Someone to watch over me
Milo grumbled to him-self, as he reset the plasma drives. This wasn’t his job. The chief engineer Ted Banquo should be doing this. At least he could have been there to keep an eye on things, but no. Good old Banquo had strained his leg, and had to relay the step-by-step process, while Milo followed it to the letter. “I hope he gets well soon. I’m worn to a frazzle” Milo spoke to the wall.
It had started two days ago, when Milo awoke from his cryogenic sleep. The whole crew had been out for ten years. While The Sprit of Adventure, a D class scout ship plied its way through the inky black depths of space. It was making its way to survey the strange anomaly near Pluto.
“Wake up crew man, your late for duty.” The figure of captain Marley boomed down at Milo, through the plexi-glass screen of the cryo-tube. Milo tried to explain that the timers were preset before departure, and so he couldn’t be held responsible for oversleeping. But the captain was having none of it. “As Tec specialist Lloyd is busy realigning the guidance gyros. I want you to get out on top, and fix a communications laser that’s become faulty.” “But” was all Milo got in, before the captain continued. “Keep your head mike on, and Tec specialist Lloyd will talk you through it. And don’t forget your safety line. I don’t want you absent without leave, as well as being late for duty.”
By the time a bleary eyed Milo was dressed, another figure was stood in the doorway. It was first officer Crowe. He barked, “Hurry up there, I need that communications laser on line.” Then he seemed to take pity on this late riser. He added, “Get a bite to eat first, but be quick about it.” So still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Milo had scuttled off to the galley to fill his aching belly.
And so it had gone on. When he had fixed the laser, under strict supervision of Tec specialist Lloyd, the astro-navigation officer Gregg had cut in on the radio. “When your out of your suit, I need you to check the survey probes have survived the journey. I’m too busy with my star charts.” So Milo plodded off to the hold, and checked for any signs of damage. While Mr. Gregg kept a check on him via the intercom. “Almost like looking over my shoulder”, thought Milo. Keen not to mess up, least he be reported for failure to preform in his duty. “That’s a joke”, Milo grumbled to himself. He’d not preformed his own duties since waking; he had just filled in for everyone else. And another thing, he was always eating alone. Just once he would like to sit down with the rest of the crew, but no not with his work schedule. Admittedly when an officer gave him a job, they did tell him to eat or even rest after, if he was due a break. But Milo craved the camaraderie of the pre cryo-sleep days, when they had just left Earth.
The captain dismissed his complaints, when milo dropped by the captain’s cabin. “We’re all busy now Milo. It’s time to fulfill the mission”, Captain Marley had called from his desk. “No don’t come in. I want you to go down to air lock number two, and check the decompression mechanism. And be careful, I don’t want any accidents to report.”
“What a joke”, thought Milo. As he put the panel back on the plasma drives. It wasn’t he who had any accident, but the chief engineer. He had “tripped over a wrench”, or so he said. So the officer had sat on his bunk, explaining to Milo how to fix the plasma drives. “No don’t come in, I don’t want you cluttering up my quarters.” The engineer had ordered Milo, when he started to go through the door. So Milo had just stood there in the corridor, while his superior had given him a lecture on the job. “And don’t worry, I’ll be there every step of the way; by the intercom.” Mr. Banquo had informed Milo, before sending him on his way.
Milo had just managed to get his meal down, before captain Marley popped his head round the galley door. “You’re not trained in E.V.A. pod use are you Milo?” he asked Milo. Milo who was now stood to attention, stammered back. “No sir, its not a requirement for my grade.” Then he stood there waiting, as his commander appraised him. “Well tomorrow go to bay seven, and run auto teach programs one to six; before reporting for duty.” Then he left the saluting Milo a bit confused. Milo felt a swell of pride, that the captain thought him worthy of the extra training. But it would be more work, on top of his already increased load. So flopping down that night on his bunk, Milo fell in to a deep sleep. He had not been pushed this hard since his basic training.
The next day Milo was rudely awoken, by the alarm he had set. Then after a brief breakfast and a shower, Milo headed for bay seven. By the end of program six, Milo could back the Extravehicular Activity pod out of the hangar doors. And manipulate the claws on the front. “This was quite fun”, Milo thought. “No wonder ratings don’t usually get to play with these toys.” He set the pod down, and then he proceeded to the captain’s ready room. But the captain wasn’t there, and so Milo headed to the nearest intercom.
“Rating Milo reporting for duty sir.” Milo announced, pressing the all call button. His voice seemed to echo down the corridor. Instantly ashamed, Milo expected a reprimand. But to his relief, captain Marley greeted him in a jovial tone over the intercom. “Good man there. Now I want you to assist astro-navigation officer Gregg with his work.” With a superfluous salute, Milo replied, “Yes sir.” Then he headed off to the lab. But when he got there, Mr. Gregg was no ware to be seen. Milo went over to the survey equipment, when the officer surprised him. Poking his head round the door, Mr. Gregg informed Milo “I’ve got to help the chief engineer with some final trajectory readings. Just familiarize yourself with the equipment. There’s a virtual manual on the screen.” He pointed towards the desk, drawing Milo’s attention to it. When Milo turned back, the officer was gone.
“Oh well, at least they’re trusting you with more responsibilities. Even if they won’t eat or socialize with you”, Milo mused to himself. And he had a brief fantasy of earning his commission in the field, before coming back to his senses. As the navigation officer came over the intercom. “Milo, you will be up to speed on that by lunch won’t you?” Milo bent his head down to the screen to furiously study the text. “Yes sir.”
The anomaly was getting ever closer, as Milo continued his ceaseless schedule of learning various parts of the mission. “To assist where your most needed.” Came the explanation from the captain, when Milo dared to ask why he was getting this extra training. It didn’t stop him from having to carry out various menial tasks though. “They must be very busy to have to rely on me so much”, thought Milo. But he couldn’t help noticing his usual duties were being left out more and more. Obviously they couldn’t be as important as his new tasks.
Another thing that obviously wasn’t too important was the second of March. Milo knew not to expect much, being only a rating. But apart from a perfunctory “Happy birthday”, added at the end of each set of orders. From whichever officer was addressing him, the day passed otherwise unmarked. So Milo resorted to sticking a few French fries in his sponge pudding, as he ate his improvised birthday cake alone. It wasn’t as if the other crewmembers were aloof with him, they all seemed concerned with his welfare. But still they were officers, and he was crew. And Milo supposed never the twain should meet, at least in social circumstances. If only there were more ratings than just him, but that was the compliment for this craft.
Finally they were coming up on Pluto, and the region of space they were here to study. Milo felt quite confident about helping out now. He was now reasonably proficient in all aspects of the surveying mission. So he could carry out any task asked of him. As the craft neared Pluto, Milo got a brief glimpse of the strange patch of space; they had come to study. Not by seeing the thing itself, but how it distorted space. It was like a strange lense floating in space, which altered the view of any object passing behind it. Milo had to rub his eyes twice, to really get his head round the fact; that they weren’t deceiving him. Then over the intercom Mr. Gregg reminded him, he was to load and check the E.V.A. pod. For when they would take the sensitive instruments out, to study that strange phenomenon up close.
Milo was quite excited. Apart from his newfound responsibilities on the mission, this would be the first time since waking, that he could spend time in actual close proximity with another member of the crew. Astro-navigation officer Gregg couldn’t wriggle out of this. With all the equipment set up, and the E.V.A. pod double-checked; Milo sat in the pilot’s chair. He would have an hour of chauffeuring his superior, out to meet the mission goal. All of a sudden there came a call over the intercom. “Milo, this is astro-navigation officer Gregg. Do you read me?” Shaken from his reverie Milo punched the reply button. “All equipment stowed and correct sir. E.V.A. pod ready for launch sir.” There was a pause, and then Mr. Gregg’s voice gave a tentative reply. “There’s a problem with my suit Milo, I can’t get the seals to close. If we suffered a depressurization, it wouldn’t be safe.” He let the sentence trail off as Milo sank in to his thoughts. The mission might fail at this last moment, all for the want of a seal. If only the officer wasn’t so tall, he could have borrowed another crewmember’s suit. “But don’t worry” continued Mr. Gregg. “I can direct you from here. I’ve seen your work, and I have every confidence in you.” Milo’s chest swelled with pride. He even pushed the guilty thought he was harboring to the back of his mind. That he was still disappointed, at not to be working physically next to another human. But he would fulfill the mission. It was a great honor, Milo thought to himself.
Donning his helmet, Milo entered the tiny craft. Then after leaving the confines of the docking bay, he set course for that strange region of space that hung in the void above Pluto. Milo looked down, and got an unequaled view of the dwarf planet. Then over the intercom astro-navigation officer Gregg started relaying instructions, while Milo took readings. He studied field strengths and collected data, until all was done. “Well down Milo, I don’t think we could have done any better without you.” Milos’s chest swelled with pride again, as he turned the tiny craft back. Then he headed for the main ship.
Back in the main bay, Milo had expected to be greeted at least by astro-navigation officer Gregg. But no, all was empty. There was a general call signal on the intercom, and the captain’s voice called out. “Mission complete, will all crew report to the cryo-suite for immediate hibernation.” So Milo undid his suit, and in just his ship’s uniform; headed down to the cryo-chamber. It had been sealed ever since he had left it so quickly, on his late awakening. The light level seemed a bit lower in here than he remembered, as he proceeded over to his own tube. Milo was just about to get in, when a strange thought struck him. Were the other crewmembers already bedded down? And he went over to chief engineer Ted Banquo’s tube. “You there, why aren’t you getting in your tube?” The barked order came from the doorway.
Captain Marley stood blocking the light, but he looked a little odd, as if he had faded somehow. Milo looked down, and got the shock of his life. Lying in chief engineer Ted Banquo’s tube was a corpse, almost mummified. Milo jumped back, and retreating behind his own tube. He called out to the captain, “Don’t come any closer; what have you done to him?” He pointed at the dead engineer. There came a kindly look over the captain’s face. “Milo, when you awoke from cryo-sleep. You were the only member of the crew to survive a deadly radiation storm.” Milo felt his legs buckle, but he held fast to the cryo-tube for support.
The captain continued, “I am the ship’s computer, and what you see as captain Marley is a hologramatic projection. All the crew you thought you saw were holograms.” “No it can’t be”, Milo shook his head in disbelief. “I made sure you never got close enough, to see through the rouse. And I needed you to complete the mission”, the kind voice continued, although the image of the captain had now gone.
“I trained you up, and you showed your true colors, the very best. There will be a commission in it for you when you return to earth. I have sent off all the data on the mission, and a full report on your excellent conduct and progress.” Milo was rigid with shock at this revelation. He simply could not articulate a response. It seemed too much. So the disembodied voice of the computer continued.
“Now climb in to your tube. And when you awake the rescue team will wake you back at Earth.” Like an automaton Milo did as he was ordered. And put himself down for the long sleep home. Watched over by the computer, as it guided them home.
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