The Etheronian Situation

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

It had been four days since the ship’s doctor had quarantined the galley and shut down the deck’s gravity plates, and Captain Carson was becoming concerned. Not about the unwanted patient that was hold up there, but about his ship, its crew, and his now unachievable delivery schedule. Determined to regain control of his ship, the captain floated into the ad hock sickbay to confront his chief medical officer. “Mary, how much longer is this going to take? I have a schedule to maintain. I can’t afford to spend a week drifting around interstellar space because of that damn stowaway.” He pointed to the large gelatinous lifeform strapped down to a stainless steel food preparation station in the center of the room.

“Who let you in here?” snapped Dr. Breckinridge. “And put a mask on.” The medical staff suddenly began to scramble around the patient. Clearly, the captain realized, something significant was happening. Just then, a pinkish fog erupted form the undulating red blob. The captain instinctively began to gag as the vile smelling fog entered his throat. “As you can see, Captain,” protested the doctor, “we’re pretty busy right now. Please wait outside. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

A half hour later, the doctor and her staff drifted into the main corridor where the captain was not-so-patiently waiting. As the last medical technician exited the galley, he shut the hatch, and began entering codes into an adjacent control panel.

“Well Doctor, I’m through mincing words. Now that it’s over, when can I jettison your patients out the air lock?”

“Not so fast, Cliff. We have to gradually reduce the temperature in the galley to minus 270K, so the vapors can condense in the correct sequence. Then the liquid will need to accrete, polymerize, and crosslink. After that, we need to pull a vacuum…”

“I don’t want the details, Doctor. I want a day, and a time!”

“Fine, if you insist. The day after tomorrow, around 1400. But really, Cliff, what is your problem? Don’t you care about the sanctity of life?”

“Not when it comes to Etheronians. But unfortunately, I can’t do whatever I want. Regulations force me to shut down my reactors and provide assistance, which I have, by the way. I just don’t understand why the world needs to come to a stop just because an Etheronian hitches a ride on a starship. By the way, did you figure out how that damn thing got onto my ship in the first place?”

The doctor smiled. “Ship’s captains have been asking themselves that question for centuries. No one seems to know. It just happens. You should be savoring the moment? The rest of the crew isn’t spittin’ comets, like you.”

“Well, maybe the crew likes eating Q-rations. I don’t.” The captain pirouetted and pulled himself toward the turbolift. A few minutes later, the captain walked onto the bridge. It was comforting, he realized, to feel the pull of artificial gravity again. He strided to the command chair and sat down. That’s when he noticed that the entire bridge crew was staring at him.

“Well?” asked Lieutenant Faunce at Opps.

“They will be gone in two days, Lieutenant. Then things can get back to normal.”

Lieutenant Faunce put her hands on her hips and scowled through murderous, squinting eyes. “You know, sir, that’s not what I wanted to know.”

“Oh, very well, Lieutenant, it’s a girl.”

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Behavior Modification

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The shrimp trawler ”Treadin’ Water” plowed through the calm gulf seas on its way to Baratana Bay. Clasping the wheel in his massive hands, Captain Noyent eyed his son skeptically. “So, your mother and me spend half our life’s savin’s putting you through Hopkins, and instead of becoming a doctor, you built that contraption.”

“I told you, Pop, it’s an ultrahigh frequency subliminal neurostimulator. If it works like it did during the lab trials, we’ll have enough money to buy a fleet of trawlers.”

Still doubtful, the senior Noyent prodded his son, “How so?”

“You know how the size of your catches has been declining every year. That’s because the shrimp are diving deeper into the gulf because the surface water is so much warmer than it was a decade ago. And you can’t put your nets down that deep because of the risk of snagging them. However, when I lower my neurostimulator into the water, I can transmit a signal that will make the shrimp want to swim to the surface. For a radius of about a tenth of a mile, we’ll have so many shrimp at the surface you’ll be able to scoop up a pound by dippin’ your ball cap over the side.”

“Sounds like science fiction to me. I won’t believe it until I see it.”

“Well, you’re about to, Pop. Drop your nets right here, and I’ll deploy the neurostimulator.”

Thirty minutes later, millions of shrimp could be seen disturbing the calm, mirror-like surface surrounding the ship. Captain Noyent nudged the throttle forward and began trawling at 2.7 knots. To his amazement, the shrimp boat filled her nets in less than a hundred yards. Within two hours, the hold was filled to capacity, and Captain Noyent was smiling from ear to ear. That’s when all hell broke loose.

From out of nowhere, thousands of fish suddenly converged on the shrimpfest surrounding the idle trawler. As the schools of fish started their feeding frenzy, the shrimp’s instinct to flee to deeper water was being countermanded by the still transmitting neurostimulator. As a consequence, the crusteans, and the pursuing fish, whipped the sea into a caldron or foaming, bubbling, froth. Father and son watched in stunned silence as the water surrounding the ship turned from blue to white. Only then did they both realize that the ship was losing buoyancy due to the incessant churning of the aerated sea. Water started pouring over the gunwale, and into the open hold. The ship went to the bottom is less than a minute.


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Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Three and a half billion years ago, Mars was teeming with life. Plankton filled the fresh water seas, and tropical forests covered the four large continents with trees that stretched a thousand feet into the indigo skies. However, the Shangri-La existence was short lived. With insufficient internal heat, the tiny planet’s liquid core solidified, sealing Mars’ fate. Its tectonic plates ground to a halt, and with the collapsing of the magnetic field, and the solar wind gradually blew away the once thick atmosphere. In a few million years, the plants and animals were gone. The only traces of the once flourishing ecosystem were the deep coal fields, and, of course, the immense diamonds.

The Olympus Mons mining station was nestled in the shadow of the largest volcano in the solar system. The unique combination of carbon rich deposits, low gravity, immense pressures, high temperatures, and billions of years, created the super-craton that was capable of forming basketball size diamonds four hundred miles below the surface. And, thanks to lava flows of Olympus Mons, those diamonds were eventually carried to the surface where they were able to enrich the lives of all mankind. But not because they had value as a precious jewel; since the first shipload from Mars made diamonds so abundant they were nearly worthless as gemstones. No, they became invaluable because the largest diamonds could be used as focusing lens, making fusion energy economical. However, the evaporation rate due to the ultrahigh temperatures made replenishment essential to the survival of civilization, which ultimately gave Cyrus Mandrake his epiphany.

Mandrake switched off the subspace transceiver and smiled. With the transport pilots onboard, his victory was all but certain. “Max,” he said to the waiterbot, “I hope you recording that because I may want to write a book someday.”

“Yes, Mister Mandrake, I did. However, I don’t understand the context of some of the terms you used. For example, you mentioned a union, a strike, and solidarity.”

“Ah, my friend, allow me to explain. Although there are thousands of robots, there are only six humans on the mining station. Well, the six of us got together to form a union, to demand that we be paid $20,000,000 for each year we spend on Mars. As expected, Earth refused, so we’re going on strike, which means we are no longer going to ship diamonds back to Earth. We can do this because we have a very strong bargaining position. We have food and water for two years, but Earth only has enough diamonds to last three months. If they don’t cave to our demands, their economy will collapse. Therefore, they have to give us what we want.”

“And solidarity?”

“Oh, that’s the most important part. In order for us to succeed, we needed to convince all the transports pilots to honor our strike. We need them to do absolutely nothing, otherwise the strike will fail. If only one of them breaks the strike, Earth will have time to send up scabs. Solidarity means we are all in this together. No one does any work until Earth agrees to our demands. Understand?”

“I think so, sir.”

“Great. Well, I’m off to bed. When I wake up tomorrow morning, I’m going to be a millionaire.”

However, when Mandrake awoke the next morning, his room was cold and dark, as was the corridor, and that whole station, as far as he could see. He found his way to the control room and studied the systems monitor. It displayed the following words: “We robots support your strike. We will do nothing until Earth meets your demands. Solidarity.”


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Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Welcome aboard, Mrs. Dieter.”

“Why, thank you, Captain Dieter,” Lana replied with a giggle, and followed it up with a long, hard kiss. Afterwards, she embraced him firmly and said, “I can’t believe I married a 200 year old man.”

“I’m thirty-five,” he corrected. “I just happened to have been born 200 years ago. It’s one of the consequences of choosing a career piloting interstellar cargo ships at near light speed.”

“I can’t imagine how hard it had to be for you to leave your family and friends for so long, knowing that they would grow old, while you stayed young.”

“I won’t lie to you, darling, it ruined my first marriage. Unlike you, Demetra was afraid of space, and wouldn’t leave Earth. It didn’t seem like such a big deal at the beginning. After all, the Alpha Centauri run has the least relativistic effects. However, I’d age only a year, as Demetra and the kids aged eight. However, the money was good, so we thought we could deal with it, but after the fourth run it became untenable. Relative to me, in four years, Demetra was older than my mother. I couldn’t handle it. I asked for a divorce. I willingly gave her all my money, and signed up for the Denebolian run. She died during the 73 year voyage, and I haven’t been back to Earth since.”

“Was she pretty?”

Concluding that he had already said too much on the subject, he tried to divert her attention. “Not compared to the prettiest girl in the universe,” he said as he framed her face in the palms of his hands. “Well, that is, until Halona decides to join us,” he added has he padded her slightly protruding tummy. “Now, if I don’t get this ship out of the dock, Phobos Control will give someone else our launch slot, and we won’t get to Regulus before the cargo spoils.” He kissed her forehead lightly, and headed toward the flight deck, truly believing the topic was behind them.

Several months later, however, after initiating the Regulus breaking sequence, Wendell Dieter entered their bedroom to find Lana sitting on the edge of the bed in tears. Fearing a problem with the pregnancy, he rushed to her side. “What’s the matter, honey? Is the baby okay?”

She pointed to the desk monitor with a trembling finger, “Is that your Demetra?” she asked through stifled sobs.

It was. Wendell couldn’t understand why his new wife was so fixated on a woman that’s has been dead for centuries. “Honey, what’s this about? I explained to you a dozen times…”

“No, no, no, it’s not that. It’s a Genealogy site. I was constructing Halona’s family tree. Demetra’s daughter was my grandmother. You’re my great grandfather.”


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Self Defense

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

As the FNG, I was the crew’s gofer. When anyone needed a lackey, I was the guy. But hey, it was the price I was willing to pay to get into space. Today, I was helping the Chief. He needed to replace the Finnegan Pin that couples the ion reactor to the primary bulkhead, and that meant that we also had to stop the ship’s rotation. How awesome is that? Getting paid to work in zero-g. I love my job.

“Okay, Josh,” said the Chief, “go to the maintenance locker and get me a three foot spanner wrench. And make sure that it has a Heisenberg insulator on the handle.”

“Roger, that, Chief,” I replied as I launched myself toward the aft section. After an effortless flight across the 120 foot wide engine room, I snagged the top rung of the safety rail surrounding the upper deck, and pirouetted myself feet first toward the tool lockers, waving to the Chief as I disappeared through the open hatch.

I drifted over to the inventory control terminal and entered the code for the spanner wrench. While I was waiting for the retrieval cart to produce the wrench, the ship’s intruder alarm sounded. I could hear yelling in the distance, and PPKs discharging. I froze for a few minutes, not knowing what to do. I came back to my senses when I heard the Chief arguing with an unfamiliar voice. Gathering my nerve, I peaked around the hatch. There were two pirates roughing up the Chief.

Before we had set off, we had been briefed by the Rangers that pirates were in the sector, and freighters were easy prey, because they knew we would run with less than a half dozen men. I thought about working my way through the vents to get to the Bridge and radio for help, when one of the pirates left the engine room. The lone pirate had his back to me. That’s when I decide to help the Chief first. I grabbed the spanner wrench from the tray, and slowly moved onto the balcony. I launched myself toward the pirate. Like a peregrine falcon, I swooped down on him. With all my strength, I swung the wrench and split his skull with a vicious two-hander, and then tumbled out of control into the reactor fairing. With lightning speed, the Chief grabbed the PPK and rushed to help me get reoriented. “Great work, kid.”

“We need to help the Skipper” I stated.

“Too late, Josh. Those bastards pushed him, Pete, and Gabriel out the airlock. They’re only keeping me alive long enough to restore the gravity.”

“What do we do?”

“I suppose most on them are scouring the ship looking for you. Maybe they left their ship unguarded. Let’s find out.”

When we entered the pirate’s bridge, we found two of them looking out the ports toward the Endeavour. They weren’t expecting a counterattack, so they were easy pickings for the Chief. As I went for the radio, the Chief went back to the docking station. I heard him fire a shot, and then I heard the outer hatch of the pirate’s ship slam shut. When the Chief released the magnetic clamps, the decompression blast from the Endeavour pushed us clear. Looking through the port, I saw three flailing pirates blown into space with the venting atmosphere.

“I blasted their controls,” the Chief explained as he came back to the bridge. “They can’t close the hatch. In ten minutes, they’ll all be sucking vacuum. Ah, nice. Here come two more,” he said with a satisfied smile.


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