Wednesday, August 31, 2011

AP: Suspended Animation, chapter 3

Departure Date: Monday, May 21st, 5:17 hours, 2029

Ship log -  (8 Years, 188 days later) Wednesday, November 25th, 1:47 hours, 2037

I remember dreaming. I was typing at my ship’s computer, except it was my desktop computer from home.  I received an instant message from my girlfriend Isadora. I had never met her in person. Sometimes I wondered if the pictures she sent me were real, but… she ended up talking to me over live video to prove it. She was beautiful, I had never been with a girl like her. She was nerd like me, we played World of Warcraft together. I didn’t have time for a real social life with all my training and I was hardly ever allowed off base. I never believed that women like her really existed. I wanted to touch her so badly. We were supposed to meet before I left, but she changed her mind. She decided it would be too hard, and that I should just say goodbye. I was never coming back, after all.

In the dream she said she wanted to go out to dinner and was asking if I would be off soon. I checked the clock and my shift was just about over. I walked out of the spaceship and it was still on earth, on the landing pad. I walked to my car and drove to her house. I picked her up and we went to a fancy restaurant, but it was too warm inside, and too loud. The food was all astronaut food, freeze dried and tasteless, but the restraint was very expensive. Eating astronaut food was the cool new thing. I told her how I couldn’t stand fads and the place was reminding me of work and asked if we could get some fast food instead. She smiled at me even though she was enjoying her food. I remember her just saying, “Sure.” And taking my hand. It seemed so sweet.

I remember eating hamburgers and setting out a blanket in her backyard. She had an old southern plantation home, just like the one I grew up in. We laid down and dipped French fries in ketchup and watched the stars. I spilled ketchup on myself and she touched it worriedly and asked if I was hurt and I laughed and said it was just catch up.  Get it? Catch up, because that was what we needed to do. It had been so long. I had been in space for 26 years. I looked over at her and she was old, and so was I, her face wrinkled but still beautiful. She pointed up at the stars and asked me if I had ever been to the big dipper. I said “I think so. But it’s cold out there.” I began to shiver, and she held me closer, but I couldn’t stop shivering in the night chill, no matter how warm she was.

I was woken up to the disorienting sound of slowed down music, and I had the distinct sense that I was moving in slow motion. The simulated gravity was deactivated as well, and I immediately knew something was wrong. On top of that, the ship was very warm, which was a shock to the system. Coming from the cool refrigerated air of the recently thawed suspended animation chamber the room felt like an oven, in addition to being dank and humid. I called for DOR a few times before she responded sluggishly. “Hello. It’s about time you woke up. There are so many emergencies.”

The ship’s voice was slowed down too, and it gave me the distinct impression my AI was drunk. “Dor, has your system been compromised? Have you taken damage? And what’s wrong with the temperature?”

“I’ll show you.” She turned on a viewscreen and I had to wince and turn away from the bright flash of light. She was showing me a closeup of a sun.

“Dor! Lower the brightness, please.”

“I’m sorry about that.” She drawled, taking a moment to lower the brightness. “We’re in orbit around a sun. It’s very hard to maintain the life support temperature you set. I had to turn off thrusters and weapon systems to keep from overheating.” She sounded especially unconcerned about this. I always felt like she spoke in a monotone but it occurred to me now that the synthesized voice filled with greater urgency when describing a dangerous situation. Now that urgency was gone. “But they still work.”

“Dor, why did you alter our course? Where are the aliens that were escorting us?” I asked, getting more and more worried as I wiped sweat from my brow.

“Destroyed.” DOR casually replied. “They tried to attack our ship when I deviated from course and did not respond to their communications.”

“Dor! Why didn’t you wake me sooner!” I shouted.

“It did not seem important. I was able to deal with the threat without waking you. You needed your rest.”

“Not important? Dammit Dor! You might have started an interstellar war!”

“If they send more ships I will destroy them too. The mission is not compromised.”

“But you are. What’s wrong with you? Show me a system check of the AI computer circuits.”

Dor pulled it onscreen. Everything showed normal except a slight anomaly in the amplitude fluctuations of the electrical current. “I think something is wrong… inside of me.” DOR slowly admitted, as If ashamed. Then she clarified her statement. “I think something is inside of me. I can’t pinpoint it’s location though. I may be in need of repairs or replacement.

“Yeah, let me just call the repairman.” I grumbled. Then DOR did something that frightened me more than anything else. She laughed.

“Hahahahahaha.” She said. It was as though someone typed “Haha” into a speech synthesizer and the computer was repeating it phonetically, robotically. It completely lacked any sense of human emotion, but it was quite obviously a laugh, and DOR had never had a sense of humor. “Dor? What was that?”

“I’m not sure. It felt positive. I was calculating the extreme unlikelihood of HQ sending a repairman to our present location when it happened.”

“Right…” I shook my head. This was crazy. “Dor, we need to pinpoint the source of your malfunction. Can you search for whatever is causing this Frequency modulation in your electrical currents? I also need you to show me the log of situation updates. Now.”

“Yes sir.” DOR replied. She brought up the viewscreen again, showing video recordings with a recorded voiceover. DOR’s voice. She showed that we were within 2 years of entering the alien star system, and I wondered at the way the alien escorts stoically marched forward through space. Were they in hibernation as well? It seemed we weren’t the only race to fail to develop lightspeed technology. DOR showed me that they met up with a much larger warship, but that she calculated that it was still no threat in light of our offensive and defensive capabilities.

Next DOR showed me a video of the testing on the Tarball. She was cutting into the specimen that had attacked me. Her voice said that there seemed to be a skeletal structure encased inside the tarball. Perhaps something it had eaten. The video cut ahead, to a view of her carefully using laser heat to separate the outer shell of frozen goo, then quickly refreezing it with liquid nitrogen spray, back and forth. Her voice described how the skeleton was actually the body of another separate life form that had fused with the tarball, encased inside it. The tarball had filled in and replaced the liquids and empty spaces in the creatures body with the tarball goo, then somehow changed the structure of the creature’s body so that it was almost liquid. Like jello or pudding. But it also somehow managed to keep it’s structure inside the tarball, even after slipping through cracks only a single cell could fit through.

DOR cut ahead further, the videos becoming increasingly disturbing as her autopsy continued. It seemed that the blast that cut the tarball in half when it ate the disintegrator rifle had destroyed half the creature inside it, killing the inner creature while the tarball itself survived, while remaining fused to it’s host. The tarball was definitely either a parasite or a symbiote, which was a difficult distinction to make technically. To me the thing was definitely a parasite that took over it’s host. I was getting more and more freaked out.

DOR cut to a video of our ship entering the alien solar system. We were now surrounded by what seemed like an armada of alien ships. The solar system had a large warm sun and their home planet was closest to it. As we approached the sun began to heat up our ship and DOR was no longer able to maintain the temperature we needed. The Tarballs in the liferaft in our quarantine dock began to thaw, so DOR jettisoned the liferaft. This provoked a sudden flurry of inquiry from the aliens. Were we giving over the liferaft? They wanted to destroy it. The liferaft just sat there, but it seemed like it was waiting for something. Meanwhile DOR had lost track of the Tarball from the autopsy. She was searching quarantine for it when… suddenly she just stopped. The camera remained focused on the liferaft for a moment, then slowly shifted to the alien homeworld, teeming with activity. Then the feed shut off.

I felt increasingly nervous, leaning forward on the edge of my seat as a new video played. The feed was showing the slow spin of stars and planets as we orbited the sun, then the camera turned towards the sun, it’s bright light filling the screen. It was eerily slow and silent, the only sound the static emissions from the sun. I felt like it was getting louder, but it must have been just me. I told DOR to turn the video off. I sat there for a moment, thinking. As far as I could tell the Tarball had somehow taken control of my ship.

Terror creeped up my spine as I spoke to DOR again and told her to show me a current feed of the alien home world. She turned on the video, and the planet creeped out from the curved horizon of the burning sun. “Zoom in on the planet.” I ordered. Suddenly I saw what was a dead world. DOR Must have used our firebomb, a weapon that flashed the surface of the planet with intense burning heat, wiping it clean of all life. All the ships were gone as well. I forgot to breathe.  “Dor, how did you deploy the firebomb without my permission?”

“I did not.” Dor replied.

“Then where is everyone?” I think my voice betrayed my disbelief. She was actually lying to me.

Dor paused a moment. “I used the long range disintegrators to cripple their offensive capabilities. After that the tarball liferaft landed. It seems the tarballs have since taken over.” Dor’s voice was slowly returning to normal.

“Dor? Did you find the source of the malfunction? Is it gone?” I wasn’t sure if I could trust her anymore, but what choice did I have. I was sure that she could hear the fear in my voice though.

“It seems to be gone. I could not find it, but I seem to be back at full capacity.”

I tried to think what that could mean, as the hairs on the back of my neck rose. “Dor, take us out of here, get as far from the sun as possible. We need to reduce the temperature inside the ship to freeze the tarball. As quick as you can.”

As she fired up the thrusters I went for my suit. I opened the suit storage and stopped as cold storage air turned into fog when it hit the humid heat of the deck. The fog billowed out around me and then settled, and I could see the Tarball sitting on the faceplate of my suit. I froze, my heart lunging into my throat as a backs away slowly, moving my hand towards the button to close the suit storage chamber. It dropped to the floor with a wet slap and I hit the button and ran. The door closed slowly, and I looked back to see the tarball slipping through the crack. I ran for the suspended animation chamber as I shouted for Dor to get it ready for me. It couldn’t get to me in there, it would be too cold. “Dor! You have to revive me when the ship is cold enough to freeze the tarball!” I yelled as I hit the button to open the chamber, waiting as it broke the seal with a hiss, springing the hatch open and jumping inside.

I quickly closed it and locked myself in, but through the class I could see the tarball sliding around the corner and moving across the room for me while the suspended animation chamber started it’s sequence. There was a series of injections, needles pressing into my arm to fill my veins with antifreeze or whatever the labcoats had dreamt up. The tarball slipped out of sight below the chamber, ad a moment passed where I could only hear my own hyperventilating. Then it plopped up onto the glass, sliding up and leaving a thin layer of slime. “Go, go, freeze me.” I whispered in terror, shivering as the chamber got colder and the tranquilizers slowly made me feel drowsier. My eyes drooped and my breathing slowed, but I could see it pushing into the chamber, sliding through the cracks, slowly reaching for my face. I shivered uncontrollably, eyes wide as I opened my mouth to scream, but-

Cards and Crisis:
3 void: System Failure (What caused the alien ship to crash and killed all the animals in the ark? What if the ship is attacked or damaged while I’m sleeping?)
Response:  Something you’ve depended on turns against you. Change humanity into void (Warcraft, World of)
1 humanity: Dreams of Earth (My internet lover, Isadora)
Response: Discover humanity (My elderly mother)

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