Prosperous: Chutes & Ladders

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Chapter 19

IF THERE WAS ONE FEATURE OF PROSPEROUS THAT TRU WAS GRATEFUL FOR, IT was the holographic spheres. As a child he had fought dragons, been famous commanders on battlefields (all in the name of learning History, of course), explored the solar systems without a ship or EV suit, and interactively learned physics in these strange looking spheres. As an adult it had helped his father and him figure out engineering problems, evade pirates and hostile aliens, and on days like today, relax.

Tru thought over the very rough, exhausting, last four months. The regimen of training was helping to alleviate some tension, but every few days someone’s temper would flare and he’d have to send crew to the Brig.

Yesterday he’d made a dismal discovery that his lead communications officer, a Satell named Enima Niwerek, hadn’t been doing her job since they had left spaceport. It would have gone unnoticed until he read a report written in Jackie’s writing style. When he confronted the women, they both lied to him – he felt it. He finally ordered them both to the Brig for the remainder of the stint and that’s when Jackie cracked – or rather Joan. She wasn’t about to let her and her sister spend the next three months in the Brig for writing reports that Enima should have been writing. She told him that Enima threatened the jobs of all the com officers if they didn’t do her work, in her name, and keep quiet about it. Enima denied all of the accusations, almost making Tru vomit. Tru spoke to the other three communication officers and discovered Jackie was telling the truth. He fired Enima and confined her to quarters until they reached spaceport.

He also had Amanda’s good and bad days to deal with. On her bad days he was constantly being called to come between her and a crewman she was verbally attacking. After her last attack on a crewman, he counted up how many days he’d confined her to her quarters and was surprised to find she’d spent nearly two months of the stint in her quarters. He was torn between keeping her and dismissing her. He needed a reliable XO, but she was showing more trust in him and he knew he’d destroy that if he gave up on her now.

And then there was Gracie. The computer was becoming increasingly belligerent toward everyone. Sometimes hours would pass before it would obey or respond to anyone’s commands, including his. His I.T. crew kept trying to convince him to let them fix it, but Tru refused. He knew what the problem was and he had to figure out how to deal with it himself.

True winced when the holographic masseuse found a knot and began working it out.

“What we need now is a good war, Gracie,” Tru muttered. “Wouldn’t that solve everything?”

A war, Tru? Gracie asked.

“Yeah. Then my crew would have someone else to fight rather than each other.” Tru smiled. He knew the comment would provoke Gracie into an argument.

He looked up when someone flicked his ear. A slender woman with long brown hair and enchanting hazel eyes glared at him. Tru smiled at her.

“Don’t you think, Gracie?”

The holographic body of Gracie scolded him. “You shouldn’t joke about such things. You should be careful what you wish for, Truman.”

Tru smiled. “Yes, mom.”

“Your mother wouldn’t like you joking about that either, Truman Alex Barnet!”

She walked over to a window, crossing her arms over her chest. Tru watched her, resting his chin on his arms. He had been interacting with this holograph version of Gracie for so many years that he didn’t think twice about it.

Tru looked down at his watch, trying to read the time. The wrist watch was old, passed down through generations on his mother’s side. Tru pulled it down so he could see the face and was overcome by a premonition.

Tru stood over a body. He sensed there were others with him, but he couldn’t turn and he couldn’t see anyone else. He knelt down, tilting his head so he could see the body’s face, but the light wouldn’t change. All he could see was ragged clothes on the body. The clothes had been patched and repatched and were worn thin on the knees and elbows.

He heard something hiss and looked up. His stomach tensed. Intuition told him that there was danger in the darkness surounding him. He knew he should move away, run away, get away, but he couldn’t move. From the darkness a ghost lunged at him. It’s face was sweet, child-like, full of innocence.

In voice like a banshee, the child screamed, “YOU KILLED MY FATHER!”

Tru was petrified. He couldn’t move out of the path of the angry spectre.

A voice softly whispered, “Navta. Stop.”

The ghost hit him with the force of a speeding car. Pain tore through his bones and deep into his organs. He couldn’t breath and he began suffocating and panicking. He felt like he was spinning out of control into a long dark pit.

“Hold on, Tru,” he heard his mother say. It was something from his past she was talking about it. “Hold on, honey. Fight this.”

Tru wanted to understand the reference. He was abruptly ripped away from the pain and panic, and thrust back into the present.

Tru stared at the watch face. Gracie stood beside him, her hand on his shoulder.

“Your vitals were slightly different with this premonition, Tru.”

“Send the readings to Zatel’s terminal.”

“As you wish. And…” Gracie looked at the door, her eyes narrowing.


“Jackie has overriden the lock and is entering.” Gracie disappeared when the door opened.

Jackie walked in, saw Tru was naked, and immediately spun around, but she didn’t leave.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” she said.

“Which of you is sorry?”

Jackie didn’t turn back, but Tru saw a smile on her face. He rolled his eyes as he got up. He picked up his robe from the end of the bed and pulled it on.

“Holograph off,” Tru ordered as he stood up.

The holograph turned off, leaving them in a sphere with points of colored lights. The red, blue and green lights formed a defined grid around the sphere, but the real secret to their realism lay in the dark spaces in between, where sequencers would create solid objects, living beings, and realistic scenery. The sphere’s door opened, letting in bright light. Tru tied the robe belt around his waist as they left the sphere.

“What do you want, Jackie?” Tru didn’t hide his irritation with her.

“I picked up a distress signal, sir.”

Exiting, they climbed down three wide steps to the deck. The room they exited into contained four holographic spheres that were approximately thirty-two meters in circumference. Over the door of two of them, a red light slowly pulsed, indicating they were in use.

Tru headed for the main exit, asking her, “Did it indicate the nation or ship?”

“No, sir, but regulations require we investigate and aid. It mandates the cargo is to take second priority over distress signals.”

Tru smiled, glancing at her as he stepped through a disappearing door into the hall. “You two may not have done so well in etiquette and protocol, but you ladies certainly have the regulations down.”

Jackie flashed a smile. “Thank you, sir.”

“Have Aris change course.”

“Sir, the message said that they’ve taken heavy damage and loss of life. We should probably hurry.”

Tru stopped, turning to her. “So what you’re not saying, Jackie, is this a code yellow?”

“Red, sir.”

“Next time, just tell me that. Go back to the bridge and tell Aris to set coordinates for a hyper jump. I’ll be on the bridge in a few minutes.”

“Aye, sir.” Jackie started down the hall at a jog.

“Oh. And Jackie Joan.”

She stopped, turning back.

“The next time it’s so urgent, why don’t you two save time by using the COM system?”

“I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“And walking into a locked holographic sphere while I’m naked didn’t disturb me?”

Jackie blushed deep red. “We’ll make note of it, sir.”

“See that you do. Both of you.”

A half-cocked, sly grin crept onto Jackie’s lips. “Sure, Tru.” Jackie trotted off.

Tru sighed, turning away. “Her split personality is going to drive me to take Valium, Gracie.”

I would not permit that, Tru, but I can understand your frustration. Her shifting personality confuses even me.

He padded through the halls to his quarters.

Tru materialized at the back of the bridge. He walked to the captain’s chair and sat down.

“Are we ready for the hyper jump, Aris?” Tru asked the Paskian.

“Coordinates are set, sir. Are you sure you want to do a hyper jump, sir?”

“Yes. When we’re ready, go ahead.”

“Crew, we are prepared for a hyper jump,” Jackie announced over the ship intercom. “Brace for displacement.”

Aris let out a breath. “Is the hull braced, Gracie?” Aris asked.

Sure, Gracie answered.

Aris looked back at Tru. “What does that answer mean, sir?”

“So would that be a yes or no, Gracie?” Tru asked.

She tersely replied, Yes. The hull is braced.

Aris reached out and hesitated. She looked up at him.

“Ya know,” she began, “a lot of ships don’t do well with hyper jumps, sir.”

Tru smiled. “Prosperous can handle it.”

“Are you sure? I mean, maybe we should—”

“We’ll be fine, Aris. Push the button.”

Aris let out a breath, reaching her hand out. “It’s been a nice life.” She engaged the hyper jump drive.

Around them things streaked and then there was a whoosh. Laws of physics were defied as Prosperous leapt from her position to the coordinates Aris had set.

Time at last makes all things even.

—Human, American Proverb

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