Far And Further Away

Minutes pass, dozens of them, with Carmen simply watching and staring out the canopy at the endless never-changing view. There isn’t much else she can do during transit. It’s why often takes naps during these periods. Right now she doesn’t feel the need to.

Instead, she’ll sift through data before long. But right now she’s continuing to alternate between the view out the canopy and the console before her. Neither view is particularly interesting or holds any hope of revolutionary insight. As a pilot though, you learn to fill your time with what little you have access to. If anything happens, NIGEL can alert her, it’s why he’s here. Even if sometimes he passes comment on the orders she gives him and brings up him not being an AI. And to tell the truth, if this is how a nav system is personalised then Carmen isn’t sure she wants a full AI on her ship. Such a thing might be problematic. Especially, if it started judging, commenting on and questioning her every decision. And that would be nothing compared to the prospect that it might start bickering with NIGEL. Carmen rolls her eyes at the thought of the problems such a thing would cause her. Mainly the result would be migraines, daily, and she’d rather not face such a prospect unless entirely necessary, which it isn’t.

Suddenly NIGEL announces breaking the silence, “Anomaly detected.”

“Anomaly? What sort of anomaly?” Carmen responds with a raised eyebrow and a sceptical tone of voice.

She’s never heard of an anomaly during FTL. Spatial anomalies are common but they only tend to happen during sub-light travel and usually turn out to be nothing more than an over-dump of excess engine matter that failed to burn during space flight.

“Unknown.” NIGEL replies less than a breath later. A feat only a non-organic could manage. It took Carmen some getting used to and thankfully NIGEL rarely does it anymore, but on the occasions when he does it causes her to twitch, mildly and involuntarily.

Still, the redhead pilot with the ponytail wonders how the nav system cannot know what the anomaly is. There is nothing he doesn’t know. Well, that’s not quite true, but still, he should have an answer to this. After all, he is the one that detected it.

An AI would know, most likely, maybe, she thinks. The confidence in her statement quickly fades until she forces the redundant nature of the thought aside. None of that is of concern right now, a voice in her head screams. The voice knocks her out of her internal thinking. It’s right. She knows that it is. She accepts what it has blared into her head, which is why she knows she has to think and do so fast. Time is of the essence. She doesn’t know that for sure, but something tells her it is. She can’t answer if it is the same something that screamed at her or not, but it doesn’t matter. Then, all of a sudden she has a solution. It’s not a solution she likes but doubts anything she decides will be to her liking, so she issues the order anyway.

“Drop us out of FTL.”

“Attempted. The dropout protocol for the termination sequence is not responding.” NIGEL replies as succinctly as his protocols will allow at that very moment.

Many of the words are redundant, but they’re a part of his programming, meant to convey in clear terms what has been attempted and what has failed.

“Fuck!” Carmen blurts aloud as she tries to shift herself so that she is bolt upright. However, she can’t and finds that she is being hampered by the harness straps over her shoulders. She avoids cursing again and instead pulls on them, attempting to initiate a release that will allow her full bodily movement and access to the control suite before her.

Achieving the feat takes nearly a minute. And she’d be lying if she didn’t admit that she debated whether to dispose of the straps entirely and shrug out of the harness. Her conclusion was not to and for no other reason than encase the dropout sequence suddenly executed and in turn sent her hurling her forward toward the control console. It’s unlikely, but Carmen sees no reason to cause herself any undue harm just because of an inconvenience.

Those thoughts are long gone however as she now searches the console for the very button she hopes will be the answer to her prayers. It’s not one she has ever had reason to use before now and to make matters worse the longer it takes her to locate it the more danger she might be putting herself in. She can’t say for sure that she is as she doesn’t know what or why this is happening. It could simply be a sensor malfunction, or maybe NIGEL suffering some form of glitch. She doubts it’s the latter but realises that she can’t rule it out as a consideration, for the time being.

Finally, after a good while of searching, Carmen finds the button and slams her open palm down on it. The response she’s met with however is not what she expected as a second later a cascade of sparks erupts from the console. The eruption lasts a few seconds and fills the area with a plume of glittering light before they die along with the console, which goes dark.

All systems having gone into a complete shutdown apparently because of just this one short, a short that could perhaps be the result of a crossed wire. Carmen doesn’t know for sure and simply utters another curse under her breath as a result.

“Is there another way to drop us out of FTL?” Carmen asks more than a little panicked a couple seconds later.

She certainly doesn’t know of another option to answer her question, which is why she is hoping NIGEL does. If anything will it is her onboard navigational system.

NIGEL however does not answer immediately. A spike of worry climbs atop her already mounting mound of panic as Carmen wonders whether the failure of the console has caused a short in NIGEL also.

Then just at the moment Carmen is sure she is alone, the nav system advises, “All protocols are unresponsive to my permissions.”

A wave of relief washes over Carmen to hear that NIGEL is very much still with her, even if it is mixed with complete confusion at the new discovery that the entire ship is utterly unresponsive.

Her mind races for a time and then she does the only thing she can think to, grab the yoke.

“What do you intend?” NIGEL asks succinctly and with curiosity in its voice.

“I don’t know. Something.” Carmen admits as she tightens her grip on the twin handles ready to give an input, whether that be a change of direction forward, back, left or right.

“Is this advisable?” NIGEL queries with a tone that insinuates that what the redhead intends is a bad idea and should be reconsidered.

“Do you have an alternative?” Carmen roars as she grits her teeth and attempts to turn the yoke left.

 The resistance offered in response to her attempts are incredible. Carmen had never considered that during FTL it would be this strenuous for a manual direction change of even a ship of this size, yet it is. This can feel sweat beginning to bead on her forward as heat starts to radiate from her body, flushing her skin dark pink and then red, while she huffs and grits her teeth alternatively.

NIGEL doesn’t respond to her roared question. Carmen hadn’t expected that he would. Then suddenly the yoke jolts left, almost effortlessly and as though someone had reduced the friction to nought. As a result the yoke nearly slips out of Carmen’s now clammy hands. Somehow she manages to keep a hold of the yoke. However, the freighter itself does nothing in response to the sudden directional change made by the yoke.

Carmen sighs deeply and was convinced that there should have been some response, like a roll. But there was nothing at all that resulted from her struggle against the controls. That makes Carmen wonder why they resisted at all in the first place as she curses loudly and feels an urge to kick the yoke. She can’t, but it’s the urge she feels and wishes she could act upon, as they continue to hurtle along at FTL speeds.

“Probably for the best as turning at such velocity would most likely have resulted in ship disintegration.” NIGEL announces for no reason that Carmen can comprehend. And that is why she quickly fires back. “Either offer up something of use that’ll help, or zip it.”

The nav system decides on the latter as the dashes of starlight continue to race past the canopy of the freighter with Carmen at a loss regarding what to do. She is out of ideas and to make matters worse none of what is happening should even be possible. It’s like a nightmare, except she is sure that she is awake and not dreaming. The redhead doubts even in her worst dreams she’d conjure up an anomaly at FTL followed by unresponsive systems, an unhelpful nav entity, console failure and complete control lockout, yet that is what she is faced with.

Carmen wonders how long she’s got until her ship would conceivably drop out of FTL of its own accord. She hasn’t’ got an answer, she doesn’t know. It’s possible that it never will, unless she slams full force into an object in her way. Right now she hasn’t a clue when that might be. Safety protocols insist that FTL travel trajectories force all starships to plot a course that will never put them on collision with a planetary body or facility.

As Carmen continues to desperately attempt to think of options the ship suddenly and violently drops out of FTL.

Carmen is thrown forward as a result. Her harness digs painfully into her shoulders for a number of seconds before she is slammed back, hard, into her seat. Her head bounces off the padding. The redhead verbalises her discomfort with a quick, “Ow,” before tiny specks of yellow light fill her vision and force her to shake her head lightly from left to right in hopes of dispelling them quicker than would be natural.

It sort of works as they are shoved from the centre of her vision cones toward the edges, allowing Carmen enough of her sight back to see the console before her as she asks, “Where are we?”

“Above Sunfire Three.” NIGEL declares almost immediately.

Carmen feels a pain in the back of her head. Its right where the rear of her skull slammed into the headrest of her pilots’ seat and her hand is rubbing at it. Not that the gesture is doing much good.

It makes her feel better for at least physically attempting to check on the pain in the moments before she shrugs the harness straps off her shoulders and scoots forward to peer out of the canopy. If NIGEL is right then Sunfire Three will be off to her right.

As soon as she sets eyes on the sight she is met with however she knows that NIGEL is wrong. Sure, there is a planetary body, but it’s nothing like Sunfire Three. The surface of that planet should be grey because of the countless conjoined cities that cover much of its landmass choked surface. But this sight is very different. It’s green, exclusively, save for the catches of blue that are the seas of the planet and the white mass that is the northern pole.

Carmen can’t see the southern pole, but expects that it is there. All habitable planets have them and they only ever come in pairs. The redhead doesn’t know what happens if they don’t, or maybe it would be more appropriate to say she doesn’t know what won’t happen if there are not two.

Still, that is irrelevant as this planet cannot be Sunfire Three. There is nothing to say that there is a civilization anywhere on the surface, or that there has ever been one on the surface of this world.

“Check systems and recalculate. This can’t be Sunfire Three.” Carmen orders as she continues to stare out the canopy at the beauty of this blue and green marble. It’s the only habitable planet in the Sunfire system and third from the system dark yellow coloured star.

NIGEL takes a few seconds and then responds. “All systems are intact and operational. No nav system deficiencies detected.”

There’s a short pause. It lasts about as long as a breath would be for an organic sentient to take. Following that pause NIGEL adds, “Systems determine we are over Sunfire Three.”

Carmen shakes her head. She knows beyond doubt that NIGEL is wrong. Whether his systems detect it or not he is malfunctioning and that’s why she slips back into her pilots’ seat to run scans herself. Immediately she realises her mistake and pauses. However, the console is lit like normal. Carmen sits there baffled. The console was dead before. She saw it. It erupted in a plume of sparks that flowed with a waterfall out of its face panel before going dark and becoming unresponsive.

“Is there a problem?” NIGEL asks after a long period of silence during which Carmen has not moved a muscle or made a sound.

The control suite is still active and the redheaded woman shakes her confusion off before her hands go gliding over the buttons and switches to initiate a short range scan. She doesn’t answer NIGEL though; she doesn’t feel the need to. This is more important than his question. She knows he is wrong and she’ll prove it.

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