Beyond Hyperspace Book 3- A Chance to Live

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Their home world all but destroyed, the crew of a damaged spaceship must find a new home…landing on a small planet they find other off-world folks already there. After peacefully coexisting for several months they discover a problem….the planet is becoming more and more unstable and unless they find a long abandoned spacecraft that brought the others, none may survive…

Submitted: July 31, 2011

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Submitted: July 31, 2011

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A Chance to Live

 

The ground rumblings that had a first been slight had lately been much more frequent and increasingly more violent. I slowly entered the scientific works building where the best and brightest Terrans and Humans worked side by side in attempt to find something, anything to help our current situation.  Waving to the hard working occupants, I headed for the workstation of Doctor Jonas.

 

Doc Jonas and I had been friends for over twenty years. “Hey Doc, what’s the current timetable?”

 

His glance told me it wasn’t good. “I’m afraid it’s much worse than we thought, instead of a few years, we may only have a few months, even days. We’ve sent teams, using the land scooters with seismographic equipment, to the far reaches of the inhabitable zone. Data now indicates that when the eruption and explosions come, they could be large enough to completely destroy sizable areas.”

 

 “You’re sure? No chance of a miscalculation?”

 

“I’m afraid not Van. I said when they come, not if. We’ve got to do something soon or this entire region with all the people will most certainly die!”

 

“Okay Doc, let me see that writing again. If that old ship is here we have to find it. I think I may have found someone who may be able to help.”

 

“Really? Someone knows where the ship is? Maybe we’ll have a chance after all.”

 

During earlier research Jonas had come across writing about the ship that had brought the Humans. The writing spoke of the lone remaining crewmembers journey after hiding the ship.  Inside the writing was a word map to its location. It said the ship could be found across the valley of the sun, through the darkness, into the great void. I just hoped above hope that it was true.

 

I’d planned for months to attempt to locate the deserted ship. If its condition was as we had been told then hopefully we could salvage parts from our ship to make it whole. Now though, it looked like no matter the condition it would have to do. Many lives were depending on it.

 

Thanking Doc Jonas I quickly departed for the farm of Silas, one of the Human elders. Sitting in the parlor drinking herb tea, I breached the all-important question. Handing over the writing, I asked, “Okay Silas, any idea what any of this means?”

 

The old man took a few seconds to study the paper. “Sure, I know exactly where this is.”

 

My heart soared until he noticed the puzzled look on his face.

 

“Well,” Silas continued. “I believe I know where this is. A few months after the last crewmember died a few of us went on an exploration journey into the mountains. I’m pretty sure I can draw a map to the valley.”

 

I was of course, elated. While waiting for Silas to finish his map I thought back to the time we had first arrived here. Had it only been twenty or so months ago? It seemed longer. Our appearance on Tranquility happened this way.

 

***

 

The hyper-drive was completely destroyed and the quasar pulse engines were just about used up.  I’ve got to set this bucket down now, I thought, or we’re history. I have one-hundred-twenty folks depending on me. Damn the sneaky Torags anyway.

 

Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted, “Captain, First Officer here.”

 

“Go ahead Rico, what have you got for me?”

 

“Well, I think we may have found one. It’s a small planet in that group surrounding that large gas giant we noted a couple of hours ago.”

 

“Is it inhabitable?”

 

“All scans indicate that it is compatible with our needs and is a fairly close match for Terra. Half the planet seems to be wasteland and half looks inhabitable; however it appears to be a little unstable.”

 

…Terra was our home world before the Torag Empire almost completely destroyed it. We were only saved at the last minute by a somewhat garbled subspace transmission warning us away. An unexpected meteor shower had previously damaged our ship. Without a safe place to land to make repairs we knew we were in trouble but we knew we couldn’t return home.  Anyway, at the last word we had, only the Terran outer rural colonies remained and they weren’t expected to last long….

 

Snapping back, I realized what the first officer had just told me. “It really doesn’t matter how unstable Rico.  Right now I would be happy to find any place for a soft landing. I’m heading for the bridge, set a course and take us in.”

 

“Roger Captain, here we go.”

 

A short thirty-minute decent and we executed a soft landing on the small planet. We made it down just in time too because the quasars finally died a few minutes later. Had they quit earlier…well I didn’t really want to think about that.

 

A quick but thorough search for materials to make repairs found none, but did find inhabitants that were a somewhat primitive peace loving people. The current populace was not native to this land, but had also come from the stars. They called themselves Humans from a world called Earth.

 

***

Two years earlier a pacifist society fled their home planet Earth in hopes of finding a more peaceful planet for colonization to become their new home world. This was after increasing danger of being pulled into an Intergalactic War currently raging across two galaxies. Earth had no space force remaining to speak of. Most of the space ships and crews had left many years ago. The few that remained, mostly old rickety transports, would be of no consequence if they were attacked.

 

Pooling all their wealth, the pacifists managed to hire a small space ship with crew that had landed for rest and refit prior to heading back in the conflict. The space crew, in no hurry to return to battle, agreed to search and deliver them to a suitable place for colonization. For the several hundred people crammed into a confined space, after many weeks in space with hope almost gone they found this planet. They jokingly named it Tranquility.

 

With limited fuel and supplies remaining the ship’s crew determined to also stay, at least for awhile. To protect the colony from possible detection they decided to hide the ship. With the exception of one crewmember they were never seen again. Most of the Earth folks thought they simply changed their minds and left the planet.

 

About a month after leaving to conceal the ship, one of the crewmembers stumbled into camp. He was very sick and his condition was grave. He didn’t last long, but before he died he told the elders as best he could the location of the ship. Since the elders had no way of flying the ship even had they wanted to they simply took down the information and promptly forgot about it.

 

***

As our disappointment on not being able to repair our ship passed we determined to make the best of our current situation. Life was good, not great, but good for all until a combined scientific team using equipment from our ship discovered a frightening occurrence. The large volcanoes were growing. Pressure was building daily and the tectonic plates were starting to shift. At the current rate of shift, the tiny occasional ground rumbling would soon be large devastating earthquakes and volcanic activity. Since there was no practicable way to relieve the building pressure, the prospect of major explosions was inevitable. That discovery was almost six months ago. Our time was quickly running out.

 

Two days after our visit, armed with Silas’s map, the First Officer, three crewmembers and I set out to locate the abandoned Earth space ship. A crew of five should be more than sufficient to handle the old ship.  Early the second morning we broke camp and started our search for the valley entrance. After searching fruitlessly for over an hour I heard a shout.

 

“Captain, I think I found something.”

 

Before I had a chance to reply there was a terrific explosion.  The earth shook with a mighty heave and we were thrown to the ground. The blast was many kilometers away but the force was incredible. Looking toward the horizon I could see a large plume of a combination dust and smoke.

 

Shakily getting to his feet, the First Officer said. “Wow, Captain that was some eruption.”

 

“Yes Rico, it was a major one all right. It looks to be somewhere in the vicinity of the human compound.”

 

“If that’s the case, there must be a lot of injuries. Should we head back to help?”

 

“I don’t think so. It would take at least a day to get back. I’m not sure of just how much help we would be. I believe that we would be better off to continue this mission. The fate of the entire populous now depends on us.”

 

“Right, Captain.”

 

“Oh, just before the blast you were about to show me something.”

 

“Yes, over there. If you look closely, there, back along the shadows, you can see a crack. I believe that crack may be a passage.”

 

I took a minute to study where he was pointing. “Yes, I believe you’re right. It may be just what we’re searching for. Let’s head that way.”

 

A few minutes later we entered an extremely narrow passage. It was so narrow in places that we had to turn sideways to get through. Eventually though, it led to a magnificent valley. As we stood there mesmerized, the sun rose over the mountain. It was an awesome thing to see as it flooded the valley with brilliant light. The valley of the sun, I thought. As light filled the valley we could see just a short distance away a dark area that might be a cave entrance. We moved in the direction and in about ten minutes we found it, the entrance to the darkness.

 

It took about an hour of careful walking and climbing to traverse the one-kilometer long cave. Just as I was about to become worried we saw a light. The end of the cave brought us into another valley. It couldn’t have been more different than the first one. It was dead. No life. Not a single living thing, plant or animal. It was all brown and grey rock and dirt. We all stood for a few seconds and stared. This was the very edge of the inhabitable zone. It was the void; it had to be!

 

“Oh hell, Captain,” the First Officer said looking about. “I don’t see any ship. Do you think this is the place? Maybe they didn’t leave the ship here after all. Maybe it was all just a myth?”

 

Attempting to keep the dejection out of my voice, I said, “It’s got to be the place Rico, there’s no where else. The ship just has to be here somewhere!”

 

Suddenly one of the crewmembers shouted. “Captain, something’s over here!” Looking to where she was pointing I saw it; the bare outline of a ship. Something wasn’t right though, that was not any old space ship. On closer inspection I realized what it was; regular ships did not utilize chameleon camouflage!

 

Chameleon camouflage was reserved for warships. A ship was covered in a living organic compound that let it blend into any surrounding making it almost invisible. No wonder we hadn’t seen it, I thought.  But what type of ship was this?

 

Moving closer we were stunned. I had seen ships like this before. What the colonist thought was an old freighter was in fact a battle scarred but still deadly Space Raider. How did we know it was a Raider? Besides the organic camouflage, it fairly bristled with plasma and laser cannon ports. It was small fast and lethal.

 

…As the Intergalactic War wore on the Galactic Alliance had taken small Type II freighters and outfitted them with the more modern equipment, engines, and armament. Because of their size and speed they made perfect scout and attack ships.  If this was an Earth ship then they too must have been part of the Alliance.  I wondered why we had never heard of them.

 

These small fighting ships had been built to last. Aside from normal deterioration that included two years of inactivity, this one looked to be in fair condition even though it had to be over ten years old. Looking over the ship I couldn’t believe that the crew had parked it here and simply walked away. I guess they were just tired of war….

 

Searching nearby, we found the graves of what must have been the crew. They weren’t graves really, just piles of stones each with a small marker. The last remaining crewmember must have buried them prior to his return to the inhabitable zone. We held a small memorial ceremony for the dead, then set to work.

 

 It took two days to decipher the inner workings of the ship. The language differences posed a small but not insurmountable problem. I still couldn’t believe our good fortune. We’d been expecting to find an old worn out hulk of a ship with limited capacity but what we had found was incredible. This Raider had been outfitted with H-2 type hyper-drives that still appeared to be in fair to good working condition. It helped that the original crfew took care to ensure that the drives were shut down for proper storage. The H-2 drive was the prototype for today’s more modern drives. Although the H-2 could be considered antique by today’s standards, it could still push a ship this size at almost twice light speed. My old ship had been outfitted with H-3.5 drives but would have had a hard time outdistancing this one.

 

I couldn’t wait to get it into space, once we had replenished the fuel supply of course. The ship’s old fuel cells were nearly empty but with the extra supply of the newer fuel rods on our old ship we would have no trouble converting them thus giving us more than enough fuel to re-supply the cells. Since the main drive systems were similar there wouldn’t be any compatibility problems.

 

Three days later, the solar sails had recharged the power sufficiently to bring the thruster engines on line. With little difficulty we lifted off and made the short hop to the settlement. It felt wonderful to be flying again but the joy was short lived. Landing at the Terran compound we couldn’t believe what we saw. Destruction and carnage were everywhere. The eruption from days earlier had been devastating. Although it was over fifteen kilometers away, the force of the explosion was massive. We learned that many were dead or dying; some from the force of the blast, others form the poisonous toxins released into the atmosphere. Leading the clean up effort was Jonas.

 

Pulling him aside I said. “My God Jonas, what a mess.”

 

“Yes, though a mess would hardly describe it. I see you had goof fortune at least.”

 

With some pride I pointed toward the Raider and said, “Yes, here it is. I realize the ship isn’t very big but I have a plan. Come over and have a look and I’ll explain it to you.”

 

For the next half hour I showed Jonas the ship and outlined my plan. The Raider’s cargo holds could be fitted out as passenger compartments and with supplies would hold about one-hundred-fifty persons.  My plan was to load to capacity, lift off and using my old somewhat outdated star charts to find a sympathetic world. With a bit of luck I could deposit the travelers and return for another load. With enough time I could save the remaining colonist.

 

Jonas had been surprisingly quiet during my tour and talk.  When I finished he waited a few seconds than delivered the big blow. My plans might just be for nothing.

 

“I’m sorry Van, but it’s just not going to work.  There just isn’t time.”

 

“What do you mean Doc, it has to work.”

 

“I guess I had better explain. The eruption and explosion was about two kilometers from the main Human compound. About fifty percent of the Humans were killed outright or died within the next two days.”

 

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Fifty percent of the Humans would have been almost two-hundred-fifty people.”

 

“Not only Humans, as you can see, several of our folks died as well and the death toll is climbing every day. The atmosphere is poisoned and will take hundreds of years to be clean enough to actively support life again. That is if there aren’t any more eruptions. And, you and I both know that’s not going to happen.”

 

“That’s all the more reason get quickly going. That way I can return for another evacuation.”

 

“No Van, you won’t be able to return. At most we have a few days left. Our science team determined that the next one would be one hundred or even one thousand times stronger than the last one. By all our calculations, this planets inhabitable zone will cease to exist.”

 

“But what am I going to do? At best I can carry about one-hundred-twenty maybe one-hundred-fifty folks. What about the rest?  Who decides who goes and lives, and who stays and dies?  I can’t do that. I really can’t.”

 

“It’s already been decided. Many of the remaining Humans have voted to stay even in the face of death. They simply believe that it is Gods will and that they are in his hands. This is their home and they will live or die here.”

 

“But that’s not rational!  Don’t they understand? What about the others? There could be as many as a hundred that want to leave. What about them?”

 

“Our research has determined that the toxin infection is one-hundred percent fatal. The Council decided that should you locate and prepare the old ship for space flight, no one showing symptoms of infection would be a passenger. In the last couple of days many more have become infected. Since we can’t be sure if the infection is spread by physical contact or simply by breathing the air we had to make a decision. The oxygen scrubbers on the ship can clean the air. We will have to limit physical contact to those folks showing no infection. Van, I doubt that you’ll have as many as one-hundred-fifty total folks when you lift off.  You need to leave as soon as possible. How soon can you go?”

 

“We need to get the supplies loaded, transfer the fuel rods, and download the computer data. Without the computerized star charts we would be flying blind.  If we work through the night and all day tomorrow we can board and leave tomorrow night.”

 

“I just hope we have that much time. I’ll put the word out for all those leaving to come in right away.”

 

“Good, I’ll supervise preparing for liftoff and you can bring the people own board when we’re ready.”

 

“No Van, I won’t be going along. ”

 

“You mean..”

 

“Yes, I’m afraid so. I am starting to show the symptoms, headache, nausea, dizziness and rapid heartbeat. I probably have only about two, possibly three days left.” With a quiet sad chuckle he said. “At least I’ll be around long enough to see you off.”

 

***

 

The loading went a little faster than anticipated. By the middle of the next afternoon we had enough supplies to last several weeks. If the journey took any longer, well, hopefully it wouldn’t.

 

With the First Officer’s help all the uninfected passengers were safely stowed away. After all loading was done we had one-hundred-twenty-three passengers and a crew of five. At sixteen-hundred hours we were ready for liftoff. Just as the last of the passengers were loading the ground started to violently shake. The intensity of the quakes was growing by the second. It was now or never.

 

Preparing to board I stopped and gave one last glance to our adopted home. At the edge of the blast off zone stood Doc Jonas, arm lifted in a silent wave. I raised my hand to return the wave and silently mouthed the words, “Goodbye old friend, I going to miss you terribly.” I felt tears begin to form as the airlock slowly closed.

 

Taking my place on the battle bridge I quickly wiped away any trace of tears and said. “Okay First Officer, take us up to standard orbit, half thruster.”

 

“Roger Captain, he we go.”

 

Within a matter of minutes we had achieved standard planetary orbit. Through the forward view screen we watched as the planet below went through quake after massive quake. Suddenly there was a long string of explosions, at least fifteen or twenty.  Looking toward the First Officer I just shook my head knowing that nothing could possibly live through that.

 

“Move us to a little farther away Rico; I don’t want to take any chances. Move us to extreme sensor range.”

 

We were about one-hundred-thousand kilometers away when the end came. Busy at my console I almost missed the final blow. With a massive blast half the planet exploded!  Stunned, we simply sat and stared.

 

The First Officer was the first to speak. “My God Captain, did you see that? It’s gone. I can’t believe it.”

 

With great sadness and quickly wiping my again damp eyes I answered. “Yes Rico, I saw it. I’m afraid their gone. Tranquility doesn’t exist anymore.”

 

Again there was a long silence. It was if no one wanted to be the first to move on. Finally the first officer spoke. “Captain, I should set a course now, before shock waves reach us. Are we heading for Terra?”

 

I sat quietly for a few seconds a massive wave of nausea and dizziness overtook me. After the blinding pain in my head eased up a little I looked toward the First Officer.

 

“No Rico, not Terra. It’s been over a year since the Torags came to our system. We don’t even know if Terra survived. At H-2 it’s several weeks journey and we simply can’t chance it. We need to find someplace closer.”

 

“Roger Captain. But where are we going?”

 

I knew that if any of these people were going to survive this ship had to reach a suitable planet quickly. Thinking of another world much like Terra that we had heard so much about, I pointed toward the forward view screen and the hundreds of twinkling sparking lights. “There First Officer, that’s where we’re going, to Earth.”

 


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