone that made Gilbey think that he was trying to regain some lost credibility due to the fact that, thanks to ADAM, everyone probably knew he had spent the last thirty minutes throwing up.
Gilbey did think of telling him that it happens to everyone in an attempt to reassure him, but he remembered Reids had basically trivialised his A.S. during the first cycle, making out as if the sickness was merely a mild headache that will pass momentarily, when in reality it was more like the hangover from hell, so he left the man to suffer in silence.
He decided to head to the Operations Room and not wait for the doctor. The two of them had nothing to talk about anyway, and the very idea of a hull breach had Gilbey too concerned for the amount of work that was needing to be done this cycle for mindless chitchat with someone who looked down his nose at him anyway.
When he arrived found the rest of the crew already reading through the diagnostics, checking on the status of the colonists, and reading through various other data relating to the state of the ship and their current course settings.
Lane looked up from her computer terminal when the door had opened and smiled at Gilbey as he entered.
“Hey” she said. She too looked half asleep from her recent wakeup call. She yawned as she turned back to her work. Gilbey smiled and nodded. She was a nice girl, often keeping her own personal opinions on matters to herself to avoid any conflict, but it meant that she was always outspoken on everything. Gilbey had hung out with her quite a bit during the first cycle, but in the second, she had spent most of the time with Reids’ understudy; Eckhart.
Carter was in the far corner of the room busy checking for network issues with ADAM. The two of them were deep in some conversation involving binary code that Gilbey could probably only understand a tenth of it, but as far as he could tell, ADAM was operating at optimum efficiently, which was good as without ADAM, the entire ship would be like flying around with their eyes closed. Not to mention that all of the three thousand two hundred colonists would die in their stasis tanks almost instantly from heart failure. So it was good to know that they are being kept under the watchful eye of one of the most intelligent computer operating systems ever created.
“ADAM, troubleshoot the EVE” Senior Officer Dietrich called out as she stepped up to the middle control platform in the centre of the room. You’d have thought that this would have effectively ending Carter and ADAM’s conversation, but a separate conversation from ADAM begun, allowing Carter and his beloved AI to continue their nonsensical computer talk.
“Checking the EVE Earth-Forming System…” ADAM replied as the rest of the crew stopped what they were doing and waited for the results. “Checking… the EVE System is functioning at maximum capacity, with a start time of thirteen point two minutes once we have reached our destination”.
Gilbey noticed that everyone breathed a sigh of relief once they heard the words. It was the same repeated moment that had occurred in the previous two cycles that came before.
The EVE system was an enormous Earth-Forming molecular generator created by the best minds of the twenty forth century. Capable of manipulating an already established atmospheric planet to make it habitable for human life, the EVE System is able to recycle the regolith by adding organic material to the soil before redistributing it back onto the planet’s surface allowing for vegetation to grow, whilst pumping oxygen and nitrogen into the air, making the atmosphere habitable over the course of twelve years.
Without the EVE, the thousands of colonists would be forced to survive inside the Eden, which serves as a large habitation centre once the ship has landed, until they eventually died out, only venturing out as far as the Magnetic Field generator would offer a breathable atmosphere for.
The EVE itself is so large that the whole lower deck of section A serves to house it and all the necessary sub-equipment needed to operate it. Enormous rib like appendages hold themselves in place during the flight, but upon touch down on the Delta, the ribs drive their way into the surface and the Earth-Forming can begin.
It was agony to think that the irreversible pollution damage caused to the Earth had begun to tear the planet’s atmosphere so much that it did not have enough of an atmosphere left to get the EVE system working there. The smog, which the people on Earth called it the Gloom, had completely dissolved it all. By the time the work had finished on the EVE system, it was already too late. The enormous gas giant that man had formed would be the harbinger of human races’ termination.
This mission was mankind’s final chance at redemption. To wipe the slate clean and start a-new. They needed to find a planet capable of utilising the EVE and creating a new home for mankind. Delta Tauris in the Hyades star cluster contained such a place, but one hundred and fifty three light years from Earth meant that it was going to take nearly a century and a half to get them there.
As soon as ADAM had finished stating the EVE systems’ start time, everyone got back to their tasks. It was at this point that a cough behind Gilbey indicated that Dr. Reids had made it to the Operations Rooms.
“Dietr…” he managed to get out before coughing once more. In fear that the doctor might start vomiting once again, Gilbey moved over to another section of the room near where he found Engineer Graves sitting looking at the data relating to the hull breach. It was the work that Gilbey knew he would be assigned to working on for the majority of this cycle, so he thought he would get to it.
As soon as Reids composed himself, he continued with what he was originally going to say. “Dietrich, how are the colonists doing?” he asked.
The Senior Officer pressed a few buttons on the central control panel in the centre of the room and a holographic display brought up the ship complete with thousands of coloured lines beside it indicating every single person held in stasis on board the Eden. A small cluster of them were separated from the rest, these were flight crew. Looking over the entire ship nearly all of the coloured lines were blue, however a couple of yellow ones could be seen, which indicated that their vital signs were below normal, and, to the team’s surprise, as soon as all of the lights showing the colonists and the flight crew appeared, a few of them flicked over to red.
“God damn it!” Eckhart called out as he got to his feet as if to get a better look at the holograph. Eckhart was the other Medical Officer awake during the cycles and the subordinate to Reids. His sudden outburst had caused the other people in the room to stop and look round to see what was the matter.
“Oh, are… are they dead?” a slightly shocked Lane asked as she turned towards Dr. Reids.
The doctor stepped onto the central platform. “ADAM, advise on stasis pods in critical condition”.
“Michael James Burns, Olivia King, Faariq Bagheri; status… deceased. Cause of death: sudden change in cardiac arrhythmia resulting in myocardial infarction”.
“Heart attack” Reids said aloud, almost as if he was informing the rest of the simple minded maintenance crew members what it meant in Layman’s terms.
“Attempts were made at resuscitation” ADAM continued, “However all three cases were unsuccessful and resulted in loss of life”.
“Did any of them have families?” Lane asked worrisomely. Gilbey knew that ADAM’s answer would upset her. The thought that the families’ of these people had left with their loved ones, expecting to start a new life together; a better one, only to come out of stasis a hundred and thirty seven years later to discover that their loved ones had died during the trip.
“Michael James Burns leaves a wife and three children” ADAM continued. “Olivia King leaves a husband and…”
“Okay, that’s enough” Dietrich interrupted, most likely in an attempt to save Lane from wondering who was going to be responsible for informing the families of the departed once they reached Delta Tauris. “Reids, what do we do about the other critical ones?”
“I will monitor them from here for now” he replied. “But, if need be, a simple alteration in their stasis tanks should get their vitals back into sync”.
“Well make sure that you are happy with their condition before the cycle ends”. Dietrich went to move on, “When we get to…” but Lane interrupted her.
“ADAM how many is that now?… that we have lost on this trip?” she asked not really sure if she wanted to know the answer. The rest of the crew looked away awkwardly anticipating the difficult answer that was in bound.
“Calculating total number of colony or crew fatalities over the last 66.8 years of the Eden’s travel time. One moment” ADAM informed the room. “Total number: Twelve. All casualties killed as a direct result of heart failure”.
“This is bullshit!” Lane called out as she got up from her terminal and went to storm out of the room.
Eckhart caught her. “It’s okay” he told her. “There isn’t anything we can do about that. It is just the risk of being in stasis for so long”.
“These people knew what might happen to them” Carter said. “They signed the consent forms before they ever got into the tanks”.
“Shut up Carter!” Lane barked back at him, closely followed by the same uttered by Eckhart.
“I am just saying that these people knew the dangers” Carter replied trying to defend himself, before realising that the point was futile and turning back to his work with ADAM.
He was right. Out of everyone that the Eden was carrying, all of the three thousand and two hundred colonist, as well as the seven maintenance cycle crew and thirty eight members of the flight team needed for take off and landing, each one of them had been carefully selected and evaluated before being asked if they wished to take part in this colonisation mission. Being in stasis for that long isn’t good for anyone. It was the dangers of “prolonged suspended life”, as the scientists called it. Every person on board this ship had to sign and agree to being in stasis for that long. It was a risk that everyone of them took, including Gilbey when he was requested for this mission. None of them expected any casualties, but when they awoke during the first cycle and saw the red lights on the holograph, they all knew that there would be a lot more dead before they reached Delta Tauris, and they they were right.
During the first cycle only two colonist died as a result of heart failure. On the second a further six died and one of the flight crew. Thankfully it was only one of the Landing Engine workers and someone who could easily be covered for, as horrible as it is to say, but it was still quite a shock to the system to see so many deaths.
“Isn’t there anything we can do to prevent this?” Lane asked Eckhart. The young doctor’s face told her the answer, so Lane decided to ask something else. “Why doesn’t ADAM wake us up so we can try to help?” He outburst was very unlike her.
“There’s nothing we can do that ADAM wouldn’t have already tried” Dr. Reids advised the sorrowful Engineer.
“Besides…” Carter added “ADAM’s protocols on waking us are set to things might be a result of a catastrophic incident or malfunction, or something related either to the pods or the ship itself. Anything that might result in the deaths of multiple colonists or crew members would trigger him to wake us. A colonist suffering a simple heart attack isn’t enough to create an additional cycle we really don’t need and fuck up our lives by aging us unnecessarily. We are already going to be older than any of the colonist we knew before”.
The Operations Room fell silent. Once again Carter was correct but his cold hearted way of saying it made people feel irritated towards him.
“Look…” Dietrich decided to take control of the situation. “We are all saddened to hear of more people dying in-between cycles, but there is nothing we can do about this. Admiral Walker will be speaking to the families of those lost when we get to the Delta, so we don’t have to worry about any of that. I am sure that one of the first things he does is bury the dead on the new world and create a sort of memorial to them… for their sacrifice. Let’s just focus on what we have to do to get us there, okay?”
Gilbey decided that this was the perfect moment to change the subject to a more pressing issue. “How bad is the rupture of the hull in Section C?” he asked as he looked over Graves’ shoulder at the monitor. He could see the four separate sections of the Eden split with one area displaying a flashing orb beside a large warning sign displaying the words ‘Breach’ and ‘Oxygen failure’ over and over. Graves selected this area on the touch screen and the picture zoomed in to the affected area.
“It looks like it happened quite recently” Graves told him.
“Approximately three months, seven days and six hours prior to your awakening” ADAM added.
“The damage relating to magnetic shield generator surrounding the ship during the previous maintenance cycle had clearly not been as fully repaired as we had thought” Graves told the crew, who were now hanging on his every word. It made him feel a little uncomfortable, causing him to slump back in his seat. “It appears that the, err… um… shield is… ADAM what’s the shield’s status?” he asked to help divert the awkward staring.
“The Interplanetary magnetic field is operating at ninety seven percent, which has resulted in a drop in power at irregular intervals”.
“How long does the I.M.F go down for?” Dietrich asked.
“Just before the rift occurred, the shield generator failed for twelve point three seconds before a system reboot was automatically engaged and the interplanetary magnetic field continued to operate at…”.
“ADAM, when did this first occur?” Gilbey requested interrupting ADAM from his full and uncessarily long debrief. “and how often did we lose the Eden’s shields for?”
ADAM took a short while to compile the data. After a few moments of awkward silence, ADAM spoke. “The magnetic shield generator failed a total of nineteen times over the course of the stasis sleep between maintenance cycles. Beginning four months and six days after you had re-entered stasis”.
The room fell silent as they thought for a moment that for around once a year the shield generator had stopped working for, only at most, twelve seconds at a time, but within the last few months something had managed to use that small window of opportunity to cause a breach in the Eden’s hull. It was a scary thought given that the shield was stopping all manner of space debris from completely tearing the ship apart and killing them all.
“So what the hell caused it? ADAM what is this I’m looking at?” Gilbey said, leaning over Graves and using his fingers to zoom in and rotate the strange image on the display which showed something in the Sigma wing of Section C. Graves leaned forward to get a better look.
“Upload to the central display” Dietrich commanded and suddenly the holograph in the centre changed from the image of the colonists coloured lines to a larger version of what Graves had displayed on his monitor. Here everyone could see the mysterious flickering orb.
“An object of unknown origin breached the Eden’s hull at twenty one thirty three hours on April eleventh, twenty four ninety eight. It was stopped by the drop in velocity caused by breaking through the outer shell of the ship, before lodging itself into the wall of the Sigma passageway of Section C” ADAM informed the team. “There appears to be no hazardous gases or materials detected”.
“Well that’s a relief” Carter added in.
“Has it managed to get into the Sigma stasis bay?” Reids asked. “There are eight hundred colonists next to that passageway”.
“Although there is minor damage to the western wall, the stasis bay and all colonists residing there are secure. As protocol requires, I have sealed the Sigma passageway until the third cycle had commenced. There was no immediate threat detected, so I was not required to wake you from stasis”.
“So what the fuck is it then?” Graves asked, appearing to get his courage back.
“I am afraid that without a sample uploaded and scanned, I simply do not have any relevant data at this time” ADAM admitted. This made Graves smile, hearing that the all powerful machine that was in control of their lives did not have any clue as to what had managed to get on board the ship, but it made the rest of them feel concerned.
“Due to the size of the object; three point seven feet long, two point seven feet wide, and two point one feet high, I would presume that it was a micrometeorite of some kind. My preliminary scan reveals that the object is hollow and empty surrounded by a foot thick carapace, but I am afraid that I do not know any further information”.
“Thank you ADAM” Dietrich said before closing down the holograph in the centre. “We need to get that shield generator working probably. Whatever we did to it during the second cycle was not good enough. We can’t let this happened again as god only knows what else will crash into the ship. Any more of this and we will need to wake up the flight engineers, and those guys will be pissed if they have been woken up seventy years too early. We were lucky that this was just a small object, anything bigger could have ripped the ship in half, maybe even taken one of the middle sections of the ship out with it. One of those fall and we can kiss the tail end of the Eden goodbye”.
“The Eden only needs section A in order to fly” Carter added. “So long as the engine and the EVE systems are secure, then we would…” he stopped as he realised that it was not a very liked thing to discuss.
“Thank you Carter” Dietrich stated as she walked over to Carter who was disconnecting his Programmer Interface from the ADAM port here in the Operations Room. “Carter, you and me will head down to the Gamma deck to try and sort the shield generator. We’ll need ADAM to run diagnostics before we get there to try and pin point what exactly the problem might be”. She turned her gaze over towards where Graves and Gilbey were located. “You two and Lane take a tram and head over to the hull breach. Take a look at the damage and, if possible, begin the repairs on it. We need to make sure no further damage will be caused to the outer wall of the Sigma bay”.
“What do you want us to do with this thing?” Graves asked pointing at the object that had broken through the hull on the monitor.
“So long as the ship is sealed and we ain’t going to rip apart out here, I don’t give a shit what you do with it”. Graves face turn red following Dietrich’s response. “If it’s melting a hole in the floor, then use a Carrier to take to one of the hanger bays and jettison the fucker”. The Senior Officer turned to the doctor. “Dr. Reids” she said in a calmer tone that the previous orders she had just given. “The people in the pods with the vital sign errors…”
The doctor decided to continue her sentence for her. “Me and Eckhart will check their stasis tanks over. We need to check and see if any of them might be at risk of suffering heart failure after we finish this cycle”.
“Can you do something about the deceased colonist?” The delivery of Dietrich’s request felt almost as if she was asking him, rather than telling.
“Yes… yes” he struggled to say as Gilbey saw the doctor’s stomach twitch, causing him a brief moment of pain. Dr. Reids brought a hand up to his mouth before suddenly realising that everyone in the Operations Room had seen the spasm, so be proceeded to scratch his face, as if that was the reason he had brought his hand up in the first place. He cleared his throat and continued. “As with the others, ADAM has already cut off the oxygen to their pods and will continue to hold their bodies in stasis to avoid decomposition. This will allow their families to bury the bodies, or, alternatively, the ship’s incinerator would be fine to cremate them, if they’d rather. So long as their deaths were not a result of any form of infectious virus, or the result of this meterorite, then it will be perfectly fine to preserve them here”.
“Okay” Dietrich continued. “Look, we’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time to get it done in. I know it is going to be tough, and after the amount of work we had on the last cycle, we were all looking forward to a nice easy one, but I think that…”
As Gilbey tried to listen to his commanding officer, a small flash caught his attention. Once he caught sight of it, Dietrich’s voice became distant and almost muted, along with the constant humming of computers and machinery elsewhere on the Eden.
The small flashing light was coming from the Eden’s communication uplink station that was designed to send and receive transmissions from over incredibly long distances. It is used for ships venturing out to be able to communicate with Earth, or to one another, but the message could take days to travel from one location to another, depending on how far away the ships were. For something like the Eden, since the fact that they were travelling further and further away from the closest human-being with each passing moment, a transmission would have taken years to have reached them.
The flight crew had used the communication uplink to speak to Earth as the Eden began their journey to Delta Tauris, but before they had gone into stasis, they had asked the maintenance crew to keep an eye on it for any future communications. The crew had checked it on the first cycle, but there was nothing. Lane took an interest in it over the first week of the second cycle, but other than that, they had not even bothered to pay it a second thought. They had not heard anything since a few days after leaving the Sol and now years had gone by. They figured that they had forgotten about them, but the small yellow light that was flashing on and off for a couple of seconds at a time made everything suddenly come rushing back to Gilbey. He felt his mouth almost drop open and his heart began to face.
“ADAM” Gilbey announced interrupting Dietrich who turned to him in vexation. “Have we… received any transmissions?” As soon as the words left Gilbey’s mouth, he saw the crew’s eyes grow wide and turn towards the direction of the communication uplink. A few mouths even began to drop I nthe same way as Gilbey’s had done once they too noticed the small flashing yellow light, in the background, flickering like a lighthouse miles way, almost like a small beacon of hope.
“Oh… my god…” Eckhart muttered as Lane gripped his jacket tight, pulling him in closer to her embrace with a look of stunned shock on her face.
A few moments passed before ADAM spoke, passing seconds that felt almost like a life time. “Messaged received: August thirteenth, twenty four seventy six. Transmission destination coordinates; zero A.U. Sol System, Local Cluster”.
“Earth” Lane said with a smile, a tear forming in the corner of her eye. Even Carter smiled as the word left her lips.
“It came only a few years after we finished the second cycle” Eckhart added as he too began to smile at the thought that they have had a message from home waiting for them all this time.
ADAM continued “Eighty two point three light years from our current location. Message Date: December fifth, twenty three hours, forty nine minutes”.
“Hey, that like… fifty years old” Graves standing up from his station to get a better look at the communication uplink.
“Can you bring it up here ADAM” Dietrich asked pointing towards the central display once again.
Within seconds the holograph appeared in the middle of the Operations Room, only this time it was displaying data relating to the received transmission. “Sender: Daniel Hale. Clearance Level: C, one thirty seven. Dulce Bunker, New Mexico”. An image displaying, what appeared to be, Daniel Hale’s face, could be seen. The man’s appearance was gaunt and balding, with deep sunken dark eyes. He appeared like someone whose face looked older than he actually was. The crew’s faces began to change when they saw the image of Daniel’s sickly appearance.
“Who the hell is that?” asked Gilbey as he tried to remember the faces of the people who had worked on the Eden but had not accompanied them on this mission, but nothing came to mind. His name rang a bell somewhere in the furthest corner of his mind, but he could not place it.
“Message playback…” ADAM proclaimed and the crew waited in nervous anticipation for the message to start. The sight of this unknown sender had made them feel a little on edge. Their hopeful message from back home had started to look like a foreboding transmission of despair.
The audio started and instantly filled the room with a bleak undertone. “Crew of the USC Eden” the hoarse voice called out as the holographic image of him remained motionless, hovering above the central display like a ghost. “This is Chief Daniel Hale of the United States Military… or what is left of it”.
Gilbey could feel his stomach begin to clench and tighten the more he spoke. He felt as if he was starting to come down with a late case of Awakening Sickness once again.
“It has been a lifetime since you left Earth’s atmosphere to travel to the Hyades start cluster in the great beyond. Your mission to colonise Delta Tauris brought hope to the people at the time. Carefully selecting and testing each colonist and their family members, picking only the elite who would be able to survive travelling that long in stasis to reach the new world… your new beginning… the last hope for the human race”. His words brought uncertainty to the crew. Graves slumped back down in his seat. “I was not even born when you left this god forsaken place. I grew up in the world decimated by the Gloom; the pollution that poisoned the skies around the underground bunker which was my home with my father, David Hale, and son of; Commander Nathan Hale”.
Now that was a name Gilbey did recognise. He was one of the high ranking generals in charge of the Eden mission. It was ultimately down to them who decided who would be able to come on board. He was an old man when Gilbey had met him before starting the trip. It was clear that he would not be going. Many of the “older” citizens were not allowed to accompany their families on the pretence that they would not survive the journey. Some proposed colonists even gave up their places to spend the last few years they had with their older relatives, rather than leave them alone in a dying world.
“My father would tell me stories his grandfather told him of the old world. The blue sky and white clouds that rained down water from above. Thick green grass that would grow from the soft soil beneath as animals, cattle and sheep grazed the fields as birds fly overhead”.
It was the not the life that they had remembered. Gilbey had grown up in one of the bunkered cities sitting just on the surface, with most of it buried underground. When he was a boy the animals had only nearly all but died out from the smog. He remembered seeing a lush grassy field once, but he can’t recall if it was in real life or if he had seen it on a computer in some archieved footage. It was only when he was a teenager when the air became so unbearable without the proper equipment, that it became almost impossible for anyone to venture outside. That was when the government started to heavily invest their time and efforts into the various space programs, salvaging materials from old satellites, and mining minerals from floating asteroids in deep-space. This was the world that Gilbey had remembered leaving behind, one that was slowly being eradicate by the Gloom.
The transmission audio continued. “I grew up just as we lost communications from last remaining bunker cities. The Gloom had changed since your time. The air became so acidic that it would burn right through your suit, and once it reached your skin, you were done for. Millions of bacteria and radiation forced its way into your bloodstream. A single infected could wipe out an entire bunker. We had heard it over the comms. Porton Down was lost within a month of bringing back someone who had been contaminated. We tried to build deeper underground, but we just didn’t have the manpower. We had become weak by the lack of daylight, and with the contagion now becoming more of a requent problem, we couldn’t do anything but sit and wait to die”. The crew could hear the sound of a cup of liquid being poured before the man on the message drank it. “Eugh… When the Gloom became more potent, we lost the chance to continue or research into the EVE system, in hopes that it could, somehow, reengineer what had been done to our planet. The technology was left stranded in the Utah complex when the smog managed to get in and kill everyone. We are all that is left… Right now, we haven’t had a communication from anyone in over a year.
My father told me that you were the last hope for humanity. The Eden was the only shot Earth had of carrying on. He was a great man who took up the mantel after my grandfather passed. Thankfully he died before the Gloom could get to him. He left me in charge of the ruins. Half the facility was lost when the infection began to spread. We had to seal that entire eastern wing, just so we had a chance to living that little bit longer. There’s not that many left now. It won’t belong before we starve to death or become contaminated ourselves. The last of us who remain are sickened anyway. We were born that way; forced to live a life stuck down in this deep dark hole. How could they have children knowing that they were bringing them into this dying place? A lifetime of living beneath the ashes, just waiting around to die”. His words were the stuff of nightmares to the maintenance crew. Their worst fears had come true and now the world they had left behind had fallen.
Gilbey looked over over and saw that Lane was sobbing into Eckhart’s jacket. He held her tight in an embrace, but his face appeared just as saddened as hers. Carter now had his hand over his mouth in disbelief of what he was hearing. Dr. Reids looked as if he was about to puke again.
“When we were children” the recording went on. “We were told not to send transmissions to you. You were a shining pillar of hope for the human race, and the last of the government wanted to keep it that way. They didn’t want you to know how bad it truly was; the world you had left behind. I am sorry for telling you this. I know it must be difficult to hear. I don’t know if you had expected this or if you thought that they would managed to get the project to save the planet up and running. I had heard stories of your mission and always believed that you would one day come back and save us, taking us to the new world where the grass was thick and green beneath a beautiful blue sky. I know now that you are probably not even at Delta Tauris yet. By my calculations, it will be years before you are even close. Most likely, by the time you receive this message, me and the last survivors of Dulce will be long dead. I only hope that this tells you not to come back. Don’t send anything back to Earth. This world is dead and you will die if you come back here. Hear my warning Eden. Begin your new lives and remember the horrors that you had escaped from. The millions of people who had died because of what our ancestors had done to this planet. Don’t make the same mistake at Delta Tauris. Live… please”. The voice began to cough uncontrollably. A few grasps for air could be heard before Daniel managed to pull himself together again.
To be continued…