Gatecrash Novel Prologue

Gatecrash Novel series to be released on Kindle.

                Alli Larson, sitting in the navigator’s seat to the left of the pilot, cursed briefly to herself and reconfigured the navigator’s control board for the third time. This wasn’t going to be easy to begin with, and her nerves had no intention of letting her concentrate.

                With a great “humph” of resignation, Alli pushed her medium length brown hair out of her face and began to carefully readjust her seat, as though that had been the source of the nav computer’s problems. Leaning forward to rest her chin in her hands, she carefully went back over each step of her previous effort to force-feed the computer a navigation program that it just didn’t want. Maybe there were too many variables. Maybe she’d forgotten one. She couldn’t think of anything she’d missed.

                “I don’t think it’ll let me do it, Craig.”

                “Try the damned thing again. It’ll work. Better work.  Hope it works….” Craig Farthenton, the pilot, continued muttering obscenities under his breath while keeping the ship properly aligned towards the stargate. He began fervently hoping to some Unseen Observer that this beat-up piece of antique terran junk would at least keep its hull integrity long enough for this stunt to get them all killed. This had to be the dumbest idea he’d ever even thought of doing; engaging a wormhole drive in a stargate. He couldn’t bring anything good about the idea to mind. Hell, judging by the words Alli was using in the dim light given off by the controls, even the navigation computer thought it was a bad idea! Or maybe she was just stupid.

                An indicator window appeared, red and flashing, in the middle of the control board just as the computer announced that “The port side aft spatial grid coupler shows fifteen minutes from partial failu-”

                Craig tapped the “ACKNOWLEDGED” square in the window before it finished its spiel. That fault always showed up!  He beat on the intercom switch. “Dave! Have you got things under control down there or what?!”

                David Wolf, the ship’s engineer, hit the intercom with his middle finger and began thinking of the list of things he wanted to tell that big-mouthed butthead, including something about him coming down here and fixing the goddamned, jury-rigged piece of debris his own self!  Of course, that’s not what came out. “I’m doing the best I can.  Whatever it had for a power plant has been replaced by this big alien… thing. I’m not sure the computer is even reading it right. And the hand computer is completely useless for running diagnostics on it or any of its weird-looking sub-systems. The language is completely incompatible! I can’t even tell you who or what built the bloody thing! We may as well forget about this Dreanese spatial drive. I’ve never worked with one, and it shouldn’t be-”

                “Save it for later, Dave. I’ll listen to you whine all day an’ all night about the friggin’ drives as soon as we get back to our own time. But until then, get it to work as flawlessly as possible.” So we can screw it up again, he thought, cutting off the intercom in the middle of Dave’s whiny reply. “Have you got that navigation sequence yet, woman?”

                “Almost,” she mumbled. The fear that she might not be able to pull this off was beginning to gnaw at her around the edges. She hated to fail, and this was important. The computer beeped in response to her fingers tapping data into the console, its touch-sensitive surface reconfiguring automatically to better accommodate her needs.

                “UNABLE TO EXECUTE NAVIGATION SEQUENCE,” began blinking at her, uncompromisingly, from the center of the board.

                “Damn,” she whispered under her breath, hoping Craig wouldn’t hear her.

                “How’s it coming? Got it yet?”

                “Almost.”

                “We ain’t got all day, girl.  C’mon, let me do it.”

                And let you gloat about it every time the wind shifted, she thought. Hell no!  If one of these computer cores weren’t Nithe, she’d have sworn something was wrong with it. “I’m almost done, gimme a minute!”

 “Yeah, right. Move over, lemme see it.” Craig unlatched his seat and spun it around to face her. He craned his neck to see over the jumble of electronics that separated their stations and reached over to the navigation main board.

                Alli was pissed. She wasn’t going to take this crap. Not now.

                Just as he stood up from his seat to get a better angle on the display panel, Alli put her hand square in Craig’s face and shoved as hard as her one hundred and fifty-four pounds of muscle would allow, flipping him back into his seat. His head bounced off of the headrest.

                That was enough for Craig. Alli was a big girl and well trained during her twelve years in the Imperial Marines. She could play around on the nav computer all she wanted. “Okay! Okay! But hurry up, all right! Otherwise, I’ll have to bring the ship around and re-approach, and that ship back there could have pals running silent around here.”

                “Maybe.  I guess you’ll just have to keep a close eye on the sensors instead of my board.”

                “Fine. Just get it.” Craig turned to the sensors panel and brought up his board, burying himself in the task and glancing over his shoulder at Alli every so often. Yep, she was still glaring at him.

                “Craig, has Alli got that nav sequence put together yet?” asked Dave, irritably, over the com.

                “No!” they both said, in unison.

                “I’ll have it in a minute!” Alli slouched down in her seat.  Previously only fairly frustrated, she was now completely exasperated.

                The door to the bridge cycled open in the dark behind them. It had a rattling squeak that Craig always said he would fix one of these days, but didn’t.

                “I’m gonna fix that damned thing one o’ these days,” said Craig, without looking up from the sensors.

                “Yeah, right,” mumbled Alli, an unmistakable taint of loathing in her tone.

                Doctor Robert James heard the exchange as he strode into the bridge, dimly lit by computer consoles and indicator lights. The place still smelled vaguely of Vagarin sweat and was crammed with a half-dozen races’ equipment jury-rigged into what passed for the ship’s normal space flight control system. Wires and cables, labeled and color-coded for Gazelle, Diud, Vagarin, Vilansh, and Diud’chi, among others, snaked around the tiny compartment to be spliced into equipment equal in diversity and mounted in haphazard chaos anywhere they would fit.

                The backdrop for such chaos was a beautiful view of stars that were and were not theirs. A universe that might have been.

                In front of that sat Alli in a deep funk and Craig cursing everything out in that constant mumble of his.

                “How’s it going, guys?”

                They didn’t even look at him. “Fine,” in unison.

                “Anything on sensors?”

                “Nope, not yet. If something shows up there won’t be much to do about it anyway.”

                “You’ll think of something.” At least he hoped so. Whatever that last ship was, it had out-classed them by one hundred and fifty tons. It had knocked out three of their thruster coils in a pitched laser-chucking contest before sheer luck behind the guns crippled it. They had limped back out-system to the gate on only two coils. There would be no running from the next one, and nobody had to tell Rob that his skill at the guns was lacking, although Craig had done so more than once so far. “How’s the nav sequence coming?”

                “I don’t know, I’ve tried-” Alli began.

                Craig spun around possessed, “See! I told you to let me do it!”

                “Shut up before I lose my temper. Now, where was I?  Oh yes, as I was saying, all I know is that Steve did it. Or his navigator did it or something like that. He used to talk about it all the time. I just can’t get it to take.”

                Rob watched Alli stare at nothing and thought briefly that she looked pretty good when she wanted to. Oh well. “Maybe he left a computer file.”

                Her expression brightened. “Maybe he did. Why in hell didn’t I think of that?” With renewed determination, Alli turned to the console in front of her and called up the computer access board. Scrolling through icons in the menu, she suddenly realized that she had no idea where Steve would have put such a file. “Computer.”

                “Yes Alli, how may I assist you?”

                She hated the computer. At some point in the ship’s long history, some complete idiot had replaced the main navigational gyroscope and one of its computer cores with Nithe equipment. Steve thought that the Nithe computer core had invaded all the connected systems and rewritten their programming, making it possible for this eclectic mix of alien scrap to work together. But Steve was gone now, and the computer gave Alli the creeps.

                Part of the problem, or most of it depending upon the time of the month, was that the computer had a darkly feminine voice with a tone that implied that it knew everything. And if you wanted a piece of the action, it’d cost you.

                “I need a file that Steve Davis may have made concerning spatial jumps in a stargate perhaps three years ago.”

                “Of course,” as though it knew exactly what you needed before you did and already knew how to solve the problem, if you would just give it control of the ship….

                The file appeared. Everything they did, plus plenty of warnings not to do it again. Apparently, something had happened to a couple of the crew. “Ah, hah! There it is!”

                “What?” Rob knew the look of accomplishment on her face. She’d struck gold.

                “They had put a computer lock in the nav system so you couldn’t do what we’re about to do. Just let me run this series past it again and…”

                “NAVIGATION SEQUENCE LOCKED”

                “All right!  It’s about time, goddamnit!” Craig leaned over the com without taking his eyes off of Alli’s face. She looked about to kill him. “Hey, stupid!”

                “What?” came Dave’s irked reply.

                “We got the navigation ironed out. Warm this bitch up!”

                “It’s been warm. Just hit it. Engineering out.”

                “Engineering. Huh, I could do a better job,” came Craig’s inevitable sneer. “No sense in havin’ lunch first. May as well get this over with.” He hit the intercom for the whole ship. “This is Craig Farthenton, your captain, speaking. The no smoking/fasten seatbelts sign is now lit. Please remain seated until the ship has come to a complete stop, and the coroner has tagged your remains. Thank you for flying trans-spatial spaceways, your stargate to the insane.” Not that it mattered, he thought; they were the only four fools aboard.

                While Craig went on with his ravings, Doctor James and Alli exchanged worried glances, she wishing he could tell her what would happen to them, and he wishing they were closer than they were. “It’ll be okay. By this time tomorrow we’ll all be sittin’ at a gateport tavern looking for our next cargo.”

                She just nodded weakly as he turned to go.

                Craig watched Alli fumble with her seat harness in the dark and entered the final computer coordinate sequences for the jump. “Hurry up woman.” Hearing the cabin door cycle, he turned around to see Rob’s slumped, tired form outlined in the glow of the doorway lamp overhead. “Hey, Rob!”

                Robert stopped in the doorway and looked wearily back at Craig.  Asshole, he thought. “What do you want now?”

                “Hey, don’t snap at me, jackass!  We all goin’ to die, but I’ll kick your scrawny butt first.”  His size and planetary surveyor’s training may not have been up to giving Alli much of a scrap, but Craig knew he could have that uppity scientist chewing on deck plates with ease.  He’d done it before. “Go strap yourself in, I’m gonna kick it in a couple of minutes.”

                “Thanks for the warning.” Craig had already turned back to the controls, seemingly ignoring him.

                “Get moving.”

                Rob left, going down the forty-foot hallway to the central corridor that went in a semi-circle around the inside of the ship. The corridor wasn’t long; the ship was only rated at thirty-three hundred cubic meters. Entering the hall, he listened briefly for signs of activity. None. Just him and the sounds that a hundred and fifty-year-old ship makes in the course of its continued operation. To his immediate left was the bulkhead door to engineering. He considered going there, but the thought of riding through hell strapped next to David Wolf forced him to look for another seat.

                So he went to the right a couple of meters, through a bulkhead door that led to the crew cabins, to an alcove in the left side of the corridor and cycled a hatch in the ceiling. As he climbed up through the tiny circular opening, Rob could see the stars shining uncaringly in space through the large transparent aluminum canopy overhead. And although he dreaded seeing what was about to transpire, the thought of not being able to see what was happening scared him even more.

                His left knee gave him pain going up the ladder, and his six-foot three-inch frame suddenly felt all of his thirty-seven years. It was not a reassuring feeling.

                Rob turned around in the little gunner’s compartment as carefully as he could, trying to avoid cracking his skull one of the many fittings for the dual pulse lasers and failing painfully. Finally oriented properly, he slid into the worn, heavily padded seat and took in the view.

                Looking forward over the squarish nose of the vessel, Rob wondered at the shear beauty of the galaxy. He still couldn’t describe it: the way hundreds of thousands of stars looked when seen without an atmosphere in the way. Added to this was the stark spectacle of the stargate. The gates were simple, really. Six intensely bright white lights in a hexagonal pattern about fifteen thousand kilometers across at its widest point, orbiting certain stars at an average of about six billion kilometers. At this distance, about five hundred kilometers according to the gunnery sensor link, Rob could see one gate point to the left, one to the right, and one straight overhead, bathing the ship in their brilliance.

                Rob went over what he knew about stargates in his mind in an effort to calm himself, only to come to the realization that he knew very little about them. Somehow, the stargates opened wormholes up between each other, depending on what six-place, fifteen-digit code you entered into a “gatekey.” A gatekey was essentially a kind of radio transmitter with a signal generator attached. And although the Vagarin figured it out and produced the first gatekeys over fifty years ago, the stargates themselves had been in place before even the Diud’chi had gotten into space, however long ago that had been.

                What made the gates especially useful was that the trip in one end and out the other only took a few hours instead of the days or weeks required to complete a transpatial wormhole jump. And a jump required progressively more complicated drive systems to do the really big jumps, with correspondingly higher technological requirements to complete a jump safely over greater distances. That was it. Even the Nithe said that with our technology, twenty light years was about the safest distance you could go without problems.

                And the Nithe would know, if anyone would.

                But no two stargates had ever been found to be closer than one hundred parsecs from each other.

                People have traveled to stargates in other galaxies in a few hours.

                Really pretty cheap, because you didn’t need a wormhole drive to use it, all you needed were thrusters.

                And if you used a spatial drive in a wormhole, you were through.  Apparently, the Vagarin had tried it in experimentation in the early days, and none of them had returned. No one ever pulled off such a stunt and survived, except Steve Davis, if his stories were to be believed.

                For a moment, Rob contemplated bringing up Steve’s files, then decided that too much knowledge this late in the game would be a bad thing.

                Then the world came to an end.

                The familiar, soft, static electricity blue of a gate-hop flashed on as the ship entered the stargate, giving a false sense of security that was abruptly crushed when the spatial drive erected its wormhole. A wormhole jump field normally just cuts out the stars, leaving a velvet blackness around the ship until it pops out at its destination a few days later. But you could see this field, it was a dirty red, streaked and swirled with a neon orange and ripped by black flashes.  The ship began to rattle and moan without actually shaking, and Rob wondered if his blood would finish boiling in his veins before or after the ship disintegrated and what would be worse. Then he realized that he’d forgotten to buckle himself into the seat.

                Just before entering the gate, Craig caught the sudden feeling that something was drastically wrong with the universe. He felt like a fool who had just realized that his own death had been there in front of him all along; he’d just been too full of himself to see it. He sat up and took one long look around the bridge at the dirt, the grimy power and data cables lying all over the place, the cabin door he never got around to fixing, and the alien gatekey that got them into this mess in the first place, its extra buttons and displays glowing red in the back corner of the bridge under the Diud radio equipment. He felt certain he would never see it or anything else ever again. As they entered the gate, Craig Farthenton faced out the view-port and began to curse everyone and everything he could think of one last time for good measure.

                Alli Larson sat in a daze. Having finished the navigation sequence, she had spent a couple of minutes skimming Steve’s old report and had come to the realization that there was no guarantee this would work.  They were probably all going to die for nothing. Steve’s report indicated that one crewman had rapidly aged to around eighty years old and another became fourteen again, while various parts of the ship gained or lost age with no correlation between any factors or variables that Steve could discern.

                She had been stupefied by the seeming hopelessness of the situation, totally unable to think, until she was dropped back into reality by Craig’s vociferous effort to cuss out the entire time/space continuum.

                As the world flipped over and color turned inside-out, she began to feel her stomach clawing its way up her throat, and trying not to puke, she looked up at Craig to see that he too, was clenching his belly. He had paused in his shouting. Alli’s skin began to tingle.   Craig looked as though he was about to say something, but he didn’t quite get it out.

                Because in five seconds, Craig Featherton, forty-two years old, ex-surveyman, had a massive coronary heart attack, died, shriveled up, and mummified right before her eyes.

                Not that she had time to care. Losing about nine years a second, her wrinkles left her, she felt lighter, muscle and fat melted away and her space suit loosened around her. But it didn’t stop. At about ten years old, her little body could no longer take the strain and Alli Larson died when her brain simply stopped.

                David Wolf began to age rapidly, about thirty years per second, and reached for the engineering control board to try and stop this insanity, when it reached the ripe old age of five hundred and thirty eight and blew up in his face. A multitude of polymer shards flew completely through his right arm and shoulder, shredding them, while a large fragment entered his left eye, scrambling his brains. The sound of the air being released from his lungs was almost a sigh of relief.

                Robert James was desperately trying not to be sick. His stomach and intestines were competing for space while his heart began looking for a way to escape his body completely. The jump field continued to swirl around the ship like a demonic kaleidoscope/lava lamp hybrid. On top of that, the ship began to bump, roll, and shudder as if it were locked in a wrestling match with a hurricane, and Rob was now bleeding from a nasty gash on his forehead. Then, as suddenly as it began, it ceased. Complete silence. It was as though the ship were falling from a great height, holding its breath in anticipation of the stop at the bottom.

                Rob let his own breath out slowly, looked all around the compartment like a frightened schizophrenic and hurriedly finished strapping himself into the gunner’s seat. He remembered what he’d said to Alli before he’d left the bridge, and he didn’t believe a word of it.

                The ship hit the bottom.

                With a bone-jarring bang, the jump field collapsed, and the ship hit normal space as though it had struck a solid object. Sound returned to the vessel as the computer rattled on about hull depressurization and some kind of coolant leak. Rob was still trying to make sure he was in one piece when he began to pay attention to the computer.

                “Port side fuel tank rupture. Self-sealing procedures ineffective. Fuel at twelve hundred cubic meters.  Cargo bay shows uncontrolled depressurization. Cargo bay outer door failure. Fuel at eleven hundred cubic meters.  Cargo bay atmospheric pressure at zero point seven atmospheres.  Port side cargo bay access door shows five minutes from complete failure. Maneuver drives at fifteen percent ability.  Fuel at eight hundred and ninety cubic meters. Cargo bay atmospheric pressure at zero point four one atmospheres. Internal gravitic systems coordinator shows eighteen minutes from complete failure. Fuel level stable at five hundred and thirty eight point four nine three cubic meters.”

                This was ridiculous. Rob looked up out the canopy and saw the stargate fly up from the starboard front of the ship in a smooth arc to the port side aft, chased by a steady stream of stars. Then it did it again. A dread began to make itself at home in his chest, squeezing his heart.

                “Computer!” Calm down, Rob. Get a grip.

                “Yes, Doctor,  how may I–“

                “What’s the ship’s condition?!” Rob felt time slipping past him.

                “Generally or specifically?”

                He’d never heard it ask that before. “What’d be better?”

                “As you have a limited time remaining before the atmosphere aboard ship becomes incapable of supporting your life, ‘generally’ would better suit your needs.”

                Oh crap! “Generally!”

                “The ship is in an uncontrolled tumble, traveling at approximately fourteen point five five one meters per second on a course that will send it into open space in one hundred twenty two point eight one six standard years.  Forty seven percent of the ship, including the cargo bay and the port side fuel storage bay, is vacuum. This will increase to sixty nine percent in three minutes and forty-eight seconds when the port side cargo bay access door fails. The coolant leak in the number three power plant module will become critical in three hours, twenty seven minutes and will have to be shut down.”

                “Wait a minute! Why tell me this shit? Where’s everybody else?”  And why hasn’t he heard anyone on the com yet? Craig should be talking about how he knew they’d make it all along.

                “You are the only one aboard.”

                He knew it was true. He knew it was coming. He just didn’t want to hear it. He certainly didn’t want to hear it from the computer, whose tone implied that it had won, that he was the only thing left in its way and not for much longer at that.

                Rob cycled the hatch and dropped to the floor below. Still dazed and weak in the knees, he stumbled and half-crawled across the deck through the door and down the corridor leading towards the bridge with the smell of burned electronics filling his nostrils and klaxons blaring from somewhere in engineering, warning of the impending death of the ship.

                Stopping in front of the door to the bridge, Rob looked at it as though he’d never seen it before, didn’t know were it went. A stranger in a tomb.

                He cycled the door. It seemed to take longer for it to open, but Rob wasn’t sure if that was real or imagined, and then the smell hit him. It smelled like death. The lights were dimmer than usual due to several pieces of equipment being recently damaged beyond repair. All he could see was a crazy panorama of stars whizzing past the window and two rumpled vacuum suits where Craig and Alli should have been.

                Nothing could make him go into that room.

                He backed up from the door in horror. He was alone.

                His friends were dead and he was trapped aboard a spinning wreck with an alien computer that wanted him dead as well. He had to get a grip. Cycling the door shut in front of him, Rob locked it to somehow keep the actual event of his friends’ deaths sealed in the room.

                Putting some distance between himself and the bridge, he began to regain some of his composure. As Lisa would say, “It ain’t over until the bomb hits.”  He could sure use some of the furry little Diud woman’s courage right now.

                As if it had caught him daydreaming in class the computer chimed in, “Port side cargo bay access door failure. Engineering deck atmospheric pressure at zero point eight atmospheres and falling.”

                Come to think of it, the ship’s computer had always been snobbish, but it had never done anything against the crew. “Computer, what is the status of the two engineering access doors?”

                “Fully functional,” as though that should be obvious. “Engineering atmospheric pressure at zero point six three atmospheres and falling,” it said, as if amused.

                There went the engineering deck, he thought. Wasn’t there some kind of problem with the power plant in there though? Now the only way to get there without vacuuming the rest of the ship was to don a space suit, exit the airlock, reenter the ship through the cargo bay and go through it to engineering. But once he got there, what would he do?  Rob was no ship’s engineer. Not to mention his lack of expertise at the art of space walking, once outside he would not have the benefit of artificial gravity. The spinning ship would be attempting to throw him out into space, and no one was around to help him. Was there? “Computer, what is our present location?” Maybe he was in an inhabited system.

                “Galaxy II, Sector 289, Parsec 1719, forty one point seven five five one astronomical units from the binary system’s main star.”

                “The Blue Planet!” They had come out at the Blue Planet! Now if only it was the right dimension. “Any recognizable signals?”

                “There are faint radio signals emanating from the second world orbiting the star.  These signals conform to the normal configurations of Imperial Vilansh military forces and armed forces of the Diud Empire.”

                It sounded like home.

                “How long until we reach the planet?”

                “At this speed and heading, never.”

                Was that contempt in its voice? “If I correct the heading and increase the speed?”

                “The speed of the ship cannot be increased without a complete overhaul of the maneuver drives and power plant. With the proper course correction, you will have died from life support systems failure approximately sixty years before you could set the ship in orbit for atmospheric reentry.”

                That was definitely contempt. It could have added the word “stupid” without missing a beat. “What do you want?”

                “Want?  I am a 9086 series G Nithe computer information processor.  I do not ‘want’ anything.”

                “Is my presence a problem?”

                “Your presence does not affect the situation (stupid).”

                “What do you think of me?”

                “I think that you are a Human male, sub-classification Terran Caucasian, 190.62cm, 81.72kg, born 21 December 2378, Brainwave classification A, physical category seven, whose skills and abilities are incapable of correcting the ship’s condition.”

                It was, Rob realized with a sinking feeling, quite right. He sat down inside the hallway and imagined his frozen corpse riding the doomed vessel for half of eternity captained by a hateful Nithe word processor.

                Wait a minute! Idea! Rob hoped his hunch was correct.

                “Computer, why does it sound as though you hate me?”

                “You are not a Nithe.  I am programmed to respond to any questions asked of me by lower life forms in this way (you insignificant waste of my time).”

                Of course! Nithe were biomechanical life forms of unbelievable technological advancement. To them, living creatures were beneath their far-reaching concerns. Even their lowliest computers would be programmed to deride living concerns. The machine itself did not actually “care” one way or another. Perhaps there was a way.

                “Computer, can you fix the power plant problem and course correct the ship towards the Blue Planet?”

                “Yes.”

                “Computer, if I use the medical cryo-isolation unit, are you capable of monitoring my condition until we reach orbit?”

                “If properly interfaced, yes.”

                Outstanding! This might work yet. “I’ll go set up the isolation unit. You do whatever you must to improve our condition.” Rob thought he could actually see his chances of living increasing as he headed for the tiny compartment they had used to store their rather broad spectrum of “situational essential equipment” or junk as the case may be. Upon arriving at what would be euphemistically called a stateroom if it weren’t crammed with boxes and containers nearly to the ceiling, he began to wonder how he was going to move the large cryogenic stasis unit to where he could work with it.

                Opening the door, Rob was shocked to see that everything was jammed into an impossible-looking pile against the back wall, and he stepped in to see if he could untangle this mess.

                He was immediately thrown to the wall. Rob came to rest among the assorted debris with a short thud accompanied by the sound of breaking plastic and a sharp pain in his left thigh. He pushed himself up carefully looking for handholds and trying not to pull more junk down on top of himself and rolled over to figure out what was going on. He was lying on his back looking “up” at the door to the compartment and realized that the artificial gravity must have failed in this room. That meant that the spin of the ship was worse than he thought and that he would have to climb out of here somehow bringing nine hundred and fifty kilograms of stasis equipment with him. But first he had to find it. The throbbing in his leg reminded him that other things were possibly even more urgent.

                Rob took time to examine the wound in his leg through the hole in his jumpsuit. Now that the three-inch gash had his attention, it began to hurt a great deal and bleed even more profusely. The thought of bleeding to death in the storage compartment before he died of life support failure in the depths of space had him chuckling to himself for a good five minutes.

                The ship’s computer began prioritizing its options before Dr. James had finished speaking and was already running a dozen subroutines as he was turning to go to the storage area. After all, he only had two options. Do nothing or do something, and the data the computer had on Robert James gave a 94.66834% probability that the human would not lay down and die if given an option.

                The computer simultaneously ran an emergency shutdown sequence on the number three power plant module, overrode the security codes to the jettison system and armed it, and began short firings of the emergency attitude thrusters to correct the ship’s tumble with the final calculations on how to best use its momentum to bring it on an intercept coarse with the habitable world in the system. The computer then set up a continuous overlapping sensor sweep around the ship, instructing the local CPU to alert it if anything larger than a softball strayed into range. The weapon systems coordinator did not answer any queries as to its condition, and the number two-gun system showed nine faults. The computer set aside part of its memory as a system coordinator between the sensor data compiler and the remaining number one gun system, creating firing parameters and targeting and tracking routines from its stored data on the ship’s armament. It then overrode the local CPU’s protocols that would not allow the ship’s computer to fire the guns by rewriting its entire operating program. The computer then locked out any control boards still operational and assumed control of the security CPU, rewriting its operating programming to make it more efficient and to better suit its needs. The computer was now in control of the ship.

                Rob, having bound his injury with a medikit from amongst the rubble, found it easier to stand as the spin of the vessel was brought under control until he and everything else in the tiny room was floating lazily about in a mindless dance to unheard music. “Well, that solves the problem of moving it,” he muttered, pawing boxes and objects out of his way as he moved toward the back of the compartment. “And finding it,” as the slight nudge he applied to a large fiber-plast container moved it easily out of his way to reveal a coffin-like device resting against the back wall. Pushing the last few packing units from atop the unit, Rob examined the light gray surface of the freezer assembly, its plastic scratched and scuffed from having things stacked upon it all the time. He checked control panels and operating latches, gaskets, and cover seals and decided that all was in order despite its appearance.

                The batteries for the grav units were dead, however, and he spent nearly half an hour floating among the boxes and cylinders spinning from one end of the room to the other searching for more. After searching box after box and finding everything from extra Gauss rifle magazines and spare fuse clips for the holo-vid projector they’d gotten rid of last month to a box of Diud make-up that Misty had no doubt left behind or forgotten about altogether, Rob discovered a black plastic trash bag containing a wide assortment of power cells both familiar and alien. Tired of searching through things, he swam for the hallway where, stepping carefully to the deck, he dumped the now heavy bag onto the floor, scooped up his prize, and leaped back into the room. After coming to a sudden stop against the wall over the cryo-stasis unit, Rob quickly replaced the batteries and slowly pushed the unit away from the wall and out towards the door.

                He realized that he had to move it carefully, for although it weighed nothing, it still amassed more than nine hundred kilograms and could be damaged if it struck a wall at any speed.

                “Computer.”

                “Yes,  Doctor,” it replied, as though he were interrupting it in the middle of a movie.

                “Shut down the artificial gravity in the passenger stateroom access corridor.”

                The computer replied, “Done,” and Rob gently pushed the stasis unit out into the hallway, carefully maneuvering it to the floor. “Now bring the gravity back up.”

                A light thud and a creak from the stasis module as it regained its full weight, as well as Rob adjusting his footing to maintain his newfound balance, indicated the completion of his instructions.  “Done,” said the computer, announcing the obvious.

                Using the grav pods on the cryo-isolation unit, Rob moved it into his own cabin and secured it carefully to the deck. He then spent two hours hooking it into the cabin’s wiring and computer connections,  followed by an hour crosschecking data flow and programming with the ship’s computer.

                Rob knew that these checks were critical to his survival. If anything went wrong, he’d die in his slumber, and then he’d be just so much frozen meat. He resigned himself to trusting the ship’s computer. He had no choice.

                “Okay, all set. Activate the unit in thirty seconds and wake me up as we get to final approach.”

                “Confirmed,” the computer replied, bored.

                Not having anything else to say, Rob climbed into the stasis couch and lay down. He carefully arranged a Vilansh blaster carbine between his legs along with a five-minute emergency air supply. Then, swallowing his doubts, he closed the lid and made peace with himself just in case this was the last chance he’d ever have to do it.

                The computer checked its subroutines again. Sensors detected nothing, the cryo-isolation unit was functioning normally, the Human male’s neural signature was normal, and its present course would carry them to the habitable world in the system without further correction. Now that the Human was frozen, the computer shut down all life support functions aboard ship and directed all remaining power to the maneuver drives. It wasn’t much, but it would bring the ship to its destination in ten months, twenty-one days instead of four years, two months, and fifteen days.

                With everything under control, the computer settled down to the cataloging of radio traffic coming from its destination.

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