Latest Forum Posts:


HomeScience Fiction StoriesAn Encounter in the Deep Black

An Encounter in the Deep Black

Their patrol begins quietly until they make first contact.

Space is a vast infinite emptiness. The distances involved in travel between the stars are truly incomprehensible. The nearest star to our sun is Proxima Centauri. It is a red dwarf about 4.24 light-years from the sun. That is approximately twenty-five trillion miles (25,000,000,000,000) away. Twenty-five trillion is an enormous number; it is so immense most can’t grasp the sheer value of such a number. If you stacked that many pages of standard book paper, the stack would be about one-and-a-quarter million miles high. In other words, that would be 203 stacks of paper as high as the moon and still have left over paper higher than Mount Everest. At the fastest speed that humankind was capable of in the early twenty-fourth century, it would take 8,352 years to reach Proxima Centauri.

That was before the invention of the PNP drive, pumped neutrino propulsion. The most advanced version of the system is the Mark V PNP drive. It can propel a vessel approximately seventeen-point-five times the speed of light. Moving at such speeds is not possible without the Lowery repulsion generator.

There are minute particles of dust all throughout space. If travelling at faster than light speed, FTL, hitting a speck of dust would make a hole in the strongest material known; like shooting a bullet through tissue paper. The repulsion generator produces a powerful electrostatic magnetic ‘repulser field’ ahead of and around the ship. The repulser field deflects small particles of matter away from the ship.

There is one more problem with FTL travel, inertia. At such an immense speed, the slightest bump or any change of direction would cause enough G-force to turn a person into chunky peanut butter. With the use of Gravimetric Inertia Inhibiter Field Transformer generators, FTL travel can ignore inertia.

Therefore, to travel to other stars we must use FTL speeds. To use FTL speeds we must have two electromagnetic shields, the Lowery repulser field and the gravimetric inertia inhibiter transformers, or simply Gift field.

It would be nice to see where you’re going and what may be in your path as you proceed at such high velocities. The means of detecting anything when moving at those speeds are useless, because you are traveling faster than the electromagnetic means of detection. Radar and sight move at relativistic speeds so you are moving faster than you can perceive them.

Tadar, which stands for TAchyon Detection And Ranging was invented. It works by detecting small changes in the quantum field of the universe caused by usage of energy. Theoretically, you could detect a campfire in a cave one-mile underground from half way across the galaxy, if your equipment was sensitive enough.

All of this made interstellar flight possible which lead to an explosion of exploration and expansion unheard of within the history of humankind. Thus, the Earth Alliance was formed one-hundred twenty years ago. Humans went into space. Nearly thirty percent of the human race now resides off the planet Earth.

* * * *

Traveling through the deep black of space is the Earth Alliance Force patrol cruiser, EAS Stalwart. Its crew of fifty is on its first patrol since its two-month refit in the spacedocks of Ross 248. The Stalwart and its crew left Earth Alliance sector command eight days ago on an extended patrol.

The bridge was as expected of a ship just out of its overhaul. There was bright gleaming metal everywhere and a kiloweight of faux-naugy lined all the corners and consoles. As time wore on it would lose some of its shine, but for now, it was like new. The bulkheads were an off opal in color, while the overhead was light blue and the deck a dark green. Nothing was too subtle for the Alliance head plumbers.

The captain’s seat was located to the rear of the bridge and centered. The chief engineer had custom constructed it himself. He had covered it in actual naugy hide. That genetically engineered creature was common on the inner planets but out here, it was hard to come by.

Facing the bulkhead were banks of the most modern nanotronics available. On the captain’s right were the engineering and life support system consoles. To the captain’s left were situated the communications and weapons system consoles.

In the center of the bridge, facing the viewing screen, were two seats surrounded by instruments including a couple of halo Heads Up Displays, HUDs. The helm and navigation position was to the right and the operations and tadar position to the left.

The midwatch is considered the worst duty hours by most people. Lieutenant Elizabeth Morgan was the junior bridge officer and was in command during the midwatch. Her hair was dark brown and always fashioned into a bun. She was average size and build, but had a cute face displaying sultry pouting lips and hazel eyes. She was competent and ambitious. She slowly stalked around the bridge checking reading on all the boards, even the unattended ones. She was allowed to sit in the captain’s chair when she was in charge, but she never did. Perhaps the lieutenant was a little scared of the significance of that or maybe just respectful.

Petty officer Sylvestre Ntaryamira was on the helm. He was a tall slender young man. At twenty-nine, he was the youngest bridge crewmember; only two people aboard sip were younger than he. His ebony complexion was very dark, so dark it almost had a purple hue to it. He kept his head shaved and across the back, tattooed in Kirundi the native language of his Hutu ancestors, were the words ‘To Have FreedomKw-īdegēmvya. That’s where he got his shipboard handle, ‘KW’. He was loud, brash, and a steadfast friend.

Petty officer Robert Goddard was situated at the operations station. He was average build and very fit. He worked out regularly, but didn’t bulk up. He tried to improve his strength and endurance, not his muscle definition. Goddard was considered quite handsome with wavy dark hair, brown eyes, a strong jawline, and high cheekbones. He had served the longest onboard among his watch. During the overhaul period, he had worked many double shifts to upgrade and calibrate the new tadar system platform. Because he loved to SCUBA dive, he was known as ‘Bubblehead’.

Chief petty officer Alessandro Mendini was stationed at the engineering console. He was slightly taller than average in stature, had a narrow aquiline nose, dark hair and eyes, and an olive complexion. Even though the chief tended to be introspective, he was an expert at ripping into a spacer if they were lax or irresponsible; and you might as well space yourself if he caught you being disrespectful. The ‘Hammer’, CPO Mendini, had joined the crew during the refit, but the other three had been working together for over a year.

Often service aboard an EAS vessel was categorized as ‘a month of complete boredom and ten minutes of inconceivable terror.’ As the saying goes, this particular night had started as just another routine watch, but it ended as no one could have imagined.

As the watch was progressing, Bob Goddard let a part of his mind wander. He had never truly made peace with the constant unrelenting mind-numbing boredom of service in the Earth Alliance fleet. Standing his watch, repeating for the umpteenth time his required checks and monitoring of shipboard systems according to the standard operating procedures, SOP, he went step-by-step ensuring everything was running at maximum efficiency.

The bright spot of his watch was the Lieutenant. He found her very attractive. He felt he could stare into those beautiful hazel eyes forever. Lt. Morgan’s curves weren’t spectacular, but Elizabeth was Bob’s favorite dream fantasy. She was the reason he had volunteered to stay on the midnight shift despite qualifying to transfer out.

PO Goddard had been assigned to the EAS Stalwart for two years and was the best technician aboard in operating and maintaining the tadar systems. His understanding of the quantum physics behind that system was second to none. The Captain had recently forwarded Lt. Morgan’s recommendation for the petty officer to educate personnel at one of the fleet training facilities.

He had enlisted in the fleet expecting to live a life of excitement and glamor. Throughout his training at the fleet academy, Goddard was cautioned repeatedly to temper his unrealistic expectations. He had read all about the exhilarating lives of many star-faring heroes and watched many halos highlighting the exploits of such people. The future petty officer would never admit it, but his decision to join up was hugely based upon those adventurous, yet misleading, stories.

Many of the experienced officers at the academy warned their pupils of the endless tedium of service in the deep black. All the students were counseled on the importance of maintaining peace and order. Service in the fleet could be infinitely rewarding and an opportunity to learn and grow, both intellectually and emotionally, as few other careers could.

As PO Goddard was verifying the tadar’s performance, he noticed a slight warble in the quantum signal representation. The anomaly didn’t appear on the contact display because of the unusual nature of the signal. He checked the computer for similar responses, but found none. He had never seen any presentation with this type of distortion. Goddard hoped he was misinterpreting the display readings as it was beginning to concern and unsettle him. He hoped the tadar wasn’t screwed up this soon after overhaul. He was very protective of his ‘baby’.

This would not be considered a threat under normal conditions. However, there had been a number of missing civilian freighters, the MSCS BharatBenz being the most recent, in this region of space. The crew had been cautioned to be particularly vigilant. So being very conscientious and thorough, PO Goddard double checked all his information and took a breath mint before calling Lt. Morgan over to his station, “Lieutenant Morgan, I have a situation with the tadar system. Could you please take a look ma’am?”

The lieutenant moved over to the operations station where PO Goddard was working. She was glad he liked the midshift because of his expertise. He understood the mechanics of quantum field manipulation better than she ever would. The petty officer had subtly made known his interest in her. She thought he was handsome enough, however Lt. Morgan found him to be too rigid and conservative for her tastes. She had simply ignored it hoping he would cease his pursuit for her affections.

She looked at the displays over the petty officer’s shoulder and said, “Yes Petty Officer Goddard, what have you got? What are we looking at?”

“Ma’am, I’ve got an unusual contact on tadar. It doesn’t read like a normal contact. It’s some form of distorted or deformed quantum fluctuation. I would think it was a malfunction, but it hasn’t changed position. If it was a faulty module, it should change position at some rate or pattern, skittering around the screen like a Centaurian millipede. The chances that we have multiple faults simultaneously, which don’t register with the computer as a malfunction, are astronomical, but that is the only way this could happen. There is no way my tadar is this fubared, it must be a real contact.” He explained.

“Is there any way to prove that the warped signal can’t be an onboard malfunction?” Lt. Morgan asked.

Goddard deliberated for a moment and then replied, “There are a few things I would like to check, but the simplest way to verify its authenticity is to change course and then determine if that changes the relative position of the contact.”

Lt. Morgan told Goddard, “Very well Petty Officer Goddard. Maintain a close watch on it and notify me of any changes.”

“Aye ma’am.” Then he turned on his mic to call crewman Brendon ‘Homer’ Patterson stationed at the nanotronics compartment in the forward part of the ship. Patterson was a big good-looking guy, a real lady’s man. He was also a lowbridge. You know, lowbridge, everything goes over his head. Patterson was one of eight personnel presently on watch around the EAS Stalwart.

He said, “Brendon, this is Bob. I’m at ops. I need an assist from you Homer. Run a check on the tadar system for any problems. I want to make sure my baby is alright. Then scan astrometric’s readings for anything unusual, especially at approximately 290˚ by 030˚.

“Roger. Say hi to the beautiful lieutenant Lizzy for me. Is the Lioness stalking her territory as usual?” Patterson said before making a kissing sound.

“Watch it you scruffle-nut. Watch your mouth or I’ll roast your pecans and feed‘em to the captain’s bark anole. There’s a lizzy you can have fun with.”

“Roger Bubblehead. I’ll take care of things down here.” Brendon said as he tried to hold back a laugh.

PO Goddard thought Homer could handle this assignment, probably.

Lt. Morgan called down to the XO, Commander Maria Ozawa, “Ma’am, I need to make a minor course change.”

The XO’s voice came though the speaker, “Stand-by, I’ll be right there lieutenant.”

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

To link to this story from your site - please use the following code:

<a href="">An Encounter in the Deep Black</a>

Comments (14)

Tell us why

Please tell us why you think this story should be removed.