Volume One of
(Free Sample Only)
Kenneth Ingle �
Copyright 2017 by Wynner White, all rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated, copied, stored or transmitted without the express written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is strictly coincidental.
Brenna, Kevin, and Eric
for being sounding boards
The nicest thing about the future:
it happens next
The launch's bridge bulkheads, overhead, and deck painted in monotonous navy gray did little to enliven the small crew's spirits. Only the paint striping delineating what the overhead pipes carried: light green for oxygen, and dark blue for potable water, offered any respite. As an attack launch, the ship carried no viewports eliminating any forward vision.
Marjory Deveau at the helm, arms folded, attentive but bored, monitored the Touch-Thought-Augmented Computer, nicknamed TAC, as it guided them through the debris field orbiting Euterpe. Dorchester's low supplies meant trouble and Captain Brand's order to scan the planet looking for edibles and water had put them where they were.
"Look out," she shouted and punched icons on the plotboard. Too late. The boulder hit the shields forward of the engines, sending the ship into a careening spiral. Strapped into the astrogator's chair, she strained against the harness.
Matt Harmon, thrown against the bulkhead and to the deck as he stepped through the hatch, grabbed the handhold but too late. He hit the steel deck hard. Startled, using the support, he spun toward the helm activating the external cameras.
Marjory continued to stab at icons and finally regained control of the launch. "TAC, damn you. Why didn't you see that rock and warn me? It could have killed us. What the hell's wrong with you?" Her auburn hair, pulled tight in a ponytail, thrashed about as she steered the launch into clearer space.
"Matt, something's like screwed up with the computer." She let out an exasperated breath. TAC's main purpose was navigation. With its molecular design, if it had a problem, they were in trouble. That design was new, which meant no crewmember on Dorchester could diagnose a malfunction, let alone fix it.
"Yeah, I agree," he said eyes searching for other threats. "TAC should've handled both the rock and inertia dampener and didn't." Standing next to the captain's chair, he rubbed his throbbing knee,
"What's happening?" asked Captain Brandt on the open comm between Dorchester and the launch half a million kilometers above the planet, as usual concern but no worry in his voice. Any trip away from Dorchester, they kept an open mic so the captain heard all but TAC's comments.
"TAC didn't avoid a big rock, and was late with the dampener," Matt said. He added, "That boulder out-masses us one hundred times at least, and Marjory's right, it could have killed the launch. A few meters aft, and it would have smashed the port engine." He cast an over-the-shoulder glance toward her and got a nod. Both had experienced debris like this a few times on this drop and fully understood how close they came to losing the ship.
Matt did like a little excitement�anything that broke the monotony, but this they didn't need. The shields prevented the rock from directly striking the ship, but mass is mass and the hit sent the launch hurtling off-course.
As with most bridge layouts, the navplot fronted the center with the captain's chair immediately behind. Typical for most launches, more than three people were a crowd.
Seeing no immediate threats, with one step, he was beside Marjory. "I can take over." Passing through a debris field taxed any helm operator as they constantly monitored TAC. This hit heightened their already intense attention.
"No need. I've control," she responded, her fingers danced over the icon-laden navplot.
"Maybe I can find out what's wrong." He focused his attention on the computer while doubting there was anything he could do. "TAC, what's going on? Do you have a problem?" he questioned aloud. Added to the collision, the slow reaction of the inertia dampening meant something hadn't worked properly.
Clad in cutoff jeans and flip-flops, he looked anything but a launch captain. The one-eyed monster stenciled on his shirt seemed at home. Most of the crewmembers� outfits sported outrageous images in keeping with who they were: teens recently graduated from Prominia's prestigious Polytech University who�d been on a gift voyage to New Las Vegas celebrating their achievement.
That was until, a little over a year ago, they�d been abducted by the dictator and warmonger Feron Pasha's men and then freed by Captain Brandt. Now, the ten were experienced spacers, each schooled in at least two jobs thanks to the captain�s relentless heavy-handed instruction.
"Master Harmon, please put your hands on the pads."
"I won't be able to hear," Marjory complained.
Matt was wary. TAC called him Master Harmon instead of Mathew, a first for the computer. He placed his hands on the silver colored, soft to the touch, pads next to his chair, cutting off the speakers. "Talk to me," he demanded aloud. Normally, contact with TAC meant they had only to think their comment. He intended the urgency in his voice to convince the computer this was no time for cryptic responses.
"No answer," again he spoke aloud. He worried a fault had developed. This was the first problem they'd experienced with this computer. Being a molecular design, self-diagnostics ran constantly. TAC's molecular construction meant it could repair itself. At least it should.
"TAC, something's wrong. Why didn't you see that rock sooner and make the necessary adjustments? While you're at it, tell me why the inertial dampener failed to compensate after the collision." �
"Maybe we should abort the approach," said the worried Marjory. "Matt, I know this sounds strange but twice I asked TAC, never got an answer. Twice." Angst wasn't an attribute normal to her but this triggered a deep emotion.
"Same here," he responded. "TAC hasn't answered my questions." Any delay caused concern.
Over his shoulder he said, "Take us up a few thousand klicks to clearer space."
Matt wasn't ready to give up on TAC. Had it not been for the computer warning them of the impending pirate attack a few months earlier, matters could have turned out quite different. Captain Brandt had stopped an attempt to board Dorchester, killing the brigands and capturing their ship. The second benefit: that had provided the only addition to their food provisions in over six months. �
"Good," she said anxious to escape the mess. "We can still get decent surface data. So far, the scanners haven't picked up anything useful or harmful. Although, there are some topography features that I've never seen before."
Trusting TAC to guide them, although she'd keep a close eye on it, she set the thrusters to dead slow and waited for Matt's command with any course change.
He ran a few calculations and gave Marjory the new heading, then concentrated the surface survey on the mountains first and then work their way to the lower elevations.
"TAC should have said something about the altitude change and didn't," Matt said pensively. Any deviation from the programmed flight plan should have brought a report and hadn't. That added to his worries.
Except for emergencies, and this fit, Captain Brandt had the final say to changes in their flight plan. Matt never bypassed him in decisions that affected Dorchester, the launch or shuttle.
"We need supplies," said the captain who, seemingly unworried, said, "Your call."�
"Make the change," Matt said. He focused on the external plot.
With the answer, Marjory verified the coordinates and engaged the new heading. "Done. Although a course home would be better." Marjory knew they needed supplies and her comment was wishful thinking but it echoed the thoughts of the other teens.
Matt ignored the remark. "Whoa, damn. TAC, what'd you do? What caused that?" he said aloud and jerked his hands from the pads his voice a pitch higher. Rubbing one palm over his T-shirt left the one eyed monster with a willowy look. "Answer me," he demanded apprehensive that he wouldn't understand if TAC said there was a problem.
"What happened?" Marjory kept her eyes focused on the plot. Alarmed by Matt's voice, she added, "Did it do something serious to you? I told you the darned thing was no help. Maybe it�s screwed up." Her voice had its usual no-nonsense tone.
"Yeah�maybe�something, I don't know what, just different when I touched the pads." Normally, the sensation of contact with the pads had a calming effect�reassuring the engineers said�except where Captain Brandt was concerned. Often, to show his dislike he slammed his hands onto the pads.
"It was sorta like a shock." All warmth drained from Matt's face. His ebony eyes glistened and wrinkles covered his brow as he returned his hands to the pads.
"What's going on?" he thought. "TAC, are you having problems?"
He got no answer.
"Command override," Matt thought. Any command order would now have priority, giving the quantum computer and helm precedence over TAC. Often given to following his own advice, he was determined to maintain control. But even that left him worried that TAC would ignore the order. Without TAC, Marjory would have to be at her best navigating the debris.
"Mathew, I have been preoccupied, delaying any response," TAC said after a long wait. "Another species, a non-corporeal entity has contacted me."
"A what?" Matt said aloud in a voice choked with alarm.
Marjory's head snapped around, her face mottled in fear. She'd been around Matt more than enough to know hyperbole wasn't a part of his makeup.
Not understanding, and alarmed, Matt waited for more.
Following another long interval, TAC added, "A being from the next level of existence has contacted me."
Matt pulled back, but kept his hands on the pads and thought. "I don't understand��non-corporeal, another level of existence. How do I know this isn't a malfunction? You're not making any sense." Speechless, for one of the few times in his life, he stepped back against the navconsole hands to his chest. He sucked in a breath, hesitantly replaced them on the pads, and glanced at Marjory who gave him a quick look matching the puzzled one that covered his face.
"Are your diagnostics running?" he asked accustomed to an uneventful reaction. This was anything but.
"Mathew, my diagnostics run constantly. I can assure you this is not a failure of my systems."
"Damned computer," he said aloud. "What in the devil is this all about?" he thought. Startled more than scared, determined to understand, he continued his thoughts. "What in the hell's wrong with you? Is there a bug that caused what just happened? Is this thing in control of you?" Confident in his abilities, he didn't attack the computer, as the captain would have, but he never shied away.
Hearing only the verbal explosion, Marjory, exasperated, demanded, "Serious Matt, talk to me. Put the computer on speaker."
He didn't respond to her angered plea. Whoever sat at the helm could talk to the computer but now, the external contact shut-off excluded her from the thought conversations. With what he'd heard, that was fine with him. She had enough to do as it was getting them safely out of the debris field.
"No, I am in control of all my functions. However, the entity's actions have slowed my responses.
"Mathew, I detect a high level of anxiety."
"What did you expect? Non-corporeal entity? Another level of existence, he thought with enough mockery to convince TAC his worry was real.
"Make sense," he demanded. "Ghosts? Spirits? You're not making any sense," he repeated and hardened his comment. "I don't understand. Give me something more�a lot more." Not given to exaggeration, Matt tried to keep his questions from sounding like those of a frightened kid. "Non-corporeal entities!" Even letting his imagination run wild, he couldn't get his mind around the computer's thoughts.
"Matt, what's happening?" Marjory still focused on changing altitude and keeping the launch clear of the rocks.
"Something's up with TAC. I don't know what." Matt's self-assurance, something that annoyed most of the other teens, failed him. For one of the few times in his life, he was unsure.
Following the ten teens' rescue from Feron Pasha's men, Captain Brandt named Matt second in command but not without some conflict from the other teens. The ten, along with the captain, made up Dorchester's crew. Flying a spaceship with such few people stressed everyone. Behavior problems surfaced regularly, particularly with Benny Dawson.
"All of this debris, do you think it's causing the problem?" The change in the thruster's noise level, as Marjory jockeyed through the hazards, was a constant reminder that they'd dodged another killer.
Concentrating on the computer, he didn't respond.
"Matt, I called up the scan Dorchester made and it said nothing about this mess." Marjory wanted to know everything that affected her job. She and Matt spelled each other at the helm. Rutty, Rutherford Hanly, was the third astrogator but had the controls aboard Dorchester.
"There should be two moons but I've found only one." Anytime the main computer lacked significant information, that in itself would have the crew's attention. Dorchester, a Pasha ship never before in this sector wouldn't have current information. And this could be the threat to the ship. The orbiting debris meant whatever happened was recent.
"I think these rocks are what the second moon was." Matt said and returned his focus to the computer.
Hands on the pads, ignoring Marjory's continued protests, he said, "TAC,�I...let's try this again," and concentrated on what he'd heard. "I need an explanation�in detail."
Silent for a few moments the computer finally responded, "The entity has told me it is of another space-time dimension�the continuum."
Matt withdrew his hands. At the institute, discussions of other dimensions were theoretical and he doubted this was real.
"What happened this time?" Marjory persisted, never having seen him act so strange. She sat back, brushed imaginary wrinkles from her cut-off jeans, and folded her arms. "We're through the crap no thanks to you and that stupid computer. What's going on with it?" she asked again, angry that Matt hadn't included her.
"I'm trying to find out." He returned his hands to the pads. "Has anyone accessed you other than Marjory or me?"
"Benjamin Dawson made an effort before we left Dorchester but was unsuccessful."
According to the engineers, the molecular computer was hack proof, but Matt knew anything one person designed another could find a way to screw up. How would TAC know if Benny had found a way to gain entry? He would have covered his tracks. The troublesome Benny looked for ways to cause problems. All the teens came to Matt to deal with their truculent captain or other concerns they might have�except for Benny.
"TAC, we'll do the survey from here." Matt flinched as another sensation struck his hands causing him to remove them. Resolute to understand what was happening he replaced them and pressed harder against the pads. "What caused that?" he demanded, leaning back from the computer. "It stung."
"Mathew, the entity wants to continue to the surface."
"And attacked me for not doing as it says." Matt gave a less than earnest chuckle.
"Ask it." This time a hint of angst crept into his voice.
"The entity repeated the statement."
In earlier disagreements, the computer had never retaliated. "TAC, are you giving me everything?"
"Yes, Master Harmon. You know everything that has occurred with the entity." There was the master again.
"Captain, this is so bizarre, maybe we shouldn't drop to the surface," Matt said into the live comm.
"Matt, I don't know what that damned computer's done or said so can't be much help," Captain Brandt responded. "We do need to resupply." His gruff voice sounded like rocks grinding against each other, and never hearing the conversation with TAC, he was only concerned with the mission's purpose: food and water for Dorchester.
Matt had to decide whether to give the captain the entity's comments, or demands.
Reggie (Regina) MacPherson stepped onto the bridge in a dungaree shirt and trousers. She had a Ph.D. in experimental physics, prompting the captain to assign her to engineering. "Matt,� she said, �that hit knocked the engines out of sync. Let's quit this and go back to Dorchester. This isn't the time or place to attempt a correction."
"How bad is it?" He knew the question redundant as an out-of-sync engine could mean having to shut it down.
"Hardly noticeable but there. I can fix it but it we'll have to shut down one engine and idle back the other. Thought you should know." Any out-of-sync condition was problematic and a responsible captain understood the consequences. While dealing with this chaos, shutting down the engines wasn't her call, and as far as either were concerned not an option.
Standing at the hatch, hands on her hips, she waited. Blunt and direct, noted for her no-nonsense approach to problems, few ignored her, certainly not Matt. Often wearing a campaign hat to control her ample brown hair, a bobbed nose, razor blue eyes, and a seldom-used smile nevertheless create an alluring image.
No crewman would discount any loss of synchronization in an engine. Finding the cause, as intermittent malfunctions could be a major problem, was paramount. A simple failed part would have made the chore much easier.
"Captain, what do you think?" he asked. "We're already here why not finish?" added Matt. "Another ten-hour drop doesn't sound appealing. We might not be as lucky a second time." Even after the narrow disaster with the large rock, he changed his mind and was now willing to go to the surface.
After a long pause, the captain said, "Return to Dorchester. You don't need an engine problem with whatever's going on."
There was no questioning the order. Grover Brandt took chances when he judged they favored him.
It had taken Dorchester a year to reach Euterpe and no one knew why the captain had chosen that planet. What Matt wanted, as did all the teens, was to return home. Feron Pasha's war with the Federation had engulfed every world between Katakan and Promina blocking that from happening.
Marjory adjusted the launch's attitude for insertion and set course for the mother ship. TAC remained silent, another exception and cause for concern.
"Problems?" Captain Brandt, in pressed immaculate khakis, asked as he stepped onto the launch bridge and eyed his number two. His blackish brown eyes swept Matt and Marjory with an inquisitive glance. He punched coffee, black, on the replicator, took the cup and a sip. "I heard what Marjory said but little from you and nothing from the computer. What�s going on? Trouble?"
"I hope not." Matt cast a glance toward the captain not sure how to tell him what happened. Four centimeters taller, Matt often lowered his head and kept as much distance as possible between them to minimize the difference. "I got a strange sensation from the computer. Maybe you should see what you think." A malfunctioning computer was a sure recipe for disaster and since TAC controlled the launch's navigation and provided base information for Dorchester's navigation computer, this was a major worry.
Matt keyed the replicator for coffee with cream�lots of cream�and one with sugar and cream for Marjory. He usually forwent replicated coffee, preferring fresh brewed from the mess hall, an urn the captain had installed.
To avoid an accident, the captain placed his cup on the console that fronted the bridge and put one hand on a pad. His responses were usually quick and angry. Grover Brandt's reputation for not liking anything he couldn't see, taste... or kill quieted most arguments. He included on that list the molecular computer and any information it provided.
"Computer," said Grover and waited. Even though the relationship was often stormy, TAC, after many confrontations, learned how to respond to the stocky volatile captain.
Grover slammed his other hand onto the pads, and went through the check-off list he�d designed to test the computer's responses. A few moments later, he backed away.
"Seems okay. At least it's no different from when I left a few hours ago. "Why? What happened?"
Grover often questioned the crew. Some took it as deference to their education and they, in turn, accepted his word without question. They respected his knowledge but, since the attempted boarding by pirates, feared him.
"Mind if we go to the bridge cabin?" Matt said and looked toward the hatch. Grover nodded and the two took the few steps drawing a scowl from Marjory. Grover sat and Matt pulled a chair setting it in front of the captain.
Grover ceded more authority to Matt but that didn�t come without some stress. The other teens accepted the change except for Benny Dawson and Douglas Ginley. Benny more than Doug looked for excuses to cause trouble. Doug's occasional rebellion was minor by comparison.
Matt forced himself to relax. If he ever needed to show self-assurance, it was now. Hands on his knees, Matt cleared his throat, paused, and said, "Captain, what I'm about to say may sound crazy but it happened. You have to believe me."
Grover stared without moving as much as a hair.
"TAC said it was contacted by a non-corporeal entity�from another dimension of space-time. Whatever it is slowed TAC's reaction, causing the collision. I was trying to find out what I could, what that meant, when you ordered us back. This thing wanted us to go to the surface. I'm concerned that Benny found a way to hack the computer."
"You expect me to believe this?" said Grover. "It's bull shit and we both know it. Something or someone fucked up that computer. Get Benny up here."
Shortly, the hatch opened and Benny stormed inside; he hadn't bothered to punch the announcer stud or ask for permission to enter. "I was busy doing important stuff," the truculent crewman complained. "Was bringing me up here your idea?" He glared at Matt. "What do you want? Gonna blame me for something? That's all you do; look for some reason to bitch at me."
"Sit down," said Grover in a calm, relaxed voice. His attitude lacked accusation as he asked, "Have you touched TAC. Tried to hack the computer?"
"See, I told you so. Did Matt say that? Be just like him." Vitriolic invective spewed at the two accusers. Standing, Benny took a swing at Matt.
Anticipating the attack, Matt brushed the blow aside but didn't retaliate. "Benny, I saw you slip into the launch. TAC said you attempted to access it. What else should we think?"
"Screw you and that computer. Now you've got the captain after me." Without permission, he stomped to the hatch and slammed it entering the passageway.
Despite Benny's troublemaking, Grover had tried to help the kid, both having come from abusive families. So far, nothing had helped.
"The computer, keep after it. Maybe you can find the problem." Clearly, the captain hadn't believed a word Matt said but wasn't ready to dismiss his number two's concern.
"You and I need to keep an eye on that kid," Grover said as he stepped from the cabin.
Matt had expected the captain's and Benny's reaction. He returned to the launch bridge determined to understand what this meant for the ship and crew. Alone, he placed his hands on the pads.
"TAC, I want to talk with this Being." Doubt crowded Matt's mind as he was unsure if this was the right thing to do since he didn't know what a non-corporeal entity meant. Space-time he'd studied at the institute but that was in a classroom and had nothing to do with non-corporeal entities.
"I mean, talk with it. If it's talking to you, I want in on the conversations. That is possible, isn't it?" He remained resolute to understand what happened.
"Yes, but I will speak for the entity."
"Make it happen," Matt ordered and sucked in a deep breath.
"Entity, I am Mathew Harmon," he thought. "With whom am I speaking?"
""How I am known is unimportant. You have only to think of me as Being and I will respond.""
"TAC, change the Being's responses to something other than your normal thought speech." Matt added, "I want the Being to sound different from you.� Matt kept his thoughts as normal as possible. He wanted to come off as in control.
"Is this dissimilar enough," TAC said as it changed voices and addressed Matt.
"Yes," Matt responded. "It's less strident than your usual sound." At least it seemed less so, but that didn't ease his worries about this presence, if it was a presence rather than a computer glitch.
"Being, I need to know more about you and why you contacted me or us."
Matt wiped his sweaty palms on his shirt and replaced them on the pads. "Are you the leader of your group?" Matt didn't want to come off as dumb but how do you ask when you know nothing about what you're doing?
""We have a formal structure but not as you understand the concept," the entity said. "From the ascended, the Others selected me to contact you.""
Entities calling themselves Beings and his learning there were Others, sent a chill down Matt's spine but that was nothing like the one he got from the word ascended. "Ascended? What does that mean?" He gathered himself, steeled for whatever may come and asked, "Why me? Why not Captain Brandt?"
""Your thought process is less dogmatic than the Captain's.""
Matt couldn't argue with that logic. A person had to work at dealing with the captain.
""I prefer to have contact with one human.""
"Leaving him out isn't a good idea."
""Mathew, with a second person involved, your thoughts will intermix and confuse you. I can sort them but, you would find it difficult if not impossible.""
"Maybe, maybe not." Matt wasn't about to agree to anything minimizing what he could or couldn't do. That wasn't in his nature. "Ascended and Others? What does that mean?" Matt asked again and tried to crowd any alarm from his response.
""We were once as you are.""
"So instead of dying, as we know it, your body what, did what?" Matt didn't try to hide his incredulous concerns.
""The knowledge I have of my earlier existence is limited. It is restricted to what the Others have made known to me. I became what I am. We have no knowledge about ascending. The transformation happened. When I joined with many like me, there was nothing unusual.""
"Are there Beings or humans on the Euterpe?" Matt asked with trepidation.
""No, all humans have ascended and are joined with the continuum.""
"You have no explanation for this, no medical or scientific reason?" Matt was unsure if he should continue with the Being.
""I can tell you nothing about how I became what I am. We have no reason to question the transformation. Our interests differ from humans.""
"Being, if you are of a different dimension, how is it you are able to contact us?" From what little Matt learned in school, this wasn't possible.
The Being was quiet for a moment. ""This is not our first attempt to contact humans. Access to your reality is not new to us nor is it common. Previous efforts brought marginal success. Your molecular computer made possible a better interface. As Beings, even this is beyond our control. The Others made communication possible.""
"Beyond your control?" Matt questioned and tried to add emphasis to his thoughts. "I take it that means these Other Beings tell you what to do. Who are the Others?"
""The Others are what a few of us become. We function in our space-time and otherwise when called upon to do the Others' bidding. It does not occur often.""
"Where are these Other Beings? Why didn't they contact us on their own?"
""The Others have progressed beyond and we Beings do their bidding.""
"So these Others tell you what to do?"
""Only in matters of concern do they contact us.""
"Why have you contacted us?" Matt wanted a straightforward answer.
""Our original purpose remains. However, recent human events caused distress in the continuum and the Others made known their concerns.""
"And those are?" Matt didn't expect an answer.
""The war is destroying your worlds. Our value for life includes humans. We are concerned with how the life is lived. All humans will evolve and ascend, as have we.""
"What is or was your original purpose for contacting us?"
"You will know that soon." Matt wasn't satisfied with the answer and pushed for a better one.
Getting nowhere and tiring, he decided that was enough contact with the Being for now and removed his hands. Unsure he'd heard correctly, and not knowing if this was no more than a computer malfunction, how should he tell the captain? His concerns heightened with the Being's last comment.
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