This story is by peter king and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“Jack Ennings.” The voice rises. “Jack Ennings! Chief maintenance supervisor of the Star ship Expedition Nibbs32”
“Please remove yourself from the chamber. You have less than 196 seconds to insert yourself into a maintenance spacesuit or hypothermia will be certain.
Do you understand Jack Ennings?”
Awakening from a groggy state of hyper sleep Jack struggles to focus on his surroundings. Sirens are blaring. Emergency lights are flashing. His pod has been opened, it’s cold. Actually it’s not cold it’s freezing. The frigid cold snaps him awake. Trying to speak but he can’t find words. His lips shiver and his teeth chatter.
The clear travelling gel Jack has been suspended in for the past nine months is getting increasingly colder by the moment.
“Something is wrong”. That’s the only speculation that travels through his cobwebs of hyper-sleep. “Something is wrong”.
“Jack Ennings. Chief maintenance supervisor of the Star ship Expedition Nibbs32. Please remove yourself from your pod. You have less than 122 seconds to insert yourself into a maintenance spacesuit.” Jack slips out of the jelled pod obeying the voice. Flopping himself onto the frigid grey metal floor, Rule no 1. floods Jack’s mind. Listen to the computer, save yourself first before you can save anyone else. Get to the suit.
Shaking uncontrollably Jack staggers towards one of the closest medical centres. The freezing air is burning his lungs. Slipping and sliding, trying to focus on staying on his rubbery weak legs.
“Stay focused Jack! Stay focused!”, he tells himself.
His breath creates a frozen mist in front of his watery eyes. Shaking with cold, he fumbles into a maintenance space suit, cursing the freezing air that’s attacking his exposed skin.
Despite the cold trying to overtake him, Jack manages to seal himself into a suit with the last of his energy. Darkness begins creeping in at the edges of his sight. Breathing is slowing down, but can’t stop shaking.
“Maintenance Chief Jack Ennings sit in the medical monitoring chair so that I can monitor your vitals”
Blackness overtakes Jack as he slumps into the medical chair.
Moments later Jack awakens startled. Alarms still ringing chaotically, the flashing red emergency danger lights swirl wildly, giving a dismal glow. Still shaking yet feeling warmer by the second, Jack tries to analyzes his situation.
“You are needed in the engine room. The ship has encountered a storm. Engines are off line. The ship is entering a nearby planet’s atmosphere.”
“The new Blue?”
“No, an uncharted planet. Star ship Expedition Nibbs32 is 183 days short of Blue 2.”
Jack struggles as he makes his way to the engine room.
Alarms are still going off all around him, blaring, demanding his attention, Jack looks around the engine room.
“Damn!” Jack says through clenched teeth “this ain’t good…. not one bit”, as he focuses on a large protruding hole in the ship’s hull adjacent to the lifeless engines.
White blank nothingness the tall dark haired man whispers to himself. Peering out one of the starboard side frosted windows. Straining to see into the bright whiteness using a long ago outdated pair of hand held scanning goggles.
“Dory are you awake?”
“I’m always here head maintenance Jack Ennings,” says the on board computer in a soft woman’s voice. “Dory if we’re going to get along it’s just Jack. Plain Jack, please and thank you.”
“As you wish.”
“Anything new on your scanners?”
“The current temperature surrounding the vessel of our present location is -225 degrees. No replies from our distress beacon. This is Sol 7 on entering planet no. TH-456 of the 3rd galaxy system. We entered this planet due to an asteroid storm that has disabled our engine propulsion systems.”
“Dory! Really! I’ve been here the whole time you don’t have to give me a long story every time I ask if anything is new.”
“As you wish.”
“We got bigger things to figure out.”
He leaves the semi warmth of the control room. Only two small sections of the upper level are able to contain heat. One houses the bridge control centre, the other is a small living quarter. Solar panels covering the ship were supposed to be solely to propulsion to our new world, not to run the entire ship. Now the ship is nothing more than a slow metal glider in the planet’s atmosphere. Silently sailing in the overhead skies of this frozen uninhabited planet.
Jack suits up into one of the astronaut’s maintenance suits that were supposed to be for emergencies only.
Every eight hours Jack has to check and clear the vents that run through the Nibbs32. Even with the minus 225 degree frigid air of this altitude, the ship is only able to maneuver to a gliding altitude of five thousand feet. Anything less the Nibbs32 can’t get enough power from the new sun in this system. Without the new sun’s energy the ship will lose altitude leaving them forever stranded on this ice cube.
After defrosting the ventilation systems Jack ventures towards the engine room once more.
“Can I be of assistance Jack?”
“No I’m good. I thought it might be a good Idea to have a second look at the engines. Did you run a diagnosis on the engines?”
“Engines are off line.”
“I can see that from the thick coating of frost covering them.”
“Jack the ship has insufficient power to run a diagnosis of the engines.”
“I’m aware of that also. Are you saying there’s no way to store some of the collected power from the panels to run a diagnosis in the near future?”
“I do not contain that knowledge Jack.”
Jack has ten years of extensive training working on a dozen different types of ships. This was to be his big promotion.
I’m missing something here Jack says to himself.
Stroking the hard surface of one of the console’s. “What happened to you engines?”
Looking out into the cold vastness Jack sees nothing new. The data base has no information on this planet. No reply from the distress calls. They have avoided a few storms by managing to climb to higher elevations. Not that it matters cold white emptiness is all that is here anyways.
“Dory any updates?”
“No new updates as you asked Jack”
Jack was about to ask Dory something when a reflection of light struck the outer window panels.
Dashing towards the main window Jack lifts the goggles to his eyes. His heart is beating a little quicker. Anything new at this point would be a blessing.
“Dory did you see that?”
Straining to see into the bright whiteness. Nothing.
“Dory let’s head to those low hills to the starboard of our position.”
“I am adjusting our course”
“There!!! What is that? Something is shining in the sun. A small glitter when the sun hits it just right.”
“Dory, circle and bring us down to get a closer look.”
“That is not a wise conclusion Jack. Only 126 minutes of sufficient light remain. The ship may not be able to climb back up to the required altitude in the allocated time.”
“Just do it Dory there’s plenty of time.”
“As you wish.”
The ship circles in a wide arc. Silently slicing through the cold air as it descends into valley, surrounded by low bearing hills on either side.
As the Nibbs glides into the valley, Jack spots a glass dome sticking out of the white ice, shining brilliantly in the afternoon sun.
“Did you see it Dory? Did you record our pass?, put it up on the monitor!”
Excitement, hope, fills Jack’s mind. The structure is not natural, it’s man made.
“Dory you are going to disagree but take us in. Land us as close to the dome as you can. Something or someone has to be there that can help us.”
“We will not be able to re enter, the atmosphere without the engines on line Jack.”
“I am aware of that. We can’t keep gliding around forever either. This could be our answer. Take us down Dory.”
The glider gently skids across the crusted surface stopping some 1500 meters from the glass dome.
At first light Jack sets out to explore. The ship is secured, panels are powering up the ship enough to keep main systems up.
The sun’s reflection is causing intense snow blindness. He shields his eyes from the dome’s glare but even with his visor down Jack has trouble manoeuvring. He continues trudging threw the crusty ice surface. The closer he advances he realizes it’s not a dome but large flat glass panels. Together it gave the impression of a large glass dome.
His steps quickens with excitement of what the glass enclosure could contain. Perhaps there is even someone inside? Some communication equipment perhaps.
“Dory you with me still?”
“Do you see anything that looks like a way in?”
“Some irregularities appear in the dome directly to the port of your position.”
The dome is bulging out of an ice and snow encrusted incline. A wide snow filled ramp of sorts, leads to a white metal wall.
Jack rubs the crusted surface scrapping layers of ice to reveal a control panel. A green button enclosed in layers of ice glows brightly. Punching and scraping at the thick layers of ice, Jack is rewarded with a door cracking open giving a loud hiss.
Entering a chamber Jack is immediately familiarized with the control panels from earth technology. This must have been an old outpost on the first voyages to Blue 2 he thinks. Why had he not ever heard of it?
A familiar voice rings out. “Welcome to Nibbs1. How may I be of assistance?”
“Nibbs1? that can’t be possible. Computer where am I?”
“You are on the Nibbs 1. The frontier ship on course for Blue 2.”
“Ship? Why is the Nibbs1 on this planet and not on Blue 2?
This ship should of been on Blue 2 some 200 years ago.”
Jack begins running fanatically towards the command deck. The first thing he notices upon entering the command deck is the Nibbs32 through the frosted windows. Startled as he looks around the control room surroundings, he finds a figure in a spacesuit covered in frost sitting in the captain’s chair, visor shielded. In it’s gloved hand is a tablet.
“Computer initiate life support for this compartment.”
Green lights blink. Jack is able to remove his helmet while attaching the tablet to the upper viewing screen.
An elderly man, somewhere in his late eighties appears on the screen. Sitting in his worn maintenance suit in the very chair Jack had found him in.
In a raspy whisper of a voice.
“To whoever finds this message this will be my last log. The panels are working beautifully and should continue to secure the 10000 human cargo and its contents till Blue 2 is ready for habitation in a thousand years or so.
This is my last log. It has been a privilege and an honour to secure mankind’s continued survival.”
The broadcast stops.
Jack is trembling. Confused yet now he somehow knew the answer to the questions he was pondering.
“Dory you still with me”
“We entered this planet on purpose”
“Long range scanners indicate Blue 2 is not inhabitable yet. It should be in approximately 2225 years. Emergency protocol made planet TH456 the best solution to wait.” Dory reports.
Jack slumps into a control chair next to the long dead comrade.
“You were the best candidate to navigate and secure Nibbs32 10523 humans in hyper-sleep and its cargo till Blue 2 is ready Jack Ennings.”
Letting the tablet slip through his fingers Jack stairs blankly out into the white landscape.