Abstract (Flash Fiction): Two astronauts and their sentient ship make an important discovery that could change humankind's fate.
James shouted into his com-link, "Allan, have you been able to fix any of the systems yet?"
He was not cheered by Allan's response, "Sir, I'm not sure I can fix any of the damaged components. I will do what I can. I still haven't found whatever blew through the ship's hull."
James said, "We can find it later! Our most important concern right now is the FTL drive. We need to get that fixed if possible. Barring that, we need to find a way to activate the quantum entanglement communications system. Otherwise, we could spend eternity in this stupid solar system!
James' com-link shut off automatically once the conversation ended. The officer pondered the situation. At least our air, artificial gravity, and food processors are still operable. He smirked as he noted that Betsy was also on-line. Betsy was the ship's artificial intelligence unit. At times, he almost thought she--no, it--was human. After almost eighteen months traveling through space on a government scout ship with no human companion save Allan, he sometimes wished Betsy were flesh and blood.
He called out to the ship's AI, "Betsy, how much food and water is left?"
A melodious voice rang out from seemingly everywhere within the ship, "The processors have enough material to create sixty days' worth of food, assuming you and Allan go on half rations. They can generate enough water to last you two for about the same length of time."
Betsy continued, "Captain, why do you keep asking that question. You already know the answer. Besides, you and Allan knew the risks when you signed up for the mission. You should take pride in the fact that, whatever happens, the many terabytes of information you two have collected will be saved indefinitely in my storage banks. Humankind will benefit immensely from this knowledge.
Was that an attempt at humor? He shook his head in bemusement and mumbled something like, "Thanks for reminding me Betsy."
|Space Shuttle - Courtesy of Microsoft Office|
He could feel the excitement in Allan's voice as the other man replied, "I haven't been able to fix any of the damaged systems yet, but I did find the cause of our problems. I am bringing it up now!"
James could not get Allan to respond to his repeated queries of "What did you find?" This fact both worried and excited the ship's captain. He felt partly like a child waiting to unwrap a gift and partly like a desperate sailor on a doomed ship (only this one was floating through space and not in the water).
James met Allan on the scout ship's bridge and was shocked to see the man carrying a large, cone shaped object roughly two feet in diameter. Allan sat the object on a table and both men studied it intently.
James was astounded by what lay before him. He immediately dismissed the notion that the object was of natural origin. It had to have been crafted by some intelligent race. The object resembled an artillery shell, but he conceded it might be anything.
Both men took turns running their hands over the object and peering at it closely with the naked eye.
James was the first to speak, "This thing, whatever it is, feels like glass. It is perfectly smooth. I cannot find any markings on it, but I will bet my Ph.D.'s in chemistry and geology that it is not natural.
Allan responded, "Chief, this means that we are not alone in the universe! This is the first confirmation we have that aliens do exist--somewhere! Oddly, the object, whatever its purpose, doesn't weigh more than a few pounds. How did something that light manage to plow through several inches of nano-steel and embed itself deep in the ship's interior?"
James responded, "Any material, no matter how light, might achieve that result if it is traveling fast enough. What I can't believe is that the object managed to pierce the nano-steel and remain intact. That is absolutely amazing!"
Allan asked, "Are you going to run some tests on it?"
James responded, "You don't know how badly I want to…I don't think that the object poses any threat; however, I can't be sure. If I try to move it to the lab, for all I know, it might explode on me. No, we will leave it right here! We will have plenty of time to study the discovery when we get it back to Cerius or one of the other colonies-maybe even to Earth."
Betsy chimed in, "I am not sure you will be going anywhere. I show that both the quantum entanglement communications system and the FTL drive are still off-line. Further, my analyses indicate that we do not have the tools on board to fix them. Am I correct Allan?"
Allan grimaced and then almost shouted, "Betsy, sometimes…Yes, you are correct." Taking a more hopeful tone, he continued, "But they will come looking for us! We are overdue already. Cerius is only 9 light years away. A rescue ship can traverse that distance in less than 20 days."
Betsy responded, "That is true. However, we chose to take a different route than the one we were supposed to take. The Colonial Exploration Department may not think to look for us in this solar system--at least right away. I project you have a 31.4% chance of survival.
James was overcome by a mixture of fear and anger. He was afraid of dying of course. He also railed at fate. He and Allan had stumbled upon the greatest find ever. Yet they might never learn what humankind did with the information.
-- Anthony Hopper
#aliens, #sciencefiction #space #flash fiction #fiction #shortstory #AI #spaceshuttle #discovery