Friday, July 27, 2018

The Glorious Affair by David Henson

A series of technical failures on a spaceship loaded with tourists forces Captain Neenah to make a difficult decision; by David Henson.

Captain Neenah peered out the portal of his conference room as what looked like a debris cloud, illuminated by the light of Arcturus, streamed away from the ship. A streak of orange caused him to catch his breath, but he quickly gathered himself.

"Computer, update log," he said, looking around the dead quiet conference room. "After a series of unavoidable events, we have experienced a horrible accident..."



The cruise was fully booked with 202 passengers. As he always did, Captain Neenah stood at the main gangway nearest the bridge, smiling and welcoming the tourists aboard the Glorious Deep. "Enjoy your voyage, folks," he said to a man and woman with a small boy and girl in tow. The four were dressed alike in bright yellow flight suits, a throwback to the 22nd Century. "Over the next month, you'll see wonders you couldn't imagine."

"Aye, aye, Captain," the young girl said with a salute that looked more like a wave. "I'm... Sergeant Marie Delmelle."

"Sergeant Marie, I can tell you deserve a promotion," Captain Neenah chuckled. "I hereby advance you to the rank of admiral." He made a snappy salute. "Welcome aboard!"

The girl saluted back, a bit sharper this time, then poked the boy in the arm with her finger. "I'm an admiral. You have to bow to me."

"Yeah, well I'm a super admiral."

"No you're a stupid admiral is what you are."

As the family slowly shuffled forward with the line, Captain Neenah felt a pang of homesickness for his own wife and children. Thirty days was a long time to be away. But it was nothing compared to the four years he'd spent at war on Valdashia. There had been times he thought he wouldn't live to see his family again, yet always was able to do whatever it took to survive.



The first week of the cruise was routine. Passengers oohed and aahed at pulsars, novas, nebulas and other extraordinary sights viewed in safety and comfort through floor-to-ceiling transparent panels.

Every evening Neenah enjoyed a gourmet dinner and made small talk with those lucky enough to be seated at the Captain's Table.

The cruise was going strictly according to plan. So much so, the captain found himself hoping for a little excitement. On day eight, he got his wish.



Captain Neenah announced over the ship-wide com that there had been some "minor difficulties" with the engines. "But don't worry," he said in a calm voice, "my senior officers and I will minimize the disruption. You may have noticed the lights are a bit dim. We've put the ship in what we call gray mode. We've also cut back the grav-gens a bit... so you might enjoy an extra spring in your step," he chuckled. "Seriously folks, this is all just standard protocol for our... situation. We know exactly what the issue is and how to fix it."

A minute later, the captain was in Commander Kawachen's face. "Commander, what the hell is going on and what are we going to do about it?"

Commander Kawachen leaned back slightly. "The Higgs boson neutralizers have gone off-line, Captain. We've lost all engine power, Sir. We're adrift."

"How long to restoration, Commander?"

No reply.

"Did you hear me, Kawachen?"

"Captain... I'm afraid there's been a complete cascade failure. According to Lieutenant Lincoln, repairs are going to take weeks to complete. The Glorious will have to be tractored back to station."

The thought of getting home to his family sooner than expected tamped Captain Neenah's anger... till Kawachen continued.

"Captain, there's more."

"Yes?"

"When I say we've lost engine power, I mean all engine power - including the life support diversion module."

"That's supposed to be an independent system."

"As I said, it was a cascading failure."

Captain Neenah breathed in deeply. "Standby power seems to be handling the life support load sufficiently."

"The closest rescue vessel, the Sauveur, is on her way. She's fifty-two hours out."

"Good." Captain Neenah checked his handheld. "We're right on our flight plan. We should be well within the rescue zone."

"We should be. But I'm afraid we only have thirty-seven hours of standby left."

"Thirty-seven hours? How can that be?"

"The cascade overwhelmed our power backflow proctectors and drained over 60 percent of our standby before we could stop it. We've already daisy-chained the workbots and drained them into standby. Didn't help that much. We might be in trouble, Sir."

"Might be?"

"As you know, emergency protocol is to evacuate everyone into the main cargo bay and totally shut down the grav gens and life support everywhere else. Lieutenant Jackson's doing an analysis now to see if that gets us to fifty-two hours."

"Convene Jackson and the senior officers in the captain's conference room in fifteen minutes."

"It might take -"

"Fifteen."



Captain Neenah motioned for Commander Kawachen, Lieutenant Van Reaugh, and Doctor Heibizen to be seated. "Where the hell are lieutenants Jackson and Rindfyrd?"

"Jackson's just finishing crunching the data," Commander Kawachen said. "She'll be here momentarily. I gave Rindfyrd permission to make her scheduled security rounds. You know how by-the-book she is."

Captain Neenah rolled his eyes. "Time's spinning, Commander."

Just then Lieutenant Jackson entered the room. She didn't look very happy. "It isn't going to work. Maintaining life support in the cargo bay takes too much power," she said and detailed the results of her analysis.

Captain Neenah took it all in then sat quietly for several minutes as his survival instincts began surging through him like adrenaline. "What I'm about to say doesn't leave this room," he said finally. "How badly do you people want to see your families again?"



A short time later Captain Neenah was back on shipwide. "May I have everyone's attention again," he said. "This hiccup with our engines is a little more... stubborn than we thought. So another space cruiser, the Event Horizon, is en route to our coordinates. In about six hours, you'll all transfer to her and continue your tour. And because of the inconvenience, each and every one of you will get a voucher for a future cruise at half price." Captain Neenah could hear cheers echoing throughout the ship.

"We do require your indulgence though. In an abundance of caution, we all need to gather in the main cargo bay, number 4. To conserve power, we'll be shutting down systems elsewhere else throughout the ship, but we'll be very comfortable in bay 4.

"In fact, to pass the time, we're going to move our NeverEnding Festival from the Big Bang Ballroom into the bay. There'll be even more music and dancing, an expanded array of holo games for the youngsters, additional gambling, with looser machines I might add" - loud cheers - "and the most incredible Galaxy Buffet you've ever seen." Very loud cheers. "And for those of you who prefer something more sedate, we'll have a float-and-meditate chamber sectioned off in the southwest corner of the bay.

"We're a bit pressed for time. I would like the support crew to begin escorting everyone to cargo bay 4 at this time. The crew also will take care of packing and transferring your belongings to the Event Horizon. Enjoy the festival!"



Captain Neenah felt it his duty to stand outside the entry to cargo bay 4 as the passengers filed in. The Delmelles were among the first to arrive and now were wearing look-alike retro orange flight suits. "Admiral Marie reporting for duty, Captain," the girl said with a sharp salute.

"That's an impressive salute you have there, Admiral," the captain said.

"I've been practicing."

Neenah had to look away from the girl for moment, then smiled at her. "Have fun, Admiral. That's an order," he said then turned to the mother and father. "It's a little empty in there now, folks, but we'll have it all set up shortly."

"Will you be joining us?" Mr. Delmelle said.

"Wouldn't miss it. But protocols require my team and I to get together first to handle a few safety procedures, exchange information with the Event Horizon... boring stuff."

Mr. Delmelle started into the bay then stopped. "I was wondering," Captain, "if we're trying to conserve power, should we be having a festival?"

Captain Neenah leaned toward the passenger. "I'll let you in on a little secret, Mr. Delmelle. We have plenty of power. If it were up to me, we wouldn't be inconveniencing you folks like this at all. But company procedures say we must. You know how companies can be with their bureaucracy and rules."

"Do I ever," Mr. Delmelle said. "At the place I work -"

"C'mon, Dad." The boy tugged his father's hand, and off the four of them went. "I want to be first in line for Flying Space Dragons."

The boy reminded Captain Neenah of his own son at the time the captain went off to war. By the time he returned, his son was an awkward teenager and his daughter a young woman. He'd be damned before he'd miss out on any more of their lives.

After everyone was in the bay, crew chief Pieters approached the captain. "Should we start setting up the festival and the float-and-meditation chamber, Sir?"

"Very soon, Pieters. I've positioned Lieutenant Rindfyrd in the bay. She'll tell you when."

"You said for us to pack up the passengers' belongings, too. That's all going to take some time without the workbots."

"I know you can handle it, Pieters. For now, why don't you and your crew join the passengers and keep them entertained. You're a singer, right?"

"Yes, Sir! I'm crewing just till I can get -"

"Get in there and show them what you got."

"You bet!" Pieters motioned for his crew, and they all entered the bay.

Captain Neenah entered the lock code, sealing the door.



The captain went around the conference room and asked his senior officers one by one to reaffirm support for the plan. Each one did. Doctor Heibizen pointed out that the passengers would suffer significantly if life support failed.

"Commander Kawachen, you've reconfirmed that with power and gravity shut down everywhere else, standby will be sufficient to sustain life support in this room till the Sauveur arrives?"

"Affirmative, Sir. We'll have only 47 minutes left, but we'll make it. There's no doubt."

"Lieutenant Jackson, you and Lieutenant Van Reaugh are certain that computer records and the digital trail will be overwritten to indicate we were following emergency protocols to the letter prior to the... horrible accident?"

"Affirmative both, Sir. It will appear that the Higgs boson neutralizers going offline weakened..."

As Jackson droned on, Captain Neenah thought about his wife, son and daughter. He knew he'd see them again, but would he ever be able to look at them again? "That's sufficient, Lieutenant," he said after a couple minutes. "Let's do this."

"It's the most humane solution," Doctor Heibizen said.

Each of the officers took a hand-held from the pile in the middle of the table and keyed in the code to vent cargo bay 4. Only one of the computers was actually synced to the bay. Nobody knew which one.

12 comments:

  1. Not anywhere near where I thought this story was going. Wow. Well-written and you get to know Neenah, liking him right up to almost the end. The sad commentary here is that with regard to the nature of us humans (not all, but enough to cast a pretty wide shadow) this is probably as much truth as fiction.
    Thanks
    Jim

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Jim. I appreciate it.

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  3. Wow, that took a turn! There were some good laughs in there like the "stupid admiral" comment those kept me engaged but the end was worth the read. Thanks for writing this!

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  4. Great twist at the end I didn't see coming. This reminds us how special it is when someone sacrifices themselves for others as we all have the tendency to save our own butts no matter the cost.

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  5. Thanks! Glad you liked the story.

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  6. Shocking ending - great writing. Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  7. Read twice, and without its authorial 'end stop', gloriously ambiguous. I particularly enjoyed the wittily accessible technical jargon and names.
    B r o o k e

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  8. I thought the Delmelles interactions with the captain really grounded the story and showed what was at stake. Well done.

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