Friday, February 5, 2010

Lt. Gamble's Log - 30 Days

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the first entry in Lieutenant Gamble’s Personal Log. After abandoning the best starship in the fleet for fear that it would explode, Lieutenant Gamble finds himself stranded on a planet with seven other people. The planet was once thriving, but now it has either been evacuated or the population has been killed due to a type of plague. The eight of them must find a cure or a way off the planet, or they will suffer the same fate 31 days after their arrival. (Reading Time: 8 Minutes)

Lt. Gamble’s Personal Log (30 D.T.D):

It’s a terrible thing knowing when you’re going to die. I used to imagine that it would be nice to know, you could do all the exciting things in life without having to fear dying. I really wished I could have known that when I joined the military and received my orders to board a starship going out into deep space. The war had just started and Mom was sure that the ship would explode as soon as it went into battle. I assured her that there wasn’t thing to fear because the ship I would be on was the newest, largest and most advanced ship we had; the enemy might try to destroy it, but nothing they had even compared. That really didn’t help much and I wished I could have shown her the date of my death, just to prove that I would return home safely and live to be an old man. Now I know that isn’t the case.

I’m writing this log, even though I don’t know if anyone will ever find it, so there will be some record of our last days that doesn’t look like an official mission report. I’m also keeping records for the official record, but that is all about times and dates. Most people don’t want to read that stuff. I’m writing this in hopes that someone will find it and they’ll take it back to my family, so they’ll know we died. I’m writing it especially for my niece, Kim. I promised her I would bring her something from another planet the next time I went home. I know now that I won’t be able to keep that promise and I know how hard children take things like that. I’m also writing it to try to keep my mind off the fact that I only have thirty days to live.

Let me back up a bit, so you’ll know how we got to this awful place. It seems so long ago now, but yesterday morning I woke in my quarters, excited about what lay ahead. We were on our way home. The battlefield was at our six and we were many light years away. Many of us would be returning, but not before we had spent some time at home, visiting our families and remembering why it was so important for us to win this war. The ship was in need of repairs that could only be done in space dock. There’s no discounting luck on the part of the enemy. A lucky shot had knocked out the aft cannon. We all knew that we could survive a long time without it, but there were six more powerful cannons waiting for us in space dock and we were sure they would put an end to the war more quickly. We also had the unpleasant responsibility of transporting more than thirty prisoners of war and the joy of providing Princess Eloise back home, but I had seen neither the prisoner nor Princess Eloise, except for when they were brought onboard and when the princess spoke to the crew, as a way of encouraging us all to keep on fighting until our enemy retreats to their own planets, were they belong.

I stopped off sickbay because—just because and let’s leave it at that. It was nothing major, just a minor inconvenience. I saw one of the prisoners in there, under the watchful eye of a private standing near the door. The Doc indicated that he would be with me shortly and continued running some scanning device across the man’s head.

“I think you’ll live,” Doc said. “I can’t find anything wrong.”

“What happened?” I asked the guard at the door.

“We were moving him this morning and five guys decided to pick a fight with him. He was holding his own until the corporal stepped in and knocked him out cold with the butt of a rifle. But you should see the other guys.”

I was about to ask more about what had happened when the ship rocked with the sound of a great explosion.

“That sounded like a cannon blast,” the private said. I didn’t know from my own experience because I had never been on a ship when it was hit with a direct blast.

The signal for battle stations sounded and I rushed out the door, leaving the private to guard the prisoner, but wondering about the wisdom of a corporal who would stick one man at guard over a prisoner who had held his own against five trained solders. I hadn’t gone far and was passing through the corridor where the VIP quarters are—pardon me, were—when another explosion rocked the ship. The lights dimmed and I felt a hand on my arm. As the lights flickered back on, I saw the princess’ body guard.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. She would be pretty, if she weren’t built like a battle cruiser.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think we’re under attack.”

Then came those words that I hoped I would never hear. “All hands, abandon ship.”

My mind raced as I tried to think of where the nearest escape pods were. But the princess’ body guard didn’t skip a beat. She went through one of the doors along the corridor and seconds later she came back out with the princess and her secretary following close behind. She seemed to know where she was going and I found myself following behind the three of them. I saw Doc, a nurse, the private and the prisoner, now in handcuffs, climbing into one of the escape pods as we approached. The four of us climbed into the next one. The airlock sealed, the pod separated from the ship and we were away.

For the few seconds that I could, I looked out at the ship we had just left. Near the center of the ship, I saw two gaping holes and though I’m no expert on explosions, it appeared to me that the blast had come from the inside, pushing the metal frame outward.

Funny things happen when you abandon a ship in an active warp field. Escape pods have a small warp field generator, which is supposed to get you to the nearest habitable planet, but it can’t sustain the warp field of the mother ship. And you wouldn’t want it to. You don’t leave a ship at warp unless you think it’s about to explode and with that much energy sitting there, you don’t want to be anywhere near it. So escape pods get you out of range as quickly as possible, and then they look for a safe place to land. It’s hard to guess where that will be. Engineers have done studies and shown that two escape pods leaving a ship within one one-hundredth of a second of each other can end up as far apart as twenty light years and that’s before they begin searching for a safe planet. But I’ll leave that to he engineers to figure out. I’ve also heard rumors of escape pods leaving the warp field so close together that they merged into one. The people inside merged too and completely lost their old identity.

I don’t know where the other pods landed, but only two came to this planet. It’s always easy to tell because they are designed to look for other pods and land near the others, in neat little rows, if possible. When the hatch opened for our pod, we stepped out to see Doc, the nurse, the private and his prisoner, all standing around, stretching their legs after being cramping the escape pod for several hours. Our ship was supposed to be arriving at home at this time, but I found myself on a planet I had never visited.

“So what do we do now?” Princess Eloise asked. She had hardly spoken the whole time we were in the pod.

“We wait,” I said. “The pods have enough supplies for us to survive for several days. We’ll need to set up a shelter, but someone will respond to our distress signal soon.”

“You might want to find out where you are before you start making too many assumptions,” the prisoner said.

“I know where we are,” I said, recalling the name I saw displayed in the escape pod, “This is BR429.”

The prisoner just shook his head.

“What do you know that I don’t?” I asked.

“I know that no one is going to come get us,” he said. “I know that we don’t need to waste our time setting up a shelter.”

“He’s just trying to mess with our heads,” Princess Eloise’s body guard said.

“I’m not so sure,” I said.

“Believe me or don’t,” the prisoner said, “But we aren’t where you think we are.”

“Just where do you think we are?” I asked.

The prisoner sat down on a rock, put his handcuffed hands behind his head, leaned back against a tree and closed his eyes.

“Private,” I said, “You head north and I’ll head south. Doc, you go east.”

“You want me to go west?” his nurse asked. I nodded.

“Report back if you find anything.”

“Sir,” the private asked, “who will watch the prisoner?”

“She can watch him,” I said, pointing at Princess Eloise’s body guard.” I could tell the Private wasn’t happy about my decision, but I wasn’t sure we had enough people to guard him anyway.

Going south, I found nothing but trees and undergrowth. I did see some dead animals that I didn’t recognize. Looking back, I realize that seeing them should have told me something about the planet we’re on, but they weren’t the first dead animals I’ve seen on an alien planet. I continued walking, deeper and deeper into the forest. I came to gravel road and was considering following it when I heard a voice coming from my radio.

“Lieutenant,” the Private’s voice came through the speaker, “I think you’ll want to see this.”

“What have you got?” I asked, turning around to walk back in his direction.

“It’s some kind of ranch,” he said. “I’m not sure what they’re raising, but they’re all dead. I counted over fifty of these things all lying dead in the field.”

I ran most of the way back and then to his position. I saw a lush green field with large four legged beasts lying dead across it.

“I found three more fields just like this,” the Private said. “And there’re some other animals. They’re all dead. There’s a barn and a farm house. No one is home.”

“Maybe they just left and didn’t take care of their animals.”

“I really don’t think so. I’ve never seen anything decay like that. I mean look at that. Every other planet I’ve been on, there’ve been insects flying around the dead animals. There aren’t any insects. And I haven’t seen any birds. I think the whole planet is dead.”

For the first time, I realized that he was right. It was silent. The only sound was that of the wind blowing through the trees and the grass, but no insect or animals.

Doc was waiting for us when we got back to the others. “Find anything interesting?” he asked.

“A bunch of dead animals,” I said.

“Yeah, I expected as much.”

“You know something, don’t you?”

“Yes, but I can’t tell you about it,” he said. “You aren’t cleared to know.”

“But you know where we are. You can tell us that.”

He hesitated.

“It isn’t like we won’t find out if we look around enough. There are people on this planet.”

“There were,” the prisoner said. I don’t know if he moved from his spot at all while we were gone.

“Lieutenant,” the nurse’s voice came through the radio. (I must learn her name if I’m going to continue writing this.) “I can see a city in the distance. It’s about five mile from here.”

“Don’t go too close,” I said. “We aren’t sure what kind of reception we’ll get.”

“It’s deserted,” the prisoner said. “The wealth of Ohanidoh is just sitting out there for you to take.”

“Wait,” I said. “This can’t be Ohanidoh. We’re at war with Ohanidoh. No one’s going to look for us here.”

“It’s worse than that,” Doc said. “If what I’ve heard is true, we don’t have long to live.”

“How long is not long?”

“Thirty days, ten hours and forty-seven minutes,” the prisoner said.

I thought he was joking, or more likely, trying to be contentious. I looked at Doc, but he wasn’t smiling.

“I don’t know the exact figure,” he said, “but that sounds about like what I remember. After that, we’ll all look like those animals we’ve been seeing around here.”

“But there’s something you can do,” Princess Eloise said.

“Not that I know of,” Doc said.

“They were supposed to be working on a cure,” the prisoner said. “We should go to the city and see what we can find. At least we can find comfortable bed. I’m sure there are plenty.”

It sounded like good advice, but this was the enemy and I couldn’t get it out of my head that he had a different agenda than our own.