Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Artefact. Chapter Three.

Captain Brewer shuffled in his seat on board the Eclipse Shuttle. Foster had done as instructed and disembarked quickly, and his pre-flight checks were almost complete. The sooner he was away from this place, the better.
The filthy, industrial Dutch Gate seemed to clash with the sleek, clean Eclipse, and this made Brewer on edge.
That wasn't the only reason that Brewer was anxious though, he'd been to this place before, in a different capacity. That hadn't ended well, as the pain in his right leg reminded him.
Levitt, the helm controller signalled that the shuttle was ready to launch, and the Captain replied with a nod.
Levitt tapped a few buttons and engaged the engines. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as the gentle hum from the engines resumed. She deftly navigated the Eclipse away from the Dutch Gate's docking clamps and turned the ship to face back into deep space.
"We're clear of the Gate, sir." She announced as a matter of protocol. "Setting course for rendezvous with the California."
Again, Brewer replied only with a nod. His pilot was young, yes, but he trusted her implicitly to carry out her duties without constant orders.

The Eclipse shuddered as it passed through the Dutch Gate's defensive energy barrier. Levitt flicked a switch and the engines went to full power, leaving the giant space station to shrink rapidly in the rear view monitor.

Brewer flicked through a few files on his terminal then stood, stretched and made his way to his quarters, just to the left of the small shuttle bridge.
Levitt entered a few more commands into her console, looked over her shoulder to check she was alone then clicked a button on her PIC.
"Coffee, milk, two sugars," She ordered. "And make it snappy."
The holographic face of a young man appeared above the PIC.
"Yes, dear," He sighed. "Up in a minute."

The young man appeared at the entrance to the bridge almost immediately, holding a massive mug of steaming coffee and carrying a small sealed bag.
"Got you a treat," He smirked as he sat in the co-pilot's chair next to Levitt. He passed her the bag, seeming quite pleased with himself. "Go on, open it."
Levitt gave her boyfriend a suspicious look then, like a child opening a Christmas present, she tore the top from the bag, which hissed satisfyingly as the sealed atmosphere escaped.

"Cal, you're wonderful!" She squealed, as her face lit up. She took the chocolate muffin out of the bag, putting it down a little to carefully, she then hopped out of her seat and onto Cal's knee. She kissed him once on the lips and twice on the cheeks.
"It's been so long since we've been docked," Said Cal, triumpantly. "I thought you might be missing real food. Found that in the stores when i was doing inventory."
Levitt didn't reply, for fear of covering her boyfriend with her mouthful of cake.
"So how long til we're at the Cauliflower?" He asked.
"California." She cleared her mouth. "It'll be about three hours, although I've not heard from them. Why?"
"Oh, no reason," He smiled. "I just miss an actual comfy bed. These bunks are okay but..."
"But?" She raised an eyebrow.
"Well, they're no good for two..." His smile turned into a cheeky grin. "And these pilot chairs are only going to take so much more..."
Levitt smacked Cal on the head, then kissed him. The remaining half a muffin got knocked to the floor, ignored.

Brewer sat in his quarters alone, drinking white wine, or at least what the food dispenser called wine, and started flicking through the entertainment channels on the viewer. He scoffed at a number of the shows before settling on the Extreme-Gravity Athletics channel.
It was mere moments before Brewer was asleep, the viewer continuing to play to no-one in particular.

Brewer woke up with a start as the shuttle shook violently, knocking the nearly-full wine glass to the floor. Alert instantly, he made his way to the bridge, where Levitt and Cal were occupying both seats at the helm, struggling to regain control of the ship.
"Report!" Commanded Brewer, jumping into the Captain's chair and activating his terminals.
"We've entered a debris field, multiple impacts!" Said Cal, transferring files from his terminal to his captain's.
"On screen." ordered Brewer.
The viewscreen faded into life, buzzing with static.

In front of the Eclipse was a massively dense field of screwed up metal, shattered plastic and burning debris. Levitt had control of the ship again now and was expertly avoiding the largest pieces.
Brewer had a terrible feeling at the back of his throat. He tapped a few buttons on his terminal.
"How long was I asleep?" He asked, standing and approaching the viewscreen.
"Just three hours, sir." answered Cal.
"Oh no..." Levitt understood first. "Oh no..."

Brewer tapped a button on Cal's console and the viewscreen zoomed in on a large section of debris. A nameplate was visible.

CALIFORNIA.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Artefact. Chapter Two.

The clinical white walkway of the shuttlecraft gave way to the murky, worn technology of the Dutch Gate's arrival dock. Clearly, Foster thought, this place isn't designed for recieving visitors.

Coolant gas billowed from vents on either side of the corridor, cooling exposed circuitry and pipework. A patchwork of circuitry seemed to work it's way down the corridor in no discernable pattern and the smell of burnt oil permeated the air and seemed to burn the hairs in Foster's nose.

Expecting to be met by someone, Foster stood at the end of the arrival platform and waited a moment. Noticing an access terminal toward the end of the corridor, he reached into his pocket and activated his PIC. Tapping the device against the terminal activated the screen and began to transfer his user data from the PIC to the terminal. After a moment, slower than Foster expected, the terminal displayed a message.

To: Foster, M. BDi
Please make your way to Quadrant 4, Transport Tube 33.
GPH

Feeling a little perturbed, Foster studied the diagram displayed on the terminal, and with a sigh, made his way down the corridor towards the transport tube.
As he approached the waiting platform the tube doors opened with a hiss and a short, young man with curly hair stumbled out, carrying a clipboard and looking panicked.
"Ah, there you are!" He shouted in a loud voice, that seemed to betray his small frame. "This way, Mr Foster, sir."
He motioned into the transport carriage in an over-theatrical manner that amused Foster, but also made him feel a little uneasy.
Foster entered the carriage and sat in the centre seat. His new companion bounced in and flicked a lever. The doors closed and the carriage rumbled slightly as it began it's journey.

There was silence for a few moments, during which Foster felt a little overwhelmed by his seemingly crazy new friend, who was rocking in his chair like a hyperactive infant. That moment ended all to quickly when the young man grinned then began talking at lightning speed, barely breathing between sentences.

"And so, yeah," He began. "Sorry about the terminal message, i just didn't reckon on the tube getting me here in time, what with the coil failure in Quadrant three and all that health and safety we have to follow before we can even use the bypass channels. Oh, by the way, the name's Greg. Well, Gregory Preston-Hellesby. But people call me Greg. Greg. Is my name..."
Greg held out his hand to shake, Foster took a moment to react, momentarily confused by Greg's verbal onslaught. The moment passed and Foster shook Greg's hand.
"Mike Foster," He said. "Pleased to meet you Greg."

The carriage rumbled slightly and Foster's hand went to the secur-belt.
"Oh, that?" Greg made no move to steady himself. "That's just a tube junction, they've gone a bit, y'know, wonky, of late. Something to do with the gyroscope or spatial drift or something. I dunno. I just listen in to the techies when they're getting their dinner. Oh! You'll be starving, what with all the deep sleep and those nutrition lumps..." He paused for a second, like a squirrel, interrupted when chewing a nut. "As soon as you've finished with Uncle Milo, we can go down to the Wreck, my shout."
"What's the-" began Foster.
"The wreck?" interrupted Greg, before Foster could even form the R shape with his mouth. "It's an old transport that docked in Quadrant One before it's engines packed in, Mellie, Mellie's our chief engineer guy, biiig guy, he converted it in a galley, back section got turned into a food storage place, we've got beef stored there, actual cow-beef, they make the best burgers there..."
Foster liked the idea of some real food, after all the protein shapes he'd been stuck with, but wondered how Greg was planning to eat and talk at the same time.

The carriage squealed to a halt and Greg bounced out of his seat.
"This way, Mister Mike Foster, sir!" He pointed down the corridor with two hands then disappeared round the corner. Foster had to jog to catch him up.

The Artefact. Chapter One.

The alarm clock had been buzzing for several minutes before Foster managed to hit the 'off' button. As soon as his eyes were open, so the pounding in his head began. Like a hangover combined with a cricket bat, everything started to hurt.

Sliding his legs out from under the blanket and over the side of the bunk, he looked around, trying to get his bearings in these unusual surroundings, the memories of the where and why overtaken by the jackhammer behind his forehead.
The room was charcoal grey, minimalist in design. Besides the bed, there was a chair on which Foster's suit and briefcase were laid neatly. There was a screen on the wall facing the chair, and a table in the corner, on which were Foster's ID wallet and PIC.
It was dark through the tiny, thick framed window, but as Foster placed his feet on the floor, he knew where he was.

There was a gentle vibration coming from the thinly carpeted floor, betraying the artificial gravity plating that Foster had come to recognise and hate. It made the muscles in his legs ache, and this was only made worse by his current condition.

So, I'm in space, Foster thought to himself, instinctively spotting the other clues surrounding him, the emergency Evac suit and helmet, the food dispenser, the decompression warning labels near the door and window.
That explains this hangover too, he noted, peeling the EZ-Sleep TENS device pad from his arm. Electronic and chemically aided deep sleep wasn't known for it's pleasant awakenings.
Foster made his way to the bathroom and relieved himself, then he splashed ice-cold water on his face.

He looked at himself in the mirror, he looked as bad as he felt, his face was drawn and he seemed to have lost some weight. Must have been asleep a few weeks, he guessed, feeling the slight stubble on his chin, normally smooth thanks to his weekly 'Shave'-cream.
In a last-ditch effort to get rid of his headache, Foster went to his briefcase and removed a small yellow pill bottle. He swallowed two pills quickly, and winced as they seemed to scrape down his throat.

The effect was almost instant, as his headache began to clear, he could focus his eyes, and the humming from the floor panels no longer made his legs muscles ache.

Feeling human again, Foster went to the table and picked up his PIC, his Personal Information Centre, a pen-sized communication device.
Pressing the button button on the top of the PIC made the end light up. Foster drew a square in mid-air with the PIC and instantly a holographic screen appeared, projected from the small device.
Using the PIC as a pointer now, Foster clicked on the various images and buttons that appeared on the holographic work surface.

First, he checked his messages. The disembodied head of his boss, Doctor MacDonald emerged from the holographic screen and began talking.
Foster was used to this type of message, wishing him luck on his mission, and chose to leave it playing as he got his breakfast from the food dispenser.
The food was passable, being a few flavoured shapes of protein & nutrients, that gave a pretty good impression of Bacon and Eggs.
When the doctor's message ended, Foster clicked his PIC off the messaging service and checked the date and time.

It was 01:04:21 on 25th October 2186, Foster had been in deep sleep for six weeks.

Foster set his PIC to play some music, and it began to play a classical orchestral score that he couldn't identify. As the music played, he got himself washed, got rid of his stubble and then got dressed. His suit felt two sizes too big, and Foster swore to himself that the moment he arrived at his destination he was going to binge on some unhealthy snacks.
Opening his briefcase, Foster began looking through his files, detailing his mission and providing background details.
As soon as he'd started though, the main screen in the room came to life and the Ship's Captain, Brewer appeared on screen.
"Good morning sir," He said, his plummy tones reflecting his pristine uniform and manner. "Just to inform you that we will be arriving at Dutch Square in approximately twenty minutes. If you could get all your belongings together, we can get you dropped off in no time at all."
Foster nodded in acknowledgment, and put everything back into his briefcase.
"I'll be down by the gate in ten, sir." Foster added, trying hard not to echo Brewer's posh tones.

With that, Brewer disappeared from the screen, Foster closed down his PIC and put it in his pocket and the ship began to vibrate as it began docking procedures. Foster took a deep breath, readied himself, then stepped through the sliding door out of his room.

As he walked the short corridor to the docking gate, Foster caught a glimpse of Dutch Gate out of the window. It was a massive rotating donut of technology, over five miles in diameter, with various ships and drones operating on all areas. Foster had never been here before, and had to stop himself from staring out of the window for too long.

As he reached the gate, there was a loud, satisfying CLUNK as the shuttle docked with the massive space station. Foster ran his fingers through his hair one last time and prepared to board.