Last Day Aboard Ship - chapter 3

By rolandlytle

Original link: https://www.storiesspace.com/stories/science-fiction/last-day-aboard-ship-chapter-3.aspx

Tags: tachyons, tadar, freighter, surprise, sci-fi, first-interstellar-war-saga

Added: 01 Feb 2014 Views: 1468 Avg Score: 5

With the taunts and sounds of ridicule ringing in his ears, he leaves the mess.

All the way down the passageway, I heard the laughter and comments yelled after me from the crew’s mess. Today is just getting better and better.

As I walked towards the tadar equipment compartment, I heard an announcement on the ships intercom for me to contact the CO. I quickly changed direction and hustled forward to the old man’s stateroom. She doesn’t like to be kept waiting.

Captain Leopard was old for the spacefarer’s service by any standards. It was rumored she was approaching one-hundred-ten years of age. The mandatory retirement age is one-hundred, but I’d been informed she had powerful friends that could pull some strings.

She was short in stature. Her head was level with my chest, but somehow I constantly felt that I was peering upward at her when we spoke. The captain was slender and healthy. Except for the prosthetic arm and leg, she wore on her left side; she appeared as any other middle-aged woman. Her salt and pepper curly hair and rather ordinary appearance gave the visual impression of an aunt you might like, but in reality, she was utterly different. She possessed an intensity of personality I had seldom experienced. Her confidence and conviction was palatable. Physically I could break her in half one-handed, but she scared the turd out of me.

I knocked on her door and called out, “Ship’s Ensign Thornton reporting as ordered sir.”

Ten seconds later, I heard her voice, “Enter.”

I took a position two meters from the desk she was sitting at, stood at attention and waited. I didn’t have to wait long.

“Ensign, I talked with the XO earlier about that fraking tadar ghost which keeps waking me up. He said you were looking in to it. He showed me your observations and the readings you had collected.”

She paused for a moment and then continued in a more relaxed manner, “Be at ease Thornton. Were you aware I had served in the military?”

“No sir, I was not.” I replied.

She said, “I served fifty-eight years before this happened.”

She pointed to her fake arm and then continued, “When I saw the patterns of the ghost image, it appeared somewhat similar to some equipment energy signatures I had seen before. It’s not quite right though. I’m not an expert on these matters, but I think it is worth looking into.”

“Yes sir. Can we set up a comm-link with a military base or ship?” I asked.

“We’d have to drop out of FTL (faster than light) and bring up a micro-wormhole for transmission, but before we do that, talk to the engineering chief. You know Ensign Richards, don’t you? You were probably looking for a reason to go see her anyway. She spent a few years in the military in this area of expertise.” She said.

I said, “Aye Captain. I’ll get right to it.”

Before I left, the Captain commented, “Don’t frak this up, sonny. Sargent Ibanez says you’re probably not good enough for the engineer, but you never know. Richards seems to like you well enough. Are we shiny Ensign Thornton?”

“Aye sir, like stainless steel.”

I headed towards engineering to see what Carmen knew. The day was looking up finally.

Once I reached engineering, I saw Carmen’s two ABSs, Loflin and Chavez. They both gave me stern somber looks on my way to the engineering office, and then Chavez pointed at me, smirks and made a gesture like he was being hanged, complete with his tongue dangling out of his pie-hole. I showed him my own gesture indicating what I believed his IQ was, then journeyed into Carmen’s office.

“Good morning Ensign Richards.” I stated

We had agreed that in workspaces, appropriate decorum should be used and yes, she is my senior and assuredly my superior in so many ways.

Carman said, “Come in ensign. Leave the door open and have a seat.” She motioned me to a seat across from her in her small cluttered compartment and continued, “What can I do for you?”

The bulkheads were lined in enclosed metallic shelving full of assorted equipment and tools used for testing and repair. Various bins of spare parts were stacked to one side. It looked clean, but cramped. Carmen’s desk was tidy and covered with several baskets of paperwork. She had a photograph of me suspended above the desk where the desktop attached to the bulkhead.

“I’m sorry about this morning. I was such a jer….” I started before Carmen interrupted.

“Ensign, this is a workspace, not a forum to scrutinize your personal shortcomings. If that is all, you are dismissed.”

The anger and hurt were in her eyes, face, and voice. I had done this with my lack of guts, my inability to tell her my feelings. She was not going to let me deal with this private atrocity yet.

I remained stoic and said, “I’m sorry ma’am. It was inappropriate for me to breach the subject under present circumstances. Could we arrange a meeting for that discussion near chow-time this evening?”

“I’ll get back to you about that. I will check to see if I’m available. Chief Newman was interested in a discussion this evening also. Is there anything else ensign?” She replied.

Carmen knew what buttons to push. We both dislike Chief Newman. He’s a real nuisance and believes he is god’s gift to women. He’s a pencil-necked geeker who might be minus a few teeth in the morning.

“Yes there is. The captain reviewed my findings concerning our mysterious tadar ghost. I knew you had spent ten years in the EA, but I don’t remember you mentioning anything specific about your postings. The CO implied your duties in the service might give you some insight into our supposed poltergeist.” I said as I pulled open my eye-pad to access my reports and transferred a copy to her desktop terminal.

Carmen studied the reports and spent quite some time reviewing the unexplained tachyon pattern readings. She brought up an opaque visual screen between us as she retrieved some classified data.

After ten minutes, she de-energized the visual screen and shook her head as she said, “The readings on the tachyon waves have some similarities to a type of long-range tadar used by EA ships, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The power readings are especially interesting and bothersome. How much do you know about tadar operation?”

I told her, “I’m a tronic technician; I don’t normally deal with the engineering equipment. I know how to operate the tadar system and even basic maintenance and repair, but the theory behind them is beyond me except the basics. We send out a tachyon pulse, it hits the object, and is reflected back. We measure how long it takes the signal to return. The longer it takes the further the object is.”

Carmen explained, “You’re close. That was old-time radar, but the analogy is common in explaining tadar. The first two parts are correct, but tachyons don’t reflect. Without going into details, we measure certain quantum reactions and those tell us the distance and speed. It’s more like measuring the distance and movement of a star by the ‘red shift’ that occurs in its light.”

I’m sure that confusion was spread across my mien, but she rambled on, “The counter-intuitive nature of tachyons is the fact that the more power you use to create them the slower they move. The slower they move the less practical they are because the signal is less accurate due to the relative motions involved. The faster they are the more challenging they are to use because of the equipment sensitivity needed to process the signals information.”

“It’s a balancing act. The signal needs to be powerful enough to pick up, but low enough in power to give accurate measurements. Therefore, you need very sensitive equipment to allow measuring weak signals. At longer range, it is even harder. Very low power is needed to keep the tachyons’ speed high for accuracy, but it must be a large enough signal to be useful.”

“These readings you compiled of the ghost image look extremely low powered because of the unusual pattern. The disturbing thing is the power levels have been increasing.” She finished.

“So why is that disturbing?” I queried.

Carmen huffed in exasperation and said with annoyance, “You really are an idiot! The farther you are from the target, the less power you want to use. The closer you get the higher power you can use”

“I get it now. Since the power levels are increasing, the transmitting ship is getting closer.” I said.

She rolled her eyes, “Duh! Now you have it. You are such a homer.”

Then it hit me and I said, “This isn’t a tadar ghost. It’s a ship or probe and it’s getting closer. Is it an EA vessel?”

“This is nothing like I’ve ever seen and I thought I had seen everything built, until now. Maybe it’s a makeshift facsimile. This type of equipment isn’t sold to civilian ships.”

I gasped, “You mean pirates?”

Frak!!! Pirates!!! Are they jumping to conclusions? That and a big conference on the bridge that will keep our ensign busy. I hear the pushy corporal will be back too. So be sure to read the next installment of this developing story. No Rebel, it’s not that pirate. She’s dead, remember.