Brigit’s Flame Contest Entry – April Week Four
prompt: “What is past is prologue”
Title : Happy Launch Day
Word Count: 2,626
Warnings: One profanity. Death.
“Happy Launch Day!”
Mabry heard the greeting at least ten times on her way to check on the progress of operations in the Sleepers’ Cabin and twenty more as she walked to the commissary for a light meal. Everyone was grinning and happy. To Mabry this cheer seemed irrational. They were at risk of discovery and capture until the QM Aurora had pulled out of the Port and into the commerce lanes. Not even Haraboji could be sure what would happen to them if they were arrested. The Port had no Zerospace of its own. Rumors were that the non-contributing souls who found themselves on the Port got spaced. It seemed an extreme measure, but Corps do not like to spend money to transport prisoners to jail. They certainly wouldn’t waste the credits on 500 prisoners from Dirtside.
Setting aside the possibility of being caught and prevented from leaving, there was also the anxiety that came with – “What if we make it?” and all of the unknown that followed. The population on board the Aurora had increased exponentially over the last two weeks. The whole of QM was on their way to a new planet discovered by the community’s virtual astronomers. It had been reported human-safe, habitable, and in a pre-hominid stage of evolution by a small group of QM volunteers who had traveled to the farthest point of communication between Calypso and Earth to relay copious amounts of probe data before completing the journey to the planet’s surface. Their names were inscribed on the bridge in memoriam, and the first four children born after their successful transmission back to Earth had become their namesakes. They would land in time to die – all had been terminally ill when they volunteered – but Mabry suspected that being able to die free, above ground, and surrounded by the beauty of nature had to be the best way to go.
She ran her fingers lightly over the name Varyn Belisarius etched at console height to the left of the bridge door. Varyn, friends with her brother since childhood, was someone she had idolized and followed around as a child – her first crush. He had a bright smile, boundless enthusiasm, and eyes a shade of blue that had no comparison in heaven or nature. Varyn also had a fondness for extreme sports which he used to the community’s advantage by joining the scavenging teams that roved the abandoned wastelands of Dirtside in search of useful materials and wanderers to bring back to their underground base. Prolonged exposure to the ambient radiation in their sector of Dirtside had brought cancer to Varyn before he’d settled into a more domestic life. It was no surprise that he volunteered to go with the other explorers to retrieve the final data on Calypso. He had lived his adult life exploring in service to QM – he would die as he lived.
“Do you want to repeat the tests?” Faraday asked.
Mabry realized he had been speaking for a few minutes, but she had been too distracted to register. She turned from her memories and sat down in the center console.
“Can you repeat the last results? I wasn’t listening,” she admitted.
Mabry pulled up a list of systems on her console and followed along as Faraday read out the nominal or optimal ratings on each check of master system and its redundancies.
She tapped a few buttons and plucked the lever to free her VM glasses from their slot.
“You have run the tests how many times since 0600?” Mabry asked, pulling up a star chart and overlaying that with arrival and departures that might cross the Aurora’s path to the commerce lanes. If they timed it right and slipped away in an empty window, Port Space Control would not bother to shut them down and reel them back in. If they were no threat to free-flowing commerce, they might not be of interest to the Port. Mabry marked four slots that were clear in the right vector and for the appropriate length of time.
“Faraday, I note four windows for safe launch. Do you detect any others?”
“If we exit the bay traveling one kilometer on this bearing, then shift the yaw 90 degrees – pushing ahead 10 km before tacking a parallel course – we can add about six more windows.”
Colored lines traced over the view port in the paths he described.
“Thank you, Faraday. Ten is way better than four. Non-linear thinking – this is why I need you. My brain has yet to embrace the ability to travel up and down in space.” Mabry highlighted two of the six new courses as ideal and set the list aside.
“Let’s talk personnel and stores,” she said, pulling up another list and waving it up to her glasses.
An hour into their recheck, Faraday interrupted with the news that Haraboji’s party had arrived.
The knot growing in her stomach squeezed. “Is there any Port chatter we should worry about?” Mabry asked. Dae Kwon’s face was well-known to the Corps. He was on many activist watchlists.
“Not a blip,” Faraday replied.
Mabry thought the news would bring her relief, but she felt even more on edge.
“I’m going to head down to the Commons to greet Haraboji and brief him on our status. Can you update the arrivals lists, recalculate the stores, recheck life-support, and refresh the timeline on the citizens remaining to be cubed?”
“Don’t say ‘cubed’ to Haraboji,” Faraday reminded her, “he hates that slang. Their systems may be frozen, but people are never ice,” Faraday repeated in their leader’s voice.
Mabry turned up one corner of her mouth in a smile and left the bridge.
“I appreciate hearing your news, Mabry, but it is unnecessary to report to me.”
Dae Kwon – leader, mentor, friend, – respected elder of their patchwork tribe was removing a prosthetic chin from his his jaw. The glue stretched away from his own chin, to pop free soundlessly and curl into a tight ball. The fake nose he was wearing reminded Mabry of Elgin’s disguise. She looked away as Kwon grasped the end and pulled it off. Hanging over the edge of his temporary bunk were several scarves employed in his disguise – shed like snakeskin now that the man had reached his safe harbor.
“You will always be our leader, Haraboji. Whether in space or on the ground.”
“Mabry, we’ve discussed this. Up here I need you be in charge. The whole community does. I will not be available for consultation. We don’t have time for you to consider what I would do or approve of. There is only the space of thought for one leader. Personally, I think you will do far better than I have ever done.”
“Haraboji, I –”
“You have been calling me grandfather since you were a child, Girl. And it still warms my heart, but you must stop thinking of me as someone to follow and revere.” Kwon took her hands. “Mabry, you have accomplished wonders in your thirty years. You have earned this role. I cannot slide into that drawer with peace of mind until you tell me you’ve got a handle on this and that YOU believe you can do it without me.”
The only certainty Mabry could claim was that she would throw up at any moment. Her stomach flopped and a section of her lower intestines made a faint but high-pitched whine. Kwon pretended not to hear. She stood abruptly, hands on her hips, fingers pressing tightly into skin beneath her jumpsuit. Mabry gritted her teeth and approximated a smile.
“I do have a handle on this, Kwon.” She swallowed to clear her mouth of excess saliva. “I am ready to lead us to Calypso.”
Dae Kwon stood opposite and smiled fondly.
“We’ll try that again before I let them cube me. It was much more convincing than two weeks ago in the cave.”
Mabry exhaled in a gust and laughed nervously.
“Tell me what happened with Elgin?” Kwon asked as he turned back to his reflector, rubbing ghosts of glue residue and pigment modifier from his skin.
Mabry shrugged. “There’s nothing new to report. We shipped him back Dirtside, thousands of kilometers from ground travel stations and The Taz. Before Faraday packaged him up in a shuttle, Elgin’s memory was selectively wiped and all biomed enhancements that could help him call for aid or track home faster were removed. Faraday even scrambled his neural GPS set. If Elgin’s got people set to look for him, they won’t be able to pinpoint his location. We lost him good. He had a whole pouch of those dice on him, so Faraday rewired his association to them. When Elgin woke up on Earth, the first thing he will have done is activate the dice. The nanos will devour our shuttle in minutes, thus making it impossible for him to use the shuttle to get him off the ground and closer to home.”
Kwon nodded approval and smiled. “So no other traces of him or his sabotage on Aurora?”
Mabry shook her head. “Two teams went over the entire ship top to bottom and line by line in the code. Faraday has been testing and retesting his systems obsessively. All’s clear.”
“He get’s his obsessiveness from you,” Kwon teased. “You created the perfect operating system for this ship and then taught him how to be human. How does his humanity show? Terrible jokes and a work-a-holic’s perfectionism.”
“You know I can hear you, right?” Faraday broke in.
Kwon looked over his shoulder at the thumbprint camera in the corner.
“I’ll be asleep for years I don’t want you to forget me, Faraday.”
“That’s not possible, Sir. My neural stores are in excellent condition.”
Mabry rushed to Kwon and hugged him, her cheek pressed so hard against his shoulder the weave of his jumpsuit chaffed her.
“It will be five years minimum before we speak again, Haraboji. In my whole life I’ve never gone more than a week without hearing your voice.”
The man turned and wrapped Mabry in his arms. “You helped save me, Mabry. I was so distraught after my daughter died, my grandson was a teen-ager and didn’t need anyone – especially me. Then your father showed up Dirtside with his new wife and her womb full of life. As you were born they put Gemma in your father’s arms and you into mine. My grief drained from me into the past where it belonged. You girls were two pieces of the sublime and I swore you,” he held her cheeks for a moment, “would always be mine. What a fine daughter and granddaughter you have turned out to be. Better than all expectations. It is time for me to rest awhile and let you fly solo.”
Mabry’s face glistened wetly, as she sniffled back something incomprehensible.
Kwon’s face lit up a moment with a sudden memory. He flicked his fingertip device on and tapped Mabry’s Cuff.
“I’ve been working on my memoirs. I’ve transferred the files to you. Let them keep you company while I sleep.”
Mabry nodded and looked at her Cuff as though it could speak for her. She hugged him again and they exchanged words of love – elder to child and friend to friend. Though no blood was shared between them, Dae Kwon was her family as much as Gemma and Connor.
Mabry cried quietly to herself as she made her way back to the bridge. She was almost on her own now. In a few hours, it would be her and Faraday with 500 plus sleepers on ice as cargo for the new world.
At 2210 hours Port time, the Aurora pulled out of her bay unmolested. The ship travel 1.6km then adjusted yaw by -98.3 degrees and followed a slowly shifting course for 13km. There was no pursuit – all systems reported functioning at optimal levels. At 2338 hours the Aurora’s tack brought her in line with the commerce lanes, traveling away from the Port in the general direction of Mars. Faraday confirmed their heading was correct for a preset vector adjacent to the Mars Bridge wormhole. This point in space would be at a distance calculated to avoid a gravity incident with the existing wormhole and surrounding satellites.
Mabry looked back at Sol and the Earth. She wondered at how far they had come without the Corps. The Earth was no longer a place of beauty, only endless days of grey. Sol had freckled her face and fed her with green, leafy things all her life, but would a distant star not shine the same. Mabry took home with her, she had no need of the husk of planet they left behind. The brilliant young woman tuned the viewport to what lay ahead and returned to her game of Go with Faraday. He always beat her, but she kept playing. That’s what humans do.
The wormhole creation sequence locked into place powering the external drones that had been guided to this spot over the past year. As they came online and acknowledged instructions from Faraday, each created an arc of light. As the last confirmed its sequence, the arcs fused into two parallel circles, then joined to become a tunnel. Mabry’s stomach squeezed and clenched again. This was the point of no return. The energy required to pass a ship of the Aurora’s magnitude through a properly sized wormhole would burn out the drones. No one would be able to follow and the Aurora could not come back – not by this means at least. Slowly they navigated the colony ship across the event horizon of the facing wormhole. The inner journey was tumultuous. Mabry had expected a certain level of turbulence, but what she experienced brought to mind old vids of Orcas eating seals.
Inside the Aurora there were a few minor blasts as transformers blew and circuits sparked. The ambient lights shorted out and the faux daylight on the bridge dimmed to candle power. The hull of the Aurora groaned and Mabry finally lost the vomit she had been holding back all day. Synthetic gravity went offline about the same time, Mabry squeezed her eyes shut to avoid the sting of sick splashing back in perfectly formed spherules. Following one grinding twist of force on the ship, Mabry’s console was ripped from its bolts and she was hurtled fore. One solid bang to the head and she was unconscious.
“Faraday? What is our status?” Mabry croaked. Dried blood flaked off her face as she tried to turn in her harness. The console chair was lying face down on the bridge, with Mabry still strapped into it. She rocked a few times and managed to flip it on its side. Pain-filled bloody fingers fumbled with the fasteners of the harness. She finally got free and found more pain in her ankles.
“Faraday, please respond?” Mabry hobbled to the one undamaged console and tapped its surface. Faraday was rebooting.
For a moment she was at a loss, frozen in fear and indecision. Then she remembered the manual controls she’d put in place at Faraday’s conception. Mabry sat in the console chair and started tapping.
Before Faraday came back on line Mabry made two discoveries.
One – Elgin had successfully left behind some sabotage that had gone unnoticed. It had triggered a complete system failure in the Sleeper’s Cabin.
Two – Mabry had been unconscious for more than twelve hours. It didn’t matter how fast she ran to the Sleeper’s Cabin to start dragging drawers open and giving CPR. They were all dead before she came to. All five hundred members of the Quantum Migration community were dead.
When Faraday finally cleared the path to take over the framework again, they made another discovery. The wormhole had expelled them before reaching their destination outside Calypso’s galaxy. Instead, they were nowhere. Nowhere in space, with no propulsion, no chance to make another jump. Adrift and alone.
Thank you for reading this far. The whole set needs refinement, but I’m very happy to have finally gotten it all “on paper”. I’ve always intended for Mabry to be stranded in space with no one but Faraday (whose original name was STAN) for company. In the first incarnation of the novel, I was always vague on how she ended up in this situation. Focusing on the backstory has given me so much new information about Mabry and the events that set her Adrift. Thank you for reading.