Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNoWriMo... so far...

So far, so good. I need at least 1,667 words a day to get to 50,000 by the end of November. So far, I'm averaging 1,800 and some.

And now, for the not so boring part... what I've written so far. Enjoy Chapter 1 of Threat From the Past.

(Disclaimer: This is a first draft. There are LOTS of mistakes, as it hasn't been edited at all. The final version may not resemble this draft at all.)



Threat From The Past







Aaron DeMott

Chapter 1


Evelyn walked down the hallway of the transport. She wanted to run. The transport had arrived late at it's destination, the Alpha Centari Space Station. Evelyn had just graduated from UGAL Academy and was supposed to start her first assignment as the backup helm officer of the UGAL Goddard.
Running in the crowed hallway, however, was impossible. There were about two hundred people on board the transport, and it seemed like all of them were disembarking at the Alpha Centari Space Station. It wasn't like the Goddard was going to leave without her. There were actually a few other fresh graduates on transport that were assigned to the Goddard too, if Evelyn remembered correctly. She didn't see any of them now, but then about the only thing she could see was the backs of everyone in front of her.
Evelyn crowded her way toward the side of the connecting tube and looked out the window as she slowly shuffled along behind everyone else. She could see the white arms of the station spreading out from the central hub. Most of them had various space craft docked at them, and every once in a while a ship would leave, or a new one would come in and dock.
As the central hub for transportation, the Alpha Centari Station was one of the busiest ports in the galaxy. Most of the ships looked like mining ships or cargo vessels, but there were a handful of transports too. Evelyn didn't see the Goddard docked at any of the arms, or any other cruisers for that matter. She wasn't really surprised though, she could only see part of the station where she was.
Evelyn finally reached the airlock at the end of the gangplank tube. She pressed her hand against the reader set into the wall beside the door, and proceeded forward after it beeped and turned green.
The crowd was starting to thin out a little here, as some people headed into the central hub of the station, and others headed off down side corridors. Evelyn headed over to a free access terminal and scanned her palm.
"Computer, where is the Goddard docked?" she asked.
A schematic of the station came up and showed the path from her current location to docking arm four on ring seven. She stared at it for a while, memorizing the route she would need to take, then took off down one of the corridors on the far side of the hub.

There was a short line of people, all in blue UGAL uniforms, in the docking arm leading to the Goddard. Both doors of the airlock were open, and she could see the gray of the Goddard's hull at the other end. Two armed men in dark red marine uniforms were standing at either side of the airlock door.
"Hi!"
"What?" Evelyn blinked. A girl with brown hair and blue eyes was staring at her. "Oh, hi. I'm Evelyn. I didn't catch your name, sorry."
"That's okay. I'm Abigail." She giggled. "Don't worry, they're not letting anyone board until everyone's here." Abigail looked around and lowered her voice. "Don't worry, you're not the last one."
"Oh good! I was worried, my transport's departure was delayed."
"Could be worse," Abigail said, rolling her eyes. "I got dropped off two days ago. There is NOTHING to do on this station!"
"Two days ago?" Evelyn raised her eyebrows. "There wasn't another transport before then?"
"Well, I couldn't afford anything except cargo class, and you can't really choose your schedule that way..."
Evelyn raised an eyebrow. "What, did you have to ride in a cardboard box?"
Abigail giggled. "We're going to get along great! Actually, I'm transferring from another ship, so I'm lucky they could drop me off here that soon."
"Oh!" Evelyn peered at the rank tab on Abigail's left collar. "Sorry Lieutenant."
"Hey now! None of that, it's lieutenant, junior grade, actually, so I barely outrank you. Don't make me order you to call me Abigail."
Evelyn laughed. "Okay, I'll..."
She was interrupted by a knocking sound from up ahead. A man with black hair in a commander's uniform was standing in the airlock.
"If I can have your attention please," he said. "It looks like everyone's here now--"
Evelyn glanced back over her shoulder and saw a few more people were in line behind her. She recognized some of them from the Academy.
"-- we'll go ahead and board the Goddard and have a brief orientation," the commander continued. He turned and entered the ship, nodding to the marine on his right.
The marine waved everyone forward. One at a time they each stepped through the airlock. Evelyn finally got up the ship and stepped through. She placed her hand on the scanner just inside the door, then waited for it to beep before she followed the others through the inner airlock door and into the ship.
A large room was on the other side of the airlock. The commander was standing in front of a door at the far end of the room. Another officer was sitting at a table piled high with equipment in front of him. The other new crew members were standing at attention in rows about a meter away from the table, facing the commander.
Evelyn quickly stepped up next to Abigail. She saw Abigail wink at her out of the corner of her eye.
The officer sitting at the table pushed a button, and a recording of a boatswain's whistle played.
"My name is Commander Neil Dennings, first officer aboard the Goddard--" He was interrupted by a short alarm, and the sound of the airlock door closing.
"As I was saying," Commander Dennings said, "The Captain would be here to greet you, but we've just received an emergency distress call from a mining freighter, and we're leaving immediately to respond, as we're the closest UGAL ship. Anyway, you've each been entered into the ship's computer when you boarded. In a moment, you'll be asked to step forward and receive a Goddard patch for your uniform, and a Multiple Function Communication and Computer Access device, or comm for short, which is used just as it's full name implies. Please keep it with you at all times, on or off duty.
"Also, you should be aware that the Goddard is equipped with a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence named Eliza. Feel free to ask her anything you need to know. Again, I apologize for the brief orientation, and I look forward to getting to know all of you over the coming days."
The Commander saluted, then turned and left the room.
"That was by far, the shortest orientation I've ever heard of. I think I like emergencies."
Evelyn turned and started a Abigail. She wasn't quite sure if she was serious or not. She shrugged and got in line to get her comm unit.
After playing with most of the options, she looked up and saw that most of the others had left already. She looked around for Abigail, but didn't see her. She didn't recognize any of the others who hadn't left yet, so she headed to the door and stepped out into a hallway that had the same gray walls and beige floors as the room she had just left.
"Lovely color scheme," she muttered, looking up and down the hallway. She pulled out her comm unit and pulled up a schematic of the ship, but it didn't seem to have a 'you are here' function, and she wasn't quite sure which airlock she was standing outside of.
"Hmm." she stared at the schematic for a moment or two longer before she remembered the ship had an A.I..
"Eliza?" she asked the open air. She wasn't sure quite how to interact with it, but she assumed it would work something like Gail, the prototype A.I. that the Guardians had been testing four years ago.
"Yes, Ensign Mills, what can I do for you?" a pleasant-sounding voice asked.
Evelyn looked around. She didn't see anyone. The prototype A.I. had projected a hologram whenever you activated it.
"Um, you can call me Evelyn. And do you have a holographic avatar?"
A full-color hologram of a red-haired woman that looked to be about her age, and wearing a UGAL uniform appeared in front of her.
"Yes, I do, but most people prefer just the voice interface most of the time. It can get kind of distracting, having people pop in and out when you're trying to work you know."
"Yeah, I bet in can. Anyway, this says I'm supposed to drop my stuff off at my quarters and wait until the next shift before reporting for duty."
"Oh, okay, how can I help?" Eliza asked.
"Well, I'm not sure where my quarters are."
"Oh, that would be a problem! Let's see..." Eliza leaned over Evelyn's shoulder and looked at her comm unit. "Ah, there you are, follow me, and I can lead you right there." Eliza turned and walked off down the corridor.
Evelyn started at her for a moment, then ran to catch up. "Do you have to read my comm unit to know where my quarters are?"
"Of course not." Eliza turned and smiled at her. "But it's just a bit creepy if computer knows everything, no?"
"Hmm, I suppose so. Um, I'm not taking up too much of your time, am I?"
"Let's see," Eliza pulled a comm unit from her pocked and checked it. "Fusion reactor to monitor, logs to record, sensor readings to monitor, holy bit-buckets! I've got a whole ship to run!" Eliza cocked her head at Evelyn, a hint of a smile tugging at her lips.
"Thims had fun programing you, didn't he?" Evelyn asked.
Eliza stopped. "You know Thims?" she asked.
"I've met him once or twice. He's pretty busy though, so I didn't see him that much."
Eliza looked up at the ceiling for a moment. "Oh, that's right, you worked as a page in the Guardian building."
"Yup. But how'd UGAL end up with a smark-alec A.I.?"
"Well, apparently," Eliza lowered her voice, "Captain Trenton got to interact with Gail during her prototype testing, and he specifically requested 'not to have a fuddy-duddy computer.' And, well, you know Thims..."
"Yeah," Evelyn said, laughing.
"Oh, here we are."
They stopped in front of a door that was identical to all the other doors along the corridor. Evelyn looked up and down the hallway and tried to remember how they had gotten there. They had taken at least one lift up a few levels, and made a few turns around identical looking corridors...
"I've taken the liberty of turning on the location feature on your comm unit," Eliza said. "So it will show you where you are now. Also, if you look closely, the hallways are labeled in itty-bitty print at each junction. Or, you can always ask me for directions until you get to know your way around. Don't worry, it won't take as long as you'd think."

***

Evelyn took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and pushed the button that would open the bridge door.
"Ensign Mills, reporting for duty," she said as she approached the first officer.
"Welcome aboard Ensign. I know it's in the regulations, but as long as there aren't problems we're not so formal on the Goddard." The Commander smiled at her as he walked with her toward the front of the bridge. "You can go ahead and relive Ensign Smith at the helm."
"Yes sir, thank you sir." Evelyn saluted him then stepped forward to stand next to the helm.
"I'm here to relive you sir," she said.
Ensign Smith tapped a few more buttons on the helm before he looked up at her.
"She's all yours," he said with a grin. "First day on the job?"
"Yes sir," Evelyn folded her hands to try and hide her nervousness. "I'm fresh out of the Academy."
"Ah. Well, you've got nothing to worry about. Actually flying a Hiem class ship is a lot easier than the simulators make it out to be." He stood and saluted her before leaving the bridge.
Evelyn sat down and looked over the controls. They were actually identical to the simulators, with the exception that rest of the bridge was here too. The helm simulator at the Academy was just a tiny box with the navigation and helm console in it.
All operations appeared to be normal at the moment. They were currently traveling at hyper plus five -- the ships maximum speed. No warning lights were on, and nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Ensign Smith was right, this was a lot easier than the simulator.

***

Evelyn collapsed into her bunk after she got back to her quarters at the end of her shift. Fortunately, her roommate had taken the top bunk. She felt too tired to climb up there right now. Nothing had gone wrong during her first shift on the bridge, but that didn't stop her from worrying that something might.
A quick cat-nap made her feel much better. She looked around the small room and wondered who her roommate was. She hadn't bothered to check the ships register yet. The mystery person seemed to be rather clean, as their quarters weren't dirty or messy. That was nice. She had shared a room with her sister back home, and also had a roommate at the Academy. Both of them were... messy. Clean was nice for a change.
"Eliza," she asked, "Do you have any of my personal computer files from SatNet loaded locally?"
"Hmm," Eliza sounded like she was thinking about it. "Let me see here... Not there, hmm... one moment... there! I do now!"
"Thanks Eliza. Can you play a random track from my classic electronica collection, please?"
As the first notes thumped out, Evelyn leaned back in her bunk and pulled up the ships operation manual on her comm unit. In theory, every ship used the same operations policies, but in practice, each ship tweaked the protocol to fit its Captain and circumstances.
She jumped when the door opened.
"What in the name of Custer's cat is that?" Abigail stood in the doorway, shouting to be heard over the music.
"Sorry. Eliza, kill the music."
"Ug."
Abigail flopped into a chair across the room from Evelyn.
"What was that?" she asked, "Did the intercom break, did you get stuck monitoring deep-space background noise with faulty equipment?"
"Sorry." Evelyn slouched down in her bunk. "It's old music that used synthesized sounds to create the melody. I know not that many people like it, I wasn't expecting anyone."
"Ah." Abigail dug at her ear with a fingernail. "Well, I got off shift early. I was excited about having you for a roommate until I heard that noise."
Evelyn groaned and hid her face in her hands.
"What's wrong?" Abigail rose from the chair and sat down next to Evelyn on the edge of the bunk. "I didn't mean to offend you..."
"No, it's not that that," Evelyn looked up and smiled at Abigail to reassure her. "I just feel like an idiot... I didn't bother to check the roster to see who my roommate was. I'm glad it's you too."
Abigail laughed. "Yeah, it's nice get stuck with someone you know... most of the time. Did people really use to listen to that stuff though?"
"Well, not many. It was most popular around the twenty-first century, but it was never the most popular music style."
"I can see why." Abigail stood and stretched, then went back over to her chair and started taking her boots off. "How'd you end up misfortunate enough to discover that.... genre... anyway?"
"Oh, Tomed got me hooked on it when I was working at the Guardian building. Hey, do you want to come help me get lost trying to find the mess hall?"
Abigail glared at Evelyn. "You would ask after I got my boots off! Hang on..."
She pulled her duffle bag out of the closet and rummaged through it, finally coming up with a vacuum packed bag. Abigail flourished it triumphantly and pulled the plug. A pair of bright pink slippers shaped like bunnies popped out. Evelyn stared at them in shock.
"Those are so cool!" she finally blurted out. "You, um, wouldn't happen to have another pair, would you?"
Abigail grinned wickedly. "I was so hoping you'd ask," she said, pulling out another package and tossing it to Evelyn.
Evelyn squealed happily as she pulled her boots off and put the slippers on.
"Okay, I'm ready," she said. "Let's go!"
Abigail took a step toward the door and paused mid-stride. "Actually," she said, holding up a finger, "We should change. Wearing awesome slippers won't get us into trouble. Wearing awesome slippers with our uniforms, even while off-duty, though, just might."

***

Evelyn stared at the positional readout. She was back on-duty on the bridge, and they were approaching the last known position of the mining ship that had issued the distress call. Since this was a pre-programed destination, Eliza should automatically drop the Goddard out of hyperspace, but it was her job to keep an eye on things just in case something went wrong.
The indicator blinked yellow and showed a one minute timer that was counting down to zero as they approached their destination. When the timer hit zero, the indicator flashed green and the ship gave a slight shudder as the magnetic field generated by the hyperdrive engines was powered down.
"Captain, we've arrived at the last-known location of the mining freighter," she announced.
"All-stop, full scan. Let's see if we can find them."
Evelyn glanced around the bridge. Various officers who's names she didn't yet know were busy at their stations. She made sure that the controls were showing an all-stop condition, and, more importantly yet, no error codes.
"Sir," Ensign Materton, who sat at the navigation station next to Evelyn, said. "I'm picking up an ion trail. It's strange though, it's very heavy, and headed straight for the fourth planet in the system."
"Alright, let's go check it out." Captain Trenton stood and came up to stand behind her.
Evelyn entered the destination point that was sent to her from the navigation station, and double-checked it. "Course laid in, Captain," she said.
"Engage engines."
The inertial dampeners all but eliminated any sense of movement as the ship surged forward, accelerating to it's top sub-light speed. An hour later, Evelyn brought the ship into a standard orbit around the planet.
"Full sensor scan," the Captain ordered.
"Sir, I'm detecting debris on the planet."
Evelyn looked up. Lieutenant Whatshisname was staring at the sensor station with a puzzled look on his face.
"Sir," he said, "this is weird. The debris on the surface is definitely the mining ship that sent the distress call, but the ship is mostly intact. It almost looks like someone dissected it."
Captain Trenton went over to stand behind Lieutenant Whatshisname. "Looks like the ion trail is outgoing too. The atmosphere has a polarized trail all the way down to the surface."
"Yes sir. I'm still analyzing it to attempt to figure out what happened."
"Good work, keep me posted."
Evelyn whirled her head back to her console as a dozen different alarms went off at once. A quick look showed that they were being pulled down to the surface. Evelyn entered a course to abort orbit and engaged the engines at full power.
"Instruments show that we're going down to the surface," she said, "trying to confirm."
"Confirmed," Ensign Materton said, "We are losing altitude."
"Engines at full output." Evelyn was having flashbacks from some of her less than happy turns at the simulator. "Locking in emergency power. Navigation, let me know as soon as soon as we're clear of the gravity well so I can bring the hyperdrive online."
Whatever was trying to pull them down to the surface was now also pulling at them from several different side angles, making it something like trying to steer through a cross-current. Someone down in engineering had to be shutting down just about every other system system on the ship, as they were managing to put a little distance between themselves and the planet.
Another sideways pull came out of nowhere. Evelyn fired thrusters in the opposite direction, trying to keep the full power of the engines on gaining distance from the planet.
"We're out of the gravity well--barely," Ensign Materton said.
Evelyn hit the button to engage the hyperdrive. Nothing happened. Well, almost nothing, The controls were showing that the magnetic field was forming, but about a quarter as fast as it should.
"Helm, status report," the Captain asked.
"Uh, hyperdrive magnetic field is slowly coming up to density. Controls show no malfunction. It's almost as is something outside the ship is affecting it." Evelyn thought she felt something akin to a Guardian trying to contact her mind. She brushed the feeling off and concentrated on her readouts.
"That's not good. Captain to engineering, give me everything you've got, and then some!"
The ship was starting to shake now. The hyperdrive continued to power up, and there speed picked up, a large bump announcing every little moment of acceleration.
"Hyper plus one," Evelyn said, relived that they seemed to finally be getting away.
Something exploded behind her, and the smell of smoke filled the bridge. Evenly checked the hyperdrive again. It was set to hyper plus six, and the power output from the reactors was well above redline. They should be going much, much faster.
Damage reports about hull breaches and systems outages were being called out behind her, but Evelyn tried to concentrate on adjusting thrust to compensate for the random sideways pulls, which were fortunately becoming less frequent. Evelyn had tried earlier to have Eliza compensate for those fluctuations for her, but she just got a flashing 'Function not available' message. She hoped it was just because the A.I. was busy with something else.
Eventually, the shaking stopped, and the speed and power readouts stabilized.
"Sir," she said, "Helm now reads normal."
"Navigation also normal," Ensign Materton said.
"Alright, bring us out of hyperspace."
Evelyn shut down the hyperdrive and watched the MHD as the colorful swirling of hyperspace was replaced by a normal starfield.
An alarm immediately rang out.
"Sir," Evelyn said, "We're moving backward."
Ensign Materton looked over at Evelyn. "Right back to that planet."
"At what velocity?" the Captain asked.
"Precisely--" Evelyn glanced at her readout, "--Five KPH and rising."
"Re-engage the hyperdrive, let's put some more distance between us and that planet."
"Yes, sir," Evelyn said, pressing the appropriate controls.
Evelyn kept an eye on the hyperdrive's power consumption. So far, it looked okay.

An hour later, Captain Trenton leaned over her console and stared at the display for a while.
"Anything funny with the readouts, Ensign?" he asked.
"No sir, everything's been within tolerances since we went back to hyperspace." She looked up at him. "Sir, permission to give an observation that has nothing to do with my station?"
"Always."
"Well, back there when we were in orbit, I thought I felt something kind of like when a Guardian tries to contact you telepathically. Only this was... different... somehow. I don't know exactly how to explain it, but I thought I should report it anyway."
"Not just me then..." Evelyn had to strain to hear the Captain.
"Sir?" she asked.
"Thank you for the report, Ensign. I think I might have experienced the same thing. Drop us out of hyperspace again, and if we experience any drift, re-engage immediately."
"Yes, sir."
The Captain turned and headed to the back of the bridge. "Major Hood, report to my office please," he said as he left.
A few minutes later he was back.
"Status report, Ensign."
"I dropped the ship out of hyperspace, as ordered sir. Drift was from the same vector as before, zero point two one KPH."
Evelyn folded her hands in her lap to keep them from shaking. Whatever was happening, it wasn't good. She looked up at the Captain and waited for orders.
"Helm, drop us out of hyperspace. Navigation, plot a course to Zin. Engage at the fastest speed Engineering will let you." The Captain returned to his command chair and pressed a button. "Bridge to Engineering: You've got five minutes to make as many repairs as you can, then we're going to need as much speed as we can get out of the hyperdrive."