Monday, May 31, 2010

The Chance to Dream

Second and final Update: Officially on vacation as of Friday, 12:50am EST, will check back a few days from now. Peace.
The system diagnostic displays all showed green as Commander Eric Connor keyed in the final numbers into the navigation computer for the flight taking outgoing base personnel off the moon. Waiting for the linked computers aboard the Argo heavy lifter shuttle to agree to his coordinates he glanced outside the window in front of him seeing the huge multicolored face of Jupiter looming over him like an unimpressed god looking down on human endeavors as we might look down upon ants.
"Argo Flight 017, this is base control AI, you have clearance for lift off." The Callisto Base artificial intelligence announced over the radio net.
"Confirmed base," Eric said, "I'm waiting for final judgment from onboard computers over course and fuel consumption, will give two-minute warning once numbers are crunched." Looking over at the beautiful raven-haired Indian sitting in the copilot seat Eric was satisfied that she would be more than competent as his replacement when he rotated back to Earth in three months. "Adrika, even with the base AI clearance you might want to scan the surrounding area to make sure no vehicles or people were missed. A couple of years ago the AI's scans missed a crew still out when another Argo lifted off and it fried everyone."
"Rodger that commander," Lieutenant Commander Adrika Sarin said and with a few key strokes the view screen mounted between the two flashed on showing a section of the area just outside.
The Argo shuttle, a hemispherical craft resting on six landing legs extending from pods mounted at the base of the craft, had the pilot and copilot in a small cockpit looking straight up from the top of the ship. Cameras mounted on the landing pods allowed Eric and Adrika to view their landing pad and surrounding areas. The four adjoining landing pads were empty and the nearest item that they could see was a robotic scout on the icy surface heading away from the base. Eric gave one last look at complex series of interconnected buildings and concrete domes that had been his home for the last seven years. Up until three years ago Callisto Base was the farthest outpost of human civilization, even now only the bases on Titan and Rhea were farther out, and he was having a far harder time than he thought possible with the idea of leaving behind the friends and lovers he had made here.
In every way that counted Callisto Base was becoming more and more a frontier town than a scientific outpost. When the Jupiter Seven Expedition fleet arrived ten years from now, around 2075, Callisto would be ready to permanently support over twenty-thousand souls. The studies of the biosphere and its incredibly complex life forms living under the Europan ice sheet were the main reason for the human presence around Jupiter. The massive radiation surrounding that moon prevented all but the briefest human visits to Europa leaving the exploration to autonomous and remotely controlled robots with humans exiled to Callisto.
"You look like you're going to miss the place Commander." Adrika said smiling at him.
Quickly changing gears in his head Eric smiled back at the woman who despite her bulky space suit he knew had an awesome body. "Yeah, a little, but I'm actually eager to feel Earth gravity and to eat some New Orleans seafood again. I don't care what they may have told you on the flight out here the hydroponic gardens and fish tanks have yet to produce an edible tomato or catfish."
"Well I have to bunk on the Galileo until the next load of supplies is ready to be shipped down. Maybe I could stay with you and we could discuss the matter in more detail." Adrika said smiling leaving the actual meaning of her words very apparent.
"Oh, I think further training is vital to the mission and the United Nations Exploration Service." Eric said hoping he was not drooling. Moments later the Argo shuttle lifted off the surface heading toward the collection of ships trailing the Jovian moon.
Eric and Adrika's destination was the three-mile long UNS Galileo being readied for the voyage back to Earth. At one time it had been the most advanced ship ever constructed when the Jupiter Three Expedition left Earth orbit but was now outdated and due to become a colonial transport ship between Earth and Mars after a lengthy refit.
Upon final approach, another Artificial Intelligence on the Galileo took control of the craft and guided it until it docked with the supply section mounted between the rotating torus where the crew lived and the drive section that housed the fusion engines. Their primary duties after all the passengers had disembarked had them making sure all the shuttle's systems were properly powered down and connected to the Galileo's diagnostic systems.
Eric allowed Adrika to shut them down alone so she could get the hang of it. Once he left, Adrika would be doing the flights by herself just as he had for seven years. Only on rare occasions would she have an actual human copilot given the demands out in space that was constantly stretching everyone to work alone or do multiple jobs. As she brought the ship down and linked it with the Galileo's egotistical engineering AI Eric read the news that just beamed in from Earth.
He was happy to read that a final agreement were reached on environmental repairs to endanger ecosystems with China, Russia, the European Union and the United States coordinating aid to countries that were most in trouble. Construction of helium-3 fusion reactors was increasing as mining operations on the moon were finally keeping pace allowing the ancient coal fueled generators and fission nukes to be phased out across the globe in less than ten years, far ahead of schedule. Because of that and massive tree planting, the news agency was reporting carbon dioxide levels would begin to fall by the second decade in the 22nd century.
With the shuttle powered down Eric and Adrika went their separate ways agreeing to meet again later that evening in one of the ship's galleys. The central axis of the Galileo was the main traffic corridor allowing weightless transits between all the different sections of the ship, it was always busy and Eric disturbed several people after having to stop suddenly when a priority alert began sounding on his personal communicator.
"Commander Connor," the avatar face of the ship's AI announced, "you have an urgent message from your granddaughter, please leave the central axis at the next top exit and enter conference room 2-A to receive the broadcast."
Puzzled at the obvious misdirected message, Eric had no children much less a granddaughter, he keyed in a response to the system. "AI," he said, "this is a mistake, I have no children so this message is meant for someone else. Please check and redirect to the proper recipient."
"No Commander," it replied sounding slightly annoyed, "proceed to the conference room, view the message, and if you feel it's still wrong I will redirect."
The conference room was muted gray with a large table and the required chairs but on opposing corners were small computer terminals. Eric floated over and sat himself in one of the chairs using the straps to tie himself down. Beside the old fashion keyboard was a palm reader pad used for security purposes. Eric placed his hand on the pad and spoke his name, rank, and security access code. The screen flickered showing the smiling female face of the Galileo's avatar. That's when everything went black and silent.

Eric awoke feeling normal Earth gravity and lying on an uncomfortable pad, tubes were running all through him and into a small compartment that reminded him both of a deep-space hibernation pod and on a more basic level a morgue locker. Looking around he realized his compartment was one of many stacked five high that made up a wall running in both directions as far as he could see.
"Mr. Connor," a bothersome voice said somewhere, "do you know where you are?"
Eric became nervous and almost scared because he really had no idea where he was, they last thing he remembered was that he was on the United Nations Ship Galileo in orbit around Jupiter then found himself back on Earth.
"Was there an accident?" He whispered to no one in particular feeling something very wrong with his body.
A stern looking nurse wearing an old-fashioned jump suit stepped into view using a stylus to input something on a data pad. "No sir," she said, "you're just fine. It's your birthday and your granddaughter wants to see you." The nurse then jumped back out of view preventing Eric from telling her there was some huge mistake.
After that, nameless and silent orderlies moved him out of the compartment and onto a stretcher. Eric watched the compartment close with a thud creating a featureless granite-looking wall with only nameplates and small monitors giving any sign it was anything but actual rock. The various hallways and corridors he traveled became a blur leaving him almost in a panic. Something was very wrong with reality but he could not figure it out, the people looked completely different with most in despair or devoid of any real expression. Unable to handle the sensory input his mind shut down.
When Eric awoke this time, he was laying in a bed in what looked like a pleasant hospital room. The walls were a golden brown with flowers in vases decorating tables and pictures of outdoor scenes hanging on the walls. Sensing he was awake, the room lights increased and it was then Eric saw the mirror hanging on the wall in front of him. Reality began to make sense again after seeing the reflection looking back at him with gray hair and ancient wrinkles lining the face. He realized he was not some explorer on the edge of deep space, but an old man living in a high-tech rest home. The memories of his real life began flashing through his mind. His childhood growing up in Louisiana, joining the navy and becoming a naval aviator, flying off the deck of an aircraft carrier loaded for combat, meeting his future wife while in Paris and the birth of his son raced through his mind.
The entrance of his granddaughter, her children, and her husband into the room moments later brought a new wave of memories. These were unpleasant recollections of him as a teenager seeing dead Louisiana marshes choked with oil, of a Gulf turned brown and permanently dead. A few years after that his beloved New Orleans flooded and abandoned, the only inhabitants being teams of scavengers trying to make a living recovering items from the dead city.
Despite his love for her in the face of his granddaughter, he saw the death of his wife during one of the pandemics that ravaged the globe leaving him to raise their son alone. Countless wars flashed through his memories watching desperate and frighten people fight over religion and ever-dwindling resources. Eric remembered the foolish pride of watching his son follow in his naval aviator footsteps only to see him die with his crew mates after a Chinese cruise missile slammed into his carrier, breaking it in half and sinking into the waters of the Taiwan Straits. He remembered it all now, all the death and suicidal destruction of a world driven mad by fear, ignorance, and the lust for power.
The one bright spot through it all was his granddaughter, named Sandra after his mother. During her first few years in school it was learned she suffered from a learning disability brought on by exposure to toys tainted with lead and other toxic chemicals. Sandra's mother had a hard time recovering from the death of her husband so Eric spent every possible minute he could with his granddaughter while she was growing up. The two were inseparable until Sandra's marriage to the shrill, intolerant, sliver of man whose best part he still thought had ran down the side of his mama's leg the day he was conceived. Even now, Eric eyed the pin attached to his lapel of the American eagle whose talons held the Christian cross on one side and the lightning bolt in the other. The symbol of a dangerous political movement that tolerated no dissent from anyone.
All during that day, he talked with his granddaughter and his great grandchildren adjusting quickly to the fact that the life he loved was an illusion directly inputted into his brain. Occasionally he would touch the input jack implanted in the back of his skull out of a sense of morbid curiosity.
He had nothing to do with Sandra's husband who for years before coming to the rest home attempted to use him to advance his political ambitions. Eric was still a war hero no matter how much his political beliefs were persecuted these days and his granddaughter's husband, someone far too cowardly ever to serve himself, wished to use him as a trophy to advance his position.

"Grandpa," Sandra began stroking the side of his face gently as the day ended, "each birthday I ask you this but you always say no. I beg you, please reconsider and come home with us. You're still healthy and my children would love to have you around. We have plenty of room at the house and are more than willing to take care of you."
Eric glanced at the room television Sandra's children were watching. The images of violence and death appeared to only have gotten worse since the last time he was pulled out of the fantasy realm. It was clear that this reality held nothing for him, even his love for his granddaughter paled at the disgust he felt for this world. "No sweetie," he said grabbing her hand, "put me back in the system, in there I am happy and useful and can dream about the world I wish existed. This world has no place for me or my kind."
The last time he saw his granddaughter she was kissing his cheek as the nurse began preparation to return him to the nursing home fantasy realm. The lights went out again as they wheeled back to his compartment.

The lights flickered back on and Eric was in the conference room, still strapped into the chair aboard the Galileo feeling slightly dizzy for no real reason he could figure out. The avatar face of the ship's AI was smiling at him again on the terminal view screen. "I am sorry Commander Connor," it said, "you were correct, the message was coded wrong and is now being redirected."
Eric unstrapped himself pushed toward the door wanting to meet Adrika in the galley before they went back to his small cabin. "I have logged you out of the system Commander Connor, this type of message will never bother you again." The AI said as he floated out the door.
Eric quickly looked back and fought to remember the name of the AI. "Thanks Sandra, you're the best." He said then pushed off thinking of Adrika and dreaming of what they would do tonight.

Author's note: Got hit with this idea suddenly and it has been crazy at the house today with both Dragonwife and Miss Wiggles home because of the Memorial Day holiday. So forgive me for my usual excessive typos, I will correct them as time allows.


Oso said...

Very good man. Thought I was ahead of you on the story and was wrong. A good read Beach!

Beach Bum said...

Oso: The Gulf oil spill at least partly inspired the story. The dark nature of the story reflects my current mood.

Teresa said...

Luv it ! I was pulled right in. This could be a adventure series.

Beach Bum said...

Teresa: Like I said with Oso, I'm pretty pessimistic over the state of human affairs right now. The collective consciousness seems intent to stay on the interstate highway to Hell.

After playing with this story for a good while you might have actually read the version where the typos are under some sort of control.

TomCat said...

Fascinating and powerful Beach. I was about to suggest that you rewrite 'Yeah, a little, but I'm actually eager to feel Earth gravity and to eat some New Orleans seafood again' until I read on.

Teresa said...

We are all bummed out about the spill...gush...environmental catastrophe that is going on but you created a great story! Creativity sometimes is at it's best during "dark moods".

Beach Bum said...

Tomcat: The one silver lining I have heard in all this came from a republican this morning. None other than Joe Scarborough suggested on his show that this might force us to seriously move toward alternate and clean energy sources.

Teresa: I will really freak if and when the oil gets drawn into the Gulf Stream and starts washing up on South Carolina beaches. But thank you anyway, after catching a lot of typos I am finally happy with how it turned out, although I may rewrite a few parts.

TomCat said...

Poor Scarborough!! He'll be Teabuggered for that one for sure!

Beach Bum said...

Tomcat: Tell me about it, now don't get me wrong I often think Joe is a flaming twit but given the other morning shows that range from the just banal (Imus) to Pravda-like in their propaganda (Fox and Friends) he ain't that bad. Plus I like lusting after Mika, who is about as hot as they come despite being a little prudish.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Excellent choice on the ethnicity of the co-pilot. Indian woman, in my opinion, can only be rivaled in hotness by Hispanic chicks. Hm, let's see, what was the name of that hot Indian actress that Richard Gere......?

Beach Bum said...

Will: Wanted to create a hopeful international sense so that is the reason I used a female Indian copilot. Although you are right, Indian ladies have a beauty that is very hard for me to tear my eyes away from.

Liberality said...

Wow, you write far better than I ever could or ever will write. I always wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. Since I'm never gonna be a writer, I am in a profession that pushes reading what others have written instead. Let me just say that you are really good!

rainboy said...

me likes this was so captivating...
me wants more bro...

How've you been.
I've missed you.

Take care bro

MadMike said...

I LOVE this kind of stuff. Read it twice. Great job Beach.

David Barber said...

Beach - I thought this was great. Certain goings on around the world trigger stories such as this and you caught it perfectly. I'm still catching up with things and will be in touch about a couple of your earlier stories. Enjoy your few days away. :-)

Beach Bum said...

Liberality: Thank you, took me long enough to fix the thing.

Rainboy: Doing good, on vacation and will taking it very easy over the next 10 days.

Madmike: The trouble with my writing is that quiet time is rare. Someone is always screaming about something, this idea hit me and I ran as fast with it as possible. Damn typos about drove me crazy though. Liked the idea of Callisto as a base, got the idea from several different sci-fi books. Read the Callisto entry on Wikipedia that NASA in 2003 listed it for possible manned exploration by 2040. Given that we can't get a dependable orbital vehicle up and running my mood darken even more. Maybe the Chinese will allow us to tag along somehow when they go.

David: Take you time my friend, I'm on vacation now and will be doing as much nothing as possible.

PENolan said...

By the time I got back over here, you had corrected the typos. You could certainly expand this story if you felt like it.

I learned to make shrimp ettouffe from the Brennan's cookbook back in 1979. Never thought it would be a gone forever. But it is.

TomCat said...

Enjoy your vacation. Are you going to the Beach, Bum? ;-)

Rhiannon said...

There was a lot to this story, so I had to come back and read it over and over a few I could get the "gest" of the storyline. Right on with our headlines and what's happening now and how we might envision our future? Good points, good plot and so very very dark and "pod" people like you said and rather "Robotic"...our country seems to be failing in every aspect these days and yet I hope in the future we do "see the light" my friend.

"Dawn control to major Tong"...think I may have got some of the words wrong from that David Bowie song but your story sure made me think of that song for sure.

When our your short stories like this one coming out or going to be published. However I do feel that starving artist and writing creativity is just that...unless of course you have the money for a famous manager who can get your stories or art out! Or to make a connection for fame..ah who cares about's the creativity that counts..right?

Love and Blessings to you and your family for the weekend,


Rhiannon said...

"Ground control to major tong" I finally remembered it correctly David Bowie's song...he he..

Beekeepers Apprentice said...

You're on vacay? Wish I was on vacay...hope it's a good one :)

Beach Bum said...

PENolan: Expanding the story is a possibility, but I did my best to keep it as tight as possible and still make the point. The typos were a serious pain.

Tomcat: At Disney now but will be at Vero Beach on Friday.

Rhia: Yeah, I'm pretty pessimistic right now, the Teabaggers are right on course to do a National Socialist impersonation, the Gulf is more than likely dead for several decades, and the world seems to be edging closer to another multi-polar Cold War.

Bee: Enjoying it as much as my son will let me.