The cinema of my dreams – I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 35

There’s something on the long-range scanner

I didn’t make it back to the leafy suburban late-night stroll, as much as I wanted to have that relaxing moment, going back to the bridge.

It was quiet, if not a subdued atmosphere, in other words, normal for the hour.  It was a skeleton crew, mostly volunteers, those without partners or couldn’t sleep. 

Sleep was one of the first problems because there was no real differentiation between night and day, a sort of hangover from those who worked night shift back on earth, only it extended to everyone.  I’d long since given up the notion of getting a good night’s sleep.

“Where are we?”  I asked, after sitting in the chair and casting a glance over the bridge in semi-darkness, and the view of empty, inky black space outside the ship.

The answer to the question, I thought wryly, was ‘in space’, but I doubt any of those on duty would have the desire to use humour in such a situation.

“In direct line with Pluto’s orbit.”

Salaman, the navigating officer, was not a man with a sense of humour, a just the facts sort of person.

“Any chance if seeing the planet?”

“If we sit here for the next 68 years, maybe.”

OK, so Salaman did have some humour in him if a little dry.

“Engineering.”  The Chief Engineer’s voice came over the loudspeaker.

“Good news, I hope?”

“Problem sorted.  Another item to take up with the inspection crew when we get home.  You’re free to resume.”

“Thank you.”  Then to the helmsman, “Let’s take it slowly, quarter speed.”

“Quarter speed it is, sir.”

There was a barely noticeable movement, then it was as if nothing had happened.  That was the disconcerting part, the fact we had no discernible way of knowing we were moving.

“Quarter speed, sir, all systems nominal.”

“Give it five minutes, then move to half, and so on “

“Yes, sir.”

I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes.  I often tried to remember what it was like back home, before the weather changed for the worse, before people changed, not necessarily for the worse, but not as friendly or happy we once were.

That was a long time ago, though, and I’d spent more of my life in space than on earth now and wasn’t sure how I was going to survive once I had to retire.  That was, hopefully, a long time away.

“Sir, we have a long-range contact, not sure yet if it’s a meteor or a ship.”  The navigator’s voice cut into my reverie.

Did she just add the ship to the report, hoping to make a boring night into something more interesting?

“Should we hold off going to full speed, Sir?”

Probably a good idea until we identified the problem.  “OK.”

I stood, walked over to the window, and looked out, symbolically looking for the object.  Long-range meant, beyond a million or so earth kilometres, barely discernible to the scanners let alone a human eye.

“It’s moving at about half light speed, coming towards us.”

That might be a stretch assuming that we could possibly be on an intercepting course.

“Change our heading five degrees and see if it changes too.”

There was a slight movement as we changed course.  I remained by the window, watching and waiting.  There were a few flecks in the blackness, and I wondered if this was the outer rim of a meteor shower.  Were they too small for the sensors to pick up, or was the navigator concentrating on the one large object?

Five minutes passed, then ten.

“Object still on a collision course, sir.”

Which missed stating the obvious, that whatever was out there had also changed course.  Whoever or whatever was out there wanted to meet us.

“Revert back to the original course.  When will we have a clearer picture of this object?”

“Fifteen minutes, sir.”

I had read the specifications of the long-range sensors and scanners, the former mostly do we could avoid space debris that could damage the hull, though that would take a relatively large chunk.

It was our speed, and that of incoming objects that were the problem, and that’s why we had sn autopilot to help avoid these issues.

The scanners could see objects, magnify them, from a reasonable distance, so we could identify them if we had previous knowledge of them.  Alien spaceships, if we were to encounter one, might make that identification difficult but not impossible.  But, on the other hand, the specifications of every ship in space, that we knew about, of course, was in the database.

Anything else, it could be added.

Nothing more to see, I sat down again.  We were still sitting at half speed, and from what I could see on my console, everything was fine.

Then the screen switched to the long-range scan of the object.

It was a ship.

The scanner was going through the known ships list, looking for a match, until it reached the end, bringing up “unknown”.

The navigator stated the obvious, “it’s a ship sir, but not one in our database.  Do you think it might be the prototype the Russians were talking about making a dozen or so years ago?”

Everyone knew about the famous, if you won’t share we’ll build our own, bigger and better ship when the space alliance at the time baulked at bully tactics the Russians tried to use to take over running the alliance.

They had backed down in the face of a world united against them, but had they really?

“We’ll soon find out.”

© Charles Heath 2021-2022

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