Short Story Project:
Lost In MindSpace
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Lost in MindSpace
|The trail of engine exhaust was only vaguely visible among the stars. Freddie watched it on the rearview monitor, eyes not quite focused, lost in thought. Planets always looked prettier in the rearview monitor, he mused.
The ship's autopilot plotted his next course and set the flight plans accordingly. It was probably a good thing. Freddie had been distracted lately.
Maybe I'm turning into a crusty old Spacer, he thought to himself, zero-gravity turning my capillaries into calcium. Well, you are what you drive, the old saying goes.
Except Freddie wasn't even driving.
In fact, he wasn't even sure what was on board. The ship had autoscanners in the cargo hold; if it wasn't dangerous enough to get detected, what did he care? Just as long as it was legal.
Freddie didn't want to return to his smuggling days, that much was certain. Smuggling was for youngsters who were dumb enough to think they could withstand the Russion Roullette side effects of emergency take-offs. Those megastrain g-forces could wreak havoc with your soft tissue. But Freddie had gotten out in time, or so he hoped.
The thrill of the slow glide was enough for him these days. That's why he signed up for the long haul cargo runs between the Outposts. Who could ever get tired of flying between the stars?
Tobin James Mueller
|The great soft purr of the Lucas-class cruiser lulled him. But there was something not quite in phase here.
"In my old age," He muttered, "I'm beginning to think that what I've done doesn't add up to a damn!"
(And The Day smote the edge of his conscious. The Day was like a small ember, always glowing minutely on the fringes of his soul. No matter what he did, nothing, not even the adrenaline frenzy of quick takeoff or the pursuit of government "border-runners" could wipe out the slow burn of regret...)
"Operations method. Assembly, code, list-value now", the annoyingly pleasant command of the autoscanner computer roused him from his reveries. Exhaustively methodical in the order and procedure of each flight, it was the core autoscanner kernel logic that requested that humans be aboard to "judge for anomalies".
"Good morning Freddie!" it chirped. In the form of a young woman's voice, the greeting sounded almost sincere.
"Easy for you to say", Freddie responded, shaking his head. He hated this default setting computer personality. Almost as much as he hated the idle conversation of spacestation waiting rooms.
"You know the Agenda for today, sir? Or shall I review?"
"I know the damn a-gen-da!", Freddie snarled. Freddie straightened up in his pod, shaking himself out of his funk. Gravity must be bad for the nerves, he thought. Glad to finally leave it behind.
|What aggravated Freddie the most about the "Agenda" was that it was now offical policy, sort of a forced orderliness from On High. He hated forced orderliness, or any daily reminder of a higher authority in his life.
Agendas were now required subroutines for computers on ships that would be in space over six-light months. It was designed to provide stimulation and focus for the crew. The computer collated the input and arrayed it against the more rigorous patterns of non-human observations for a complete picture. Over time, the need for Agenda became less and less as modal-sensors were embedded into every square inch of the ship; still, calibrating crew response over a series of Agenda gave an excellent appreciation of their emotional and physical well-being.
Ever since installing the new subroutine, Freddie's computer had acted, well, like a computer. Something in the code had deleted or deactivated the personality module he had purchased from Leia IV, sort of a cross between an Amazon Princess and really great archival librarian. He missed her voice...and all the images it conjured up. She had been the only female presence he allowed into his life in...longer than he cared to recall.
Tobin James Mueller
|Flipping on his entry screen, Freddie noticed something new on this Agenda: "Status of Mayerlinck Variables: Nominal, Static, Agitated."
"What in Toland's Void is a Mayerlinck Variable and why does the possibility of it being 'agitated' make me wanna go back to bed?"
Freddie shrugged and went to the first station on the Agenda. An old smugglers concern is for his own hide. He thought little of the cargo or it's state. He wanted quiet, routine and precious few demands on his conscience. Freddie clicked on the hyperlink and tried not to get too bored.
"Morning Freddie!" chirped the digital voice - a cross between Swedish cowboy and a Tularian Nerd Egg trying not to sound overly intellectual. "You appear well, judging from your color and range of motion."
"Ah, my range of motion. I've been meaning to talk to you about that."
"Do have some concerns about limb extensions, or efficiency of movement?" The computer tried to sound concerned, but sounded more like Dr. McCoy with a V-chip.
Freddie shook his head. "Couldn't they program these new modules to understand sarcasm?"
"Sarcasm: A sharply ironic taunt or gibe, often harsh or derisive. Yes Freddie, I understood. However, my chief concern is the context of your well-being as it relates to this mission."
"I wasn't talking to you, ok? No, wait, that was only a hypothetical question. No need to respond." Freddie sighed, returning to the agenda at hand.
Tobin James Mueller
|Hull integrity ratios were right on spec. The atmospheric algorithm appeared to be working flawlessly. As he descended deeper into the vessel, Freddie could feel the change in air density. Remarkable. He remembered the old days, the vertigo.
With all the items on today's agenda nearly complete, he was ready to assert, rather decorously to his computer crew member, that everything "felt right".
Approaching the cargo hold, he suddenly felt a subtle, curious vibration at his throat. He thought nothing of it at first, but it was insistent: a cold thump, but not a thump, a slight jumping. He moved closer to one of the huge, industrial containers and gazed at his image in the polished surfaces.
The Disau'l! He suddenly remembered. It was a curious and affecting amulet that he had managed to appropriate on one of his raiding forays in the Hurst Administrate. He felt it beneath his clothing, thenm pulled it out, taking a closer look.
It came from the Sarcoge, a reclusive, eccentric race who, despite their advance scientific intelligence, insisted on devoting the greater part of their waking days to worship of the Stone God M'Cogite. Freddie was astonished at the knowledge they possessed and ignored in their endless rituals and genuflecting. He had spotted the Disau'l in the grip of a dead Sarcoge and quickly made it part of an interesting and productive trip. The charm had the disorienting illusion of changing shape depending on which direction you viewed it from. Those more taken with myth and other foolishness, said it belonged to the first Sarcogi Queen. Looking at it in the mirror of the container, it glowed, almost imperceptibly, but in the half-light of the cargo hold, unmistakably. He held it and felt a cold pulse.
"Freddie, I am sorry for bethering you. But, are you well?"
The buzz of the ship's computer startled him and he spun around, nearly shouting.
"Yes, ah yes, everything feels...okay."
He continued on his rounds. A few moments later, he noticed the Disau'l had ceased its peculiar behavior. Then it struck him, Why hadn't the autoscanners objected to Disau'l? Or even notice it? Is there something in this hold that caused it to respond this way? Or was the Tiredness about to flood over his awareness as it does to those too stubborn and too in love with the silent distances to quit space?
"Computer, move me to the Control Pod."
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All text edited by Tobin James Mueller.
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