Chapter 1-The Encounter
Slowly cruising through the depths of space, the earth ship – Deep Contact, ventured onward in its mission to explore and discover new worlds and space beyond. The vessel is home to nearly one hundred and fifty crew members; most share quarters due to the ship’s design, but the senior staff have single accommodations – though some would call those ‘spacious’, the officers would not. The ship was built more like ancient Earth submarines, outwardly it is sleek and built to last, but inside it was cramped and full of exposed inner workings.
Captain Christopher Riley relaxed in his small, yet constricted bridge office while he sipped his hot cup of coffee. A faint blue projected holographic display scrolled the daily ship manifests and activities over his narrow metallic-grey desk. He gave a slight yawn as the work always managed to bore him, still as much as he’d love to head off to bed and sleep, he knew it had to be done sooner or later before it really started to pile up. Suddenly a low-pitched ping sound echoed in the room that made him gaze away from the text.
“Yes?” He said aloud.
“Captain, it’s Yang. Can I bother you for a second?” A male voice responded through the room’s door intercom.
“Come in.” The captain sighed.
The holographic text faded off as the captain touched it with his finger. The office door slid open to the right and male officer entered into the room. A young Asian with short cropped black hair and adorning the dark blue uniform of a bridge senior.
“It’s late, Yang. What’s the problem?” Riley said as he rubbed his strained temple.
“Sorry for the interruption.” Yang smirked. “I didn’t mean to stop your light reading.”
“Light reading.” The captain scoffed. “You know this is the worst part about being a captain, paperwork and mission reports. I feel more like a bureaucrat then an explorer.”
“Comes with the job I suppose.” The young officer mused. “But after all that’s why you get paid the big bucks.”
“Just wait and see.” Riley pointed at him. “One day you’ll no longer be the first officer and then all of this will be yours.”
“Ah.” The man smirked. “So that’s why your letting it build up. Waiting for me to do it for you.”
The captain had a moment of humor as his first officer made him smile from the long hours working behind a desk. But as the laughter in him subsided, Riley took a long sip of his coffee and got back to the reason for Yang being in his office.
“Are we in the next system yet?”
“Yes sir.” The young bridge officer nodded. “But we seem to have a problem with our navigation – or I should say, with something in the way of our navigation.”
“Oh yes?” The captain said with little surprise as he leaned back in his small chair. “Another asteroid hazard or a comet fragment? You’re more then capable of dealing with something trivial as that.”
“Ah, yes – of course I am.” Yang snickered. “But this might require your expertise. You see this is bigger, sir.”
“Bigger?” Riley scoffed. “Just how big are we talking here?”
“Planet sized big, sir.”
“An asteroid the size of a planet?” He inquired with confusion.
“No sir.” The Asian officer said hesitantly. “I mean an actual planet.”
“What?” The captain glared with puzzlement as he stood up and walked out of the office.
Out in space, the starship Deep Contact slowed its speed as it approached a giant gas planet. It was so huge the ship looked almost non-existent as it came close to orbit of it. In the distance beyond, there was only one sun, so far away it too seemed dwarfed by the sheer size of the massive planet. The ship engines powered down and allowed its own momentum to guide itself towards the massive planet.
Riley and Yang entered the dimly lit, submarine-configured bridge. In the center was the Captain’s chair with navigation and helm on either side of the circular control center. Various other stations devoted to the ship’s functions surrounded the room. An array of computer stations with built in seating that had scrolling monitors, a dazzling display of colors and bright images that seemed to bring the dark room to life. The small number of officers working at them was fairly young and devoted to their tasks. As the Captain entered the bridge, all of them stood at attention momentarily and saluted him as he came in.
“When did it come into view?” The captain grumbled as he took to his chair.
“A few minutes ago.” Yang replied as he stood at the console opposite to him. “We just entered the system and started our scans of the area.”
The captain sat in amazement by its sheer size. A loss for words, he couldn’t believe something so monstrous could exist. But more then that, he was utterly dumbfounded that no one managed to notice this large body in their flight path.
“Helm!” He shouted at the blonde female officer standing on the other side. “Why the hell didn’t you see this? Course correction is part of your job, I expect this sort of error from a cadet not from senior officer!”
“Sir.” She quickly stammered. “I did not see this on the charts or from the probe we sent out earlier. This planet wasn’t in our flight path at all.”
“Well there it is, Lieutenant.” The captain mocked. “How the hell do you miss something that big?”
“I don’t know, sir.” She answered. “This wasn’t here two hours ago. I swear that all the calculations were in the green before we entered. I checked them five times prior.”
The captain glared up at the large, wrap around, floating holographic visual screen. The planet seemed to take up the entire view of it. It was light brown with swirls of red, yellow and white gas clouds. It reminded him of Jupiter, which seemed massive to him when compared to the rest of the planets from their solar system. But this was almost twenty times the size of that planet. He didn’t think it was possible to find something bigger then that, having studied and cataloged various worlds before, it was utterly impossible for this world to even exist.
“Well, it’s here now.” He sarcastically stated. “I think the calculations were off. Check the probe logs again and the latest star charts.”
“I concur with officer Bringham sir.” Officer Yang interrupted. “I went over the charts, navigation probes and I even compared our scans from then and now. This planet wasn’t in our flight path until we entered.”
“Come on.” The captain sighed. “Are trying to tell me this thing just suddenly appeared? Look at it. How could we miss this?”
“I don’t know, captain.” The young Asian officer said in a frustrated tone. “According to everything we have this planetary body shouldn’t even be in this part of space.” With a frustrated inhale; he looked back up at the screen. “But, never the less, we are coming up on it awfully fast.’
Yang turned on the navigation chart on to the main viewer and allowed the captain to see how fast they were approaching. The ship wasn’t slowing down like it normally would come into orbit of a planet. Instead it was building speed and getting closer to the atmosphere. They quickly noticed that they were headed for the swirling red eye, a raging funnel storm that measured the width of the Earth. This was something the captain found disheartening. Sitting back in his chair, eyes flared with fright, he snapped his fingers to the helmswoman.
“For god’s sake.” The captain growled. “We’re heading straight for it. Helm, get us the hell out of here right now!”
“Aye, sir.” She replied with haste. Riley watched the female officer frantically press buttons and turn knobs that controlled the ship. But nothing was happening - Bringham tried to get the ship to maneuver; still nothing would work. Slapping down on the console, she let out a frustrated growl. “It won’t break free captain! It seems that we’re in its gravity wake. I can’t get enough power to pull away.”
“Engineering!” The captain shouted to the aged officer across the room. “Give us everything this ship can muster!”
“Sir.” The older officer replied. “The chief down below is reporting that she’s doing the best she can, but as far as power – this is the max.”
“Damn.” Riley glared off in thought. “This planet must have gripped us the moment we arrived. The gravity must be enormous – greater then any object could. But where the hell did it come from?”
“Captain!” Officer Yang exclaimed. “The eye of the planet! We’re being pulled into it.”
“Full Back!” Riley ordered. “I don’t care how we do it or where they the power from! Get us out of here!”
The swirling red cloud stretched out toward the ship as it got very close and began enveloping Deep Contact with almost little effort. The vessel was microscopic in size in comparison to the planet, even against the red eye itself. As it entered the gaseous red vapour, the ship spun and shook as the violent wind sheer pulled it about. Bolts of lightening streaked about in various direction within the storm, some stuck the ship and caused an arcing effect across its body. Inside the vessel, the crew was tossed about like rag dolls. Crews on all decks were desperately looking to find something to hold onto as each strike to the ship jolt them from one side to the other.
The red storm cloud formed a funnel downward and took the ship deeper into the atmosphere, as Deep Contact vaulted down past the storm it began to slow as it entered a different gas cloud layer. The misty white cloud was serene and tranquil compared to what just occurred previously. It was a sharp contrast to what the ship was experiencing earlier, the crew finally had a chance to regroup and stand to their feet. Throughout the vessel, the various members that were unharmed quickly gathered the injured and wounded. It all happened so fast that everyone was in shock and disarray as they tried to return to their posts.
“Jesus Christ – “ The captain whispered under his breath. He quickly shook off his unprofessional behavior and sat back into his command chair with authority. “Helm, report.”
“Navigation is offline, sir.” Bringham replied as she held her traumatized head. “And there’s been some hull compromises from decks one to five.”
“We should be dropping like a rock.” Yang said as he stood by the captain.
“No.” The captain muttered. “We should be dead.”
Yang looked at him with concern and lowered down to his sitting level.
“The G-force from this planet should have crushed us to powder long before we even entered its orbit.” The captain explained, “A planet of this size should have gravity well beyond any other of its kind. The fact that we’re still here, in one piece and with minimal damage – “ He snickered leaning back in his chair, “ Is almost an act of God himself.”
“Is that the Irish-catholic talking in you, sir?” Yang quipped with a raised brow. “Or are you telling me that we should start believing in miracles?”
“Miracles – “ Riley smiled at him. “Are far and few between my dear first officer, know when to thank the creator on days such as these.”
“So noted.” He nodded back in agreement. “So noted, indeed.”
Outside the vessel, white swirling clouds of vaporous mist engulf the ship like a blanket and cause it to bob up and down as if in oceanic waters. High above a faint hue of the red and orange storm above bleed light down against the metallic skin of Deep Contact, while underneath a blue-purple glow gives a slight hint of the next level to come.
The ship dipped down slowly in murky white, like a weight being dropped into a can of thick paint.
In the meeting room, on the lower deck beyond the bridge, the captain and the ranking ship officers hover around the small, but elongated metal table. Chairs are more like stools as some take to them, while others - like the captain, prefer to stand to them.
“Are you telling me it’s going to take three weeks to repair our engines?”
“We’ve done considerable damage, sir.” The young female engineer stated factually. “This isn’t like repairing any engine, this is a magnetic-quantum core with delicate calibrations. If its not adjusted to the right levels, we could very well turn into the biggest magnet for radiation and kill everyone on board.”
The captain hung his head in frustration. The young woman – perhaps more like girl – was the only one who understood this engine at all. She was a child genius and one of the rare members of the ‘Omega Group’, gifted children given full powers of every endeavor to further human development. Riley had always hated the fact they got special treatment, resources and funding always get diverted to them as a priority, it seemed so unnecessary when the rest of the world was still struggling to survive. Still, he found this child to be rather ‘hands on’ when dealing with engines. Amanda Berkins was no more then fourteen years old, a light-skinned Pakistani girl with dazzling emerald-green eyes, she helped design and build the engine powering Deep Contact, and yet – she talked and acted like a mature woman, an officer that he could rely on to get the job done.
“Is there no way to push it ahead of schedule – time wise I mean?” The Irish captain sighed. “I’d hate to think of this ship being destroyed by a planet because we couldn’t crank the engine fast enough.”
Amanda fiddled with her shoulder length black hair, a trait she’d become known for when doing complex calculations in her head. Officer Yang and the others waited patiently as they watched her eyes dart about while thinking of the answer.
“I could.” She coldly stated again. “ But that would mean some systems would have to wait.”
“Such as?” Yang asked.
“Medical, communications and main ship operations like environmental, lighting, as well as some computer systems would have to wait.” She said staring at him. “It would like being on reserve power – only with less reserve we’d require.”
Yang shook his head and looked at the captain. The other officers scoffed at her reply and voiced their concerns.
“Medical is a priority.” The doctor defiantly grumbled. “I’ve already got a few wounded men and women down there. I’m sure there will be more.”
Doctor Barakai Nyjiumu was old school when it came to medical care; his motto was always - Life before death and treatment before infection. Living in the slums of the African Congo taught him a great deal about what was more important. Subject to all the warlords, infections and diseases that spread throughout the poor regions of the area. At the ripe age of fifty-five, the man had seen it all. Space, at least, offered him a way to get off of Earth and explore for new possible medicines. The captain was sympathetic to his concerns.
“I agree.” Riley nodded. “Medical must come first. Everything else can wait.”
“What if Earth contacts us?” Bringham said with concern. “We have to be able to send them a message back, right?”
“Concentrate on navigation please, Lieutenant.” Officer Yang glared at her. “Right now we’re in no need of letters from home.”
Bringham sat back down and folder her arms with anger. She’d been in constant contact with her mother in England, even if the signal took a few weeks to reach back and fourth. But she new that any day now, her mother – the only family member left, would soon be gone due to her illness. A new strain of cancer had been discovered after cures had come for so many others. Only this one was more deadly and faster then any medical science could explain. It saddened her to know that on the day of her launch with this ship, her mother had been diagnosed with the disease. Science officer Jen Sakura patted the woman’s shoulder in comfort.
“Its ok, Sarah. I’m sure we’ll be in contact soon.” The Asian woman then looked up at Riley, “What about our sensors, sir? Will they have to be offline as well? It would be a shame not to study this – well, interesting planet.”
The captain glanced over at the young engineer and shrugged his shoulders as if to say -‘well?’
“I’ll try to give you some power for that.” Amanda sighed. “As well as medical, but you can’t expect any more from me, sir. If there were a few more like myself aboard, this would go much more rapidly. I can only oversee so many crew members work.”
“Way to show your true side, Berkins!” Bringham quipped. “Must really hurt you to be with all us slow heads, huh?”
“Try not to show yours either, Sarah.” She sharply sneered back. “I’ll gladly divert all emotional outbursts to your expertise.”
“Ladies – “ Captain Riley quickly raised out his hands to quell their bickering. Unfortunately it didn’t.
“Ok, kid.” Sarah angrily stood up pointing at her. “You’ve got some nerve shoving that ego around like spoiled brat. Quite frankly, I’m not sure you even know what being human is – or even being old enough to comprehend an emotion.”
“Oh, I’m sorry – did my rank blind you for a second there, seems I’m well above your sort.”
“Enough!” The Captain shouted with a fist to the table.
The two women quickly silenced and looked away from each other. Riley was flustered by the intense situation, but more so about his ship falling into a planet. The last thing needed right now was a fallen brawl between the crew. He smoothed back his short crop of hair and released a drawn out breath. With regained authority, he stood over each member as he talked.
“The ship is falling like a rock, I can’t believe this is kind of crap you want to get into right now. I need everyone at their best – so spare me anymore ego bolstering! Get those engines going, medical will have power enough to treat the wounded, communications will wait till were out of the planet and let’s pilot this ship the best we can with what we’ve got!”
“How?” Sarah scoffed unprofessionally.
“With your damn head out the window!” He bitterly snapped back to her, “Figure it out, understood?”
“Yes.” She replied.
“I beg your pardon, Lieutenant!”
“Yes – Sir!”
With one last angered look at them all, the Captain stormed out of the room cursing under his breath. Yang also left with a disappointed gaze; he pointed to both Bringham and Berkins in a gesture that seemed to put them to shame. The doctor looked at the remaining group and gave a long sigh.
“Hi-ho-hi-ho, it’s back to work we go.”
In the narrow ship corridor, the Captain continued to barrel through angrily, the passing crewmen gave way as they took note of his obvious mood. Just as he arrived near the security room, a tall, young short-cropped hair blonde man saluted him as he almost bumped into Riley. The nervous young man stood at attention in his grey-blue camouflaged fatigues.
“Ensgin.” The Captain managed to grumble.
“Scott Robinson, Sir.” He announced loudly, “Ensign Scott Robinson!”
The captain paused in his step and turned to face the junior officer. The whole lower rank of crew were mere kids, in his view anyways, on a deep space mission to the great unknown. As a Captain on such long assignment, he would need to learn to be more of a fatherly figure to them; Strong, wise and - at the very least - easy to talk too. He told the officer to ‘at ease’ and smirked at him.
“You don’t have to introduce yourself every time I march down the corridor.” He scoffed. “You can’t be that fresh of a cadet.”
“Actually sir” The young man smiled, “I was the recruiting officer just before being assigned to this ship. I got demoted for - uhh - a slight infraction.”
“Infraction?” Riley inquired.
“Yeah.” The man said in his very deep south American twang, “On the count I forgot my pants during a surprise inspection.” The Captain gave a curious glance and the officer obliged him with he rest of the story, “Seeing how they were on the floor next to the girl in my cot.”
“Oh.” The superior officer snickered. “I’m surprised they didn’t kick you out of the base.”
“Almost.” The young man smirked again, “But the girl I was with just happened to be his senior officer.”
Riley let out a boisterous laugh and patted the man on the shoulder. The younger man shared in the moment of hilarity and the two shook hands.
It was just the ice breaker needed, for both of them. After the humour was done the Captain thanked him for it and continued on down the hall.
“Robinson.” The Captain turned to him one last time. “Make sure your pants stay on here - for my sake, huh?”
“Yes, sir.” The Southern youth grinned. “I’ll be sure to keep a spare set very handy.”
With that last bit of comedy over, Riley giggled on down the hall and headed back to the bridge. Suddenly, the ship shook causing all on board to shift from the motion. Riley stabilized himself and rushed back.
The ship continued to fall deeper into orbit of the planet, now it dropped away from the white cloud of gas to a much more darker grey-almond looking one, it started to rush in at a great rate of speed and the hull buckled. Riley managed to get to the bridge and shouted orders immediately.
“Helm, can you give me any sort of maneuvering at all?”
“Without power to any thrusters - no sir!” Sarah replied back frustrated. “We’re just a brick in water.”
“God Damnit!” He shouted in anger. He tapped the intercom switch to the engine room, “Tell me your doing something already Berkins!”
In the engine room, the young woman and the various workers frantically moved about repairing systems. The little teenager clamped on conduits and wrenched pipes together on the massive rounded structure that housed a steel looking ball floating in a bright blue liquid in the centre.
“Give me time!” She shouted with anger. Slapping the button to reply to him, she bitterly gave her answer, “Captain, you have to let me do my job! You’ll get power when I can give power. Till then, shut it!”
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Jeff WalkerWrite a Review