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Day One Hundred and Eight: The Best in Space, part 3

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Geordi hit the access panel with the flat of his hand. “Captain! Captain, can you hear me!” He got nothing but burst of static, followed by the mad machine’s repeated, ““Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth.” Geordi hit the panel again. He knew it wouldn’t do any good, but the engineer he’d learned from said that “percussive maintenance” had a long tradition in engineering and should never be overlooked.

Wesley looked scared. His face was cooling down as heat left it, and the infrared pattern was being picked up by Geordi’s visor. The boy had tried to disconnect the sphere from the main computer, and had received a nasty shock for his troubles. Not enough to really hurt him, but enough to make him think twice about doing it again. The machine looked complicated and difficult enough to Geordi that he wasn’t sure if disconnecting it would even work. It was sending off electromagnetic pulses at wild frequencies, probably looking for one that would allow it to interface with the ship’s main computer. If that happened, then nothing short of physically destroying the probe would be enough to stop it.

The tool shop was beginning to feel claustrophobic. Geordi realized that Wesley probably couldn’t see a thing in there. “Wes,” he said. “We have to get out of here and see if we can find some way to untangle that thing from the computer, all right?” Wesley nodded, and Geordi keyed the door open. He stood back for a moment, expecting something terrible on the other side – fire, falling debris, arcing electricity, but there was nothing. If it hadn’t been for the thing in the tool room chanting over and over again, Geordi would have thought it was just another day.

He and Wesley returned to Main Engineering, and they went right for the main control console. Geordi started typing frantically, trying to find some way past what the “space sphere” had done to their computer. On the other side, Wesley was doing his best to figure out their situation.

“Geordi,” he said. “According to the navigation systems, we’re headed right for Earth at nearly full impulse power.”

The calculations went by Geordi’s field of vision. “That gives us about fifteen minutes,” he said. “Maybe less.” He looked down at the control panel, but he was no closer to figuring his way back in than he had been before. He slammed his hands down on the table and cursed under his breath. That made Wesley look up sharply, his eyes wide.

“What’ll we do, Geordi?” he asked. He swallowed hard. “Can we shut down the engines from here? Disable impulse power?”

Geordi shook his head. “No, we can’t do that…” He snapped his fingers. “But there is something we can do.” He turned to Wesley and grinned. “And you of all people should remember how to do it.”

“Huh?” Wesley looked utterly confused, but followed when Geordi ran to the other end of the engineering center and pulled a panel off the wall. Behind it was a rack of faintly glowing isolinear chips, each one a clear piece of translucent plastic.

Geordi crouched down in front of them and started to pull the chips out, one at a time. “Remember a few years ago, when that virus hit us and you took over the ship for a few hours.”

Wesley cleared his throat and looked away. “Not very well, no.”

“Well, while you were acting captain, you let Chief Shimoda do exactly what I’m doing now.” He was pulling the chips out and placing them carefully on the floor, making sure they were in the same order he pulled them. As he did so, the engines were beginning to power down, their ever-present hum deepening in pitch. “Now when that happened, we were in trouble because we needed to move.” He pulled a few more. “This time, we need to stop moving.” He took out the last few and laid them down. The engines’ thrumming slowly wound down and the control lights dimmed. After a moment, they were powered down completely. Geordi turned to Wesley and made a small bow. “Ta-da.”

But Wesley was already at the table, checking the ship’s progress. “Geordi,” he said. “We’re still moving.”

The readings bore him out. The ship was still heading directly towards Earth at impulse speed. There were only about ten minutes left until they arrived, in one way or another. Geordi put his head in his hands for a moment. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he said. He looked up. “Turning off the engines stopped us from accelerating,” he said. “But out in space, there’s nothing to slow us down. Unless we can get some kind of thrust going in the opposite direction, we’ll just keep moving forward until something stops us.”

Wesley looked up at him. “Like Earth.”

*     *     *     *     *

Data was the first to notice, of course. “Captain!” he said. “The engines are all offline. Our acceleration has stopped.” He looked up at the viewscreen, where the pale blue dot was still becoming bigger. “However, unless we can find a way to change our velocity, we will still collide with the Earth in approximately eight minutes and forty-two seconds.”

Picard stood up. “Does that machine still have control of the computers?”

“Yes, Captain, but with the engine offline it can no longer steer the ship.” He looked back over his shoulder. “On the other hand, neither can we.”

“We’ll do something about that,” Picard said. He turned to Worf. “Lieutenant,” he said. “Go to Engineering. If Geordi and Wesley haven’t been able to disconnect that thing by now, they may need some brute force assistance.”

Worf smiled, and it only served to make him look more fierce. “Aye-aye, sir,” he growled, and headed straight for the turbolift.

“Data,” Picard said. “What are our options for either stopping or steering the ship?”

The android thought for a moment. “It would be possible to adjust the ship’s course by explosively decompressing the main shuttle bay. It would add to our speed somewhat, allowing us to overshoot the Earth.” His fingers flew across the panel. “But it will only work if it is executed in the next four minutes.”

Picard stood up and tapped his communicator. “Bridge to shuttle bay.” There was no answer but static and the chanting of the space sphere. “Damn,” Picard said. “Data, Riker, get to the shuttle bay. Now. Evacuate any crew and trigger the decompression from there.” Riker and Data jumped up from their chairs and got into the turbolift. Picard sat back down in his chair and glanced over at Deanna. She was staring at the ever-growing Earth on their screens. He wanted to tell her that it would all be okay, but he’d learned that it was futile to lie to a Betazoid. He tapped a few buttons on his chair controls, bringing up a countdown on the readout. Seven and a half minutes to go. He grimaced and looked around at the places where his command crew should be.

He had done what a captain had to do – send his people to do their jobs, to save the ship. He had to send them because the captain could not do everything himself. And now he sat in the command chair, staring at the viewscreen with nothing else he could do but wait. Troi stood up and came close to him, laying a hand on his shoulder. Though she had always claimed that she could only sense emotions, not change them, Picard felt a little better.

The view of Earth was replaced by a clear view of Wesley Crusher. “Captain!” he cried. “We have communications back!” He stood aside, revealing the smoking space sphere. It had a Klingon Bat’leth jammed into it and Worf standing above it with arms crossed over his broad chest and a look a smug satisfaction on his face.

Picard smiled. “Well done, Lieutenant,” he said.

Geordi appeared on-screen. “Captain, we can regain control of the engines, but there’s no way I can replace the isolinear chips before we hit Earth.”

“Data and Riker are on that right now,” Picard said. “In fact…” He stood up and tapped his communicator badge. “Bridge to shuttle bay. How are you-”

He was cut off as the ship jumped forward and he fell back into the command chair. On the screen, Geordi and Wesley all stumbled to keep their footing, although Worf stood his ground, seemingly immovable.

“We did it, Captain!” Riker’s voice was full of pride. “Data says we ought to miss the Earth by a few hundred miles.”

“Excellent,” Picard said. He glanced down at the readout on the chair. Just about five minutes left. He looked over at Deanna, who was leaning against the railing of the bridge. “Deanna, get a message out to Earth command. Tell them we’re unable to stop and they need to get us a clear path right now.” She nodded and ran up to the tactical controls to send the message. “Geordi, make sure that thing isn’t going to trouble us anymore and get to work regaining control of the engines. Data, Riker, come back to the bridge. Mister Crusher…” He drummed his fingers. “I’ll have words with you later.” On the screen, Wesley’s face went slack, and he swallowed hard.

“Message from Starfleet, Captain,” Troi said. “They have a clear path for us past Earth. They’re going to send ships to assist us once we make it past.”

“Excellent,” Picard said. He sat back in the command chair and watched Earth grow in the screen. A few minutes later it filled the view and was then replaced by star-filled space as the Enterprise shot past it.

*     *     *     *     *

Wesley, Geordi and Riker sat in the ready room while Picard made some final additions to the official report of this incident. No one had said anything for a few long minutes during the debriefing, and the room was beginning to feel very warm. Wesley tried not to show it, but he really wanted to loosen his collar and maybe wipe his forehead. He glanced over at Geordi and Riker, who both looked perfectly relaxed. Wesley hoped he’d have that kind of composure someday – right now it was all he could do to keep from throwing up.

“Well,” Picard said, looking at the three of them. “I trust this won’t happen again?”

Riker leaned back and smiled. “I don’t know, Captain. It turned out to be quite the learning experience.” Picard didn’t change his expression at all, but somehow Riker still smiled.

Geordi spoke up quietly. “I have the remains of the space sphere,” he said. “Worf’s hit took out its main power systems, but not the computer core itself.” Everyone looked at him, disbelief in their eyes. “I have an isolated system I can hook it up to,” he said. “Absolutely no contact with the main computer.” He looked around. “What? It’s an important piece of technology. The more we know about it, the better we’ll be able to handle things like this in the future.”

“And you think something like this could happen again?” Picard asked.

Geordi shrugged. “It’s a big universe, sir,” he said. “Better safe than sorry.”

Picard nodded and turned to Wesley. “Mister Crusher,” he said, and Wesley felt that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach grow worse. “I appreciate your… enthusiasm for exploration. It is what Starfleet is built on, after all.” He tried to smile, but today it just wasn’t coming off well. He reminded Wesley of the stern, humorless Picard he’d met that first time he set foot on the bridge. “In the future, however, you must take more care, even if the others around you do not.” He looked pointedly at Riker and Geordi, who were very clearly looking elsewhere. “Failing to look before you leap is a very good way to fall to your death. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Captain.” Wesley’s voice was dry and hoarse.

“Very well.” He looked at the three of them and put the pad on his desk. “You are dismissed.”

They all stood up and filed out of the ready room. Wesley walked with Geordi onto the bridge and followed him to the turbolift.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on conn?” Geordi asked.

“Geordi,” Wesley said. “Do you really have that computer somewhere safe?”

Geordi nodded. “Don’t worry, Wes. It’ll never get control of the ship like that again.”

“Do you think…” Wesley swallowed. “Do you think I can help you work on it? Figure out what it is?”

It took a moment, but Geordi smiled and patted Wesley on the shoulder. “Sure, Wes. It was your project to begin with, after all.”

A smile broke out on Wesley’s face and the leaden feeling in his belly loosened up. He thanked Geordi and headed down the ramp to the conn station. He sat down, pulled the console to him, and looked up at the giant viewscreen, on which he could see countless stars. But he wasn’t thinking about them. He was coming up with tests, ideas, things he wanted to try with that new AI. He glanced down at his duty schedule. Four hours to go.

Just enough time to think of some really good ideas.

Aperture Science and the Space Sphere are owned by Valve Corporation.
Star Trek and all related names and ideas are owned by Paramount Pictures.

Day One Hundred and Seven: The Best in Space, part 2

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

The crowd in Ten Forward was quiet and sparse. Most people at this hour were on duty or busy doing any one of the thousand things that made the Enterprise work. Quiet music was being piped in overhead, and the lights were low, to allow for a better viewing experience out through the large windows. Captain Picard sat by one of the windows, reading an antique copy of Gulliver’s Travels and sipping a fruit drink from Vulcan. He treasured these moments, as brief and rare as they were, when he could relax and feed his mind. No strange encounters, no terrible crises to avert. Just a peaceful trip through the stars and a book to spend time with.

The music became warped and wobbly, and dropped to silence. Picard glanced up from his book and looked around, just as most everyone else was doing. A moment later, the lights began to flicker, then surge in brightness. He stood up, tucking the book under his arm, and adjusted his uniform. Guinan was behind the bar, watching the crowd, but she gave him her full attention when he arrived. “What do you think it is?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But I certainly mean to find -”

The speakers squealed, a sharp, painful note, and everyone clapped their hands to their ears. A moment later, the ship screamed, “SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!!!“ The floor lurched under their feet, throwing many people down, and the star field outside bent and shifted, and then exploded into streamers of light as the ship leaped into warp speed.

Picard braced himself against the bar and slapped his communicator. “Picard to bridge!” he yelled. “What the hell is going on?”

His communicator sputtered and coughed, and then a voice cried out, “YEEEEEEEEE-HAAaa!!

Picard and Guinan exchanged glances. “Bridge,” he said. He picked up the book from the floor and went to the port-side exit. The turbolift opened as he approached, and Deanna Troi was already inside.

“There you are,” she said. Picard got in, the doors closed, and the turbolift began its swift route to the bridge. “There is something very wrong with this ship,” she said.

Picard raised an eyebrow. “How did you guess?” he asked.

She put her hands on her hips and smirked at him. “I’m Betazoid, Captain,” she said. “I can sense the delicate ebbs and flows of emotion on board and tune in to the minds that populate it.” She shrugged. “Also, the ship started to scream and launch to warp speed for no reason at all. That was my first big clue.”

“No time for jokes,” Picard said, holding back a smile. “Is there anything you can tell me?”

She shook her head. “Whatever it is, it’s nothing I can get a hold of.” The lift stopped, the doors slid open, and they walked onto the bridge. The red alert lights were flashing and crew members were desperately trying to regain control of the ship. Worf was barking orders to his personnel and Riker was working at the captain’s chair.

“Report,” Picard barked out.

Commander Riker stood up. “Sir,” he said. “The ship’s computer seems to have been compromised. We’re unable to access propulsion or communication systems.”

Picard walked down the ramp and took the captain’s seat. “Life support?” he asked, keying commands into the arm of the chair.

“So far that seems to be unaffected. But communications between decks are sporadic at best, and we can’t slow the ship down.”

Data turned in his seat. “We are currently at warp seven and climbing, Captain. If we continue at this speed, we will achieve warp nine in approximately five minutes. It is inadvisable that we remain at that speed for too long.”

“Understood, Lieutenant,” Picard said. He looked around the bridge. “Where’s Crusher?” he asked, gesturing to the empty conn seat.

Riker and Data exchanged glances. “Last I heard, he was in Engineering,” Riker said. “We found something out there, and -”

Picard held up a hand. “You found something? What did you find? Why wasn’t I notified?”

Riker took his seat to Picard’s right. “It seemed to be a deactivated space probe, sir” he said. “We checked it out, beamed it on board and I gave it to Wesley to look at. I thought it would make a good project for him.”

The look that Picard game him was flat and angry. “And?” he asked.

“Well” Riker said, “I haven’t been able to get back in touch with them, but I think he and Lt. Commander LaForge may have managed to turn it on.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Picard put his hand to his face. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and said, “Conference room.” He stood up. “Data, Riker, Troi, Worf. Now.” He stalked to the conference room, not looking back to make sure everyone followed him.

When they got in, and the door closed, Picard took his seat at the head of the conference table. “What do we know?” he asked.

Riker stood up and tapped a few times on his pad. Pictures and initial scans of the object appeared on the viewscreen. It was roughly spherical and covered in the accumulated debris of centuries in space. “It appears to be some kind of probe,” he said. “Initial scans suggest that there is a computer core in it, though it was inactive at the time we beamed it on board.” He tapped again and new pictures appeared, much more detailed. “These were taken from Wesley’s tricorder in the Engineering server. You can see in more detail that it’s a fairly complex machine, probably an AI built on Earth in the latter half of the twenty-first century. That’s interesting all by itself. What makes me nervous is this.” He tapped again, rotating the onscreen model to display the logo with the words “APERTURE SCIENCE” printed on the side.

The officers looked at the screen. “I don’t understand,” Troi said. “What is Aperture Science?”

“Computer,” Riker said. “Display records for Aperture Science. Authorization Riker, Alpha six-one-six.”

The screen flickered for a moment, then went blank. A moment later, great yellow circle like the iris of an eye appeared on the screen, moving wildly back and forth as if looking at each person in the room. A speaker popped to life. “You the space cops?” a voice said. It was breathy and frantic and electric, and it made Worf growl. “Don’ like the space cops. Goin’ too fast. Too fast.”

Picard stood up, facing the screen. He tried to look stern and authoritative. “Who are you?” he asked. “What have you done with my ship?”

The great eye snapped into focus on him. The iris seemed to pulse, and the lights in the room pulsed with it. “You,” the voice said. “You have a very shiny head. Like a star. You a star?”

Picard glanced around and gritted his teeth. “Tell me who you are,” he said again.

The voice seemed to start singing a tuneless nonsense song. After a moment, it cut off. “Uh-oh,” it said. “There’s the sun. Gotta say Hi.” The screen went black again, replaced after a moment by a detailed classified file on Aperture Science. They only had a moment to study it before the stars outside the window stopped streaking past and they blinked back into normal reality again. The door chime sounded and Picard barked, “Enter!”

When the door opened, a flood of golden light came with it. An ensign in red stepped in, his face pale. “Sir, come quickly. It’s… It’s the sun!” He ducked out again. Everyone at the table looked at each other, and then got up to return to the bridge.

The main viewscreen showed the sun to the starboard side of the ship, far closer than it should have been. “All shields to full,” Picard said, even as Data was entering the commands.

Riker turned to him. “We have to get control of this ship back. Data – did you get all that on Aperture?”

Data turned around to face them. “Aperture Science was an American company in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. They explored several different avenues of business, but their greatest successes came in the fields of artificial intelligence and spacetime manipulation.” He tapped his console, and the great, flaming sun was replaced with the information that had been on display in the ready room. It showed pages of text and diagrams, as well as pictoral representations of people, cubes and holes.

“Their AI work was brilliant,” Data continued, “if unstable. Their primary intelligence was a computer named GLaDOS, which they built to run their testing facilities. It went mad and killed most of their personnel within seconds of switching it on. They also built a series of smaller, more restricted intelligences.” The screen displayed a series of small spheres that looked like the one Wesley had been working on. “These AIs were more specific in their functions, and not all of them were particularly… useful.”

He swiped his hand across the console and a new set of pictures were displayed. “Their other achievement was the creation of small, stable wormholes through the use of a hand-held device.” A video appeared on the screen of a young woman in an orange jumpsuit running through a corridor into a vast room with a moat of murky green liquid bisecting it. She fired a large, insectile gun at the far wall, sending out a blue burst of energy. She then fired again, and orange energy hit the wall next to her, creating a hole through which she could see herself. She stepped through, went through a door on the other side of the room, and continued running. “Although a prototype was made,” Data continued, “it was never developed for mass production. Some of the research that went into it, however, was instrumental in the discovery of warp drive technology.”

“So what does that mean for us?” Picard asked.

“If that sphere is indeed an Aperture AI,” Data said, “there is a good chance that it is insane.” The main screen went back to showing the sun, bright and hot in front of the ship. “If it has control of the ship, there’s no telling what it might do.”

The main screen broke up in a burst of static, and an uneasy image appeared of Geordi and Wesley. “Captain!” Geordi yelled. “Captain, can you hear me?”

Picard stood up. “I can hear you, Geordi. What’s going on?”

“Captain, I think I know what this thing wants!” The picture shook and shimmered. “It’s been saying the same thing for a few minutes now, and if it has control of our navigation sys -” The signal cut off, returning to the oversized sun on the viewscreen. Slowly, the ship was turning around, moving the sun out of their field of view. Over the speakers, that staticky, crazed voice was muttering the same thing over and over again.

“Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth.”

The Enterprise’s turn sped up and then stopped, pointing at a pinprick of pale blue light.

“Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth.”

Data looked down at his display. “We are at full impulse power, Captain,” he said. “At this speed, we will reach Earth in approximately fifteen minutes.”

“Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth.”

He glanced out at the viewscreen. “I would point out that we do not know this being’s intentions once we reach Earth. We could go into orbit, or…”

Picard nodded. “Or we could crash.”

They all watched the viewscreen as the pale blue dot slowly grew and the mad machine continued to chant, “Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth. Wanna go t’Earth.”

Aperture Science and the Space Sphere are owned by Valve Corporation.
Star Trek and all related names and ideas are owned by Paramount Pictures.