This is Mike’s idea: A fierce space battle has recently taken place. Many ships have been destroyed. Others, badly damaged. One in particular is a cargo barge piloted by Captain Anders. His engines were hit by ion blasts, sending him into the deep recesses of space without any way of reversing course, and slowly comes to the realization that this is a one-way trip for him. He had hoped rescue ships would find him, but with his radio damaged in the attack, he has no way to send out a message. His only companion as the weeks pass is the ship’s interactive computer system—ROK. Since there is nothing he knows he can do about it, Anders is resigned to his fate, until he realizes that his course has put him in a direct path with a massive uncharted star. His desire to live revives at the realization, and he starts cannibalizing parts of his dilapidated ship in a desperate effort to restore the vessel’s ability to maneuver once again, though it is a highly risky venture. If the implementation of the ship’s most sensitive systems are not configured correctly, he’ll blow himself up. He is able to get the maneuvering thrusters working again in just the nick of time, and slowly makes his way back to earth, to a hero’s welcome.
I used the underlined part of Mike’s idea. Here is the story he inspired:
Peter on the ROK
Peter had just enough time to disengage the gravity lock before the ship took the full brunt of the energy wave. The jolt he received on the side of his head would have been fatal, but merely knocked him out.
ROK, the ship’s artificial intelligence, took control as soon as the internal sensors recognized that the pilot had lost consciousness.
Peter was unsure how long he had been unconscious. ROK began gibbering at him as soon as his vitals were updated to the system.
“Engines offline. No known fix. Moving at warp eight on the edge of the energy wave…” ROK droned on.
“ROK, STOP!” Peter yelled, and grabbed his head at the pain his own voice inflicted.
ROK released an analgesic into the air. “You will be feeling better shortly, Sir.” ROK stated five decibels lower.
“Now, Repeat the condition of the ship.”
“Engines offline. No known fix.”
“No fix? Are you sure?
“Yes, Sir. I have no know fix for the issue. Most of the engine was damaged in the explosion as the wave struck the ship. There are not enough spare parts to repair the mechanism. Shall I continue with the status report?”
“Yes, but I want to come back to the engines when you are done.”
ROK continued, “Moving at warp eight on the edge of the energy wave. We have passed out of our home solar system and are currently in outer rim of Wolf 359 heading toward the Procyon system. The Wolf system has suffered no ill effects from the energy wave. We should pass unhindered through Procyon. Also I have found no way to reduce speed. Our last opportunity to make contact with star base Sirius will be in three days when we reach hailing distance to Relay Station 15. I have calculated we will have three seconds of broadcast time before the energy wave destroys the relay.”
“All right Rock, enough doom and gloom. I need a full manifest of the parts that need replaced or repaired on the engine, and a sandwich.”
The next two days Peter spent taking apart and striping every component not integrated into life-support. ROK went over the list of needed repairs and parts until Peter knew the litany by heart.
“Sir, we need to work on the out going message to Sirius. We have only one day, and must compress as much of our data into three seconds as we can.”
“I know ROK. What have you been thinking?”
“I have compiled a stream of compressed data that will alert the authorities to our trajectory, and condition, along with a full mission briefing. I thought that you might want to add a personal message to your wife.”
“I’ll think about it. ROK, I think it is time I got some sleep. Could you wake me in five hours. Then we will finish the data.”
“Yes, Sir. Goodnight.”
Peter sighed to himself. I thought you might want to add a personal message to your wife… Melinda, even just thinking her name brought some comfort. Melinda would know the second she heard his voice that he was not going to make it out of this mission alive. What could he possibly say to express all of those unspoken things that pass from year to year in a marriage. What would she say if she were here?
Oh, Pete, you know what I would say. I love you! You are going to find a way home again, I just know it. Kiss me Pete…
“Sir, It has been five hours. Wake up. I have prepared coffee and toast.”
Peter slumped on his side and then slid off the bunk. If Peter had not known he was hurtling through space on a one-way mission to nowhere, the day would have felt pretty much like any other day in space. Somehow he had hoped that life and living would seem more profound now that his days were numbered. ROK had detailed that the ship had enough biological and non-biologic materials to keep one humanoid alive for 4263 days or 11.679 years. At least he would live long enough to see Procyon. After that he would be further out than anyone of his kind before.
“Sir, have you decided what you would like to add to the data stream? We must prepare for deployment of the signal.”
“Yes, ROK. Are you ready to record?”
Peter looked into the recording console and regarded his reflection. Melinda always loved the way his hair curled to the side after a long sleep. “Melinda. Melinda, I…I love you.” Peter pressed the stop record button.
“Are you sure that is all you want to say, Sir? We have a full .75 second to fill.”
“Yes, ROK. My wife knows me. That is all I need to say for her to understand how dire my situation is, if I were to try and make her feel better she wouldn’t believe me anyway. At least this way she can play back my message whenever she feels lonely for me, and I will be there for her.”
“Now, ROK, we should be within hailing distance in the next few minutes. Broadcast the signal as many times as you can, just in case the message gets degraded in the wave.”
“Yes, Sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No. I am going down to the cargo-bay to look over the parts list again. Let me know when you think the message will have arrived at Sirius.”
After three hours of plotting and reconfiguring parts and weaponry into the needed components Peter called for ROK.
“ROK, shouldn’t the message have reached Sirius by now?”
“Actually, Sir it will reach the Sirius system in less than five minutes. Also, Sir, I have been tracking an unknown object that will intersect our trajectory in three days.”
“What do you mean, intersect?”
“Sir, I mean that we will make contact with the object in three days. I do not know how it will effect the ship. More scans will be necessary to make a determination of its composition.”
“ROK use all available resources to discover the make-up of the object and look for a solution to miss it.”
Three weeks! I could be dead before Melinda even gets my message, Peter thought.
Peter paced. It was one thing knowing that you had another decade to live, even if it was alone, but three days! Peter could feel his grip on the situation and his sanity start to slip.
“Sir, the object is an iron, titanium composite. Its non-reflective nature is why it had not been picked up on our scans until now. The last offical survey scan of this region does show the object near the Nippon belt asteroid field. Its velocity is low enough to have not concerned the chart-makers. No one ever planned on sending out non-maneuverable ships into this region.”
“No, I don’t guess they did. Well, at what speed will we hit the object and what kind of damage will it inflict?”
“We will hit the object travelling at 1.024 the speed of light. The ship will not survive.”
“So we will die?”
“And the energy wave will continue to destroy our communications arrays and probes?”
“ROK I want you to do a calculation for me. Be even more precise than you usually are. What type of explosion would counter balance the wave, and do we have enough materials on board to create that type of detonation?”
Peter waited as ROK completed the calculations. He decided that he should do something with every moment of his remaining hours that he had never done before. First he prayed, since humans had left Earth, God and Jesus had seemed to be relegated to myth, but Peter’s mother had told him the old stories of Moses and the Disciples. Second, he began to read a real paper book, it was one of the only mementos that he never left home without. In all his years in space, Peter had yet to read even a word. And Thirdly he began a recording to his wife just in case any part of it might be recovered, Peter wanted her to know, to hear, how he really felt about her.
“Sir, I have concluded that we do have just enough materials to create a counter explosion that will weaken the wave and eventually cease its continuation. We will need to wire all of the ordnance into the main console on the starboard side and in the moments leading up to the impact I will need to replace all of the oxygen in the ship with fluorine gas”
“I understand, ROK. Lets get the ordnance loaded.”
“Sir, you will die before we hit the object.”
“No, ROK. I will put on one of the ENVIRO suits and I will die with you. Lets get this done. We are only going to have this one shot to get it right.”
As the last days of Peter’s life drained away he talked to God more and felt that he had made peace with the Universe. On the fate filled day when he would no longer exist, on a corporal plane, Peter stood at the helm of his ship and looked eternity in the eye and did not even blink.