Fiction – Excerpt from Potential Novel
Chapter 1 – The Briefing
“Mount them all with torpedoes, then load up for drop. I don’t want to be caught napping if Charybdis decides to send a surprise to greet us.”
A stocky man of forty-two, Ulysses slammed the torpedo bay door shut, the auto-seals catching as he wheeled away another empty cart. His Minnow was nearly prepped for drop; Takashi and Rashida were still fueling their Environmental Thrusters and running structural shielding diagnostics for discontinuities. MacLeod was at the helm, most likely programming the ship’s class 2 AI to meet them in low orbit after their expedition was a success.
And, Ulysses reminded himself, it would be.
He climbed into the spacious seat of his Minnow, checking power and fuel levels, stirring the oxygen tanks, and running the computer system through basic diagnostics. The more difficult system tasks had already been run, and his Minnow was well taken care of. He lovingly caressed the joystick as the computer probed the functionality of file locations, application executables, and data archives, their test results flying across the screen in a stream of lightning: “cargo_door_one,” “shielding_rear,” “life_support_display.” Suddenly, the output paused. A textbox with a red X appeared.
“Warning: Program malfunction detected.
Info: system test failed. Check system externally and rerun diagnostic.”
Ulysses squinted at the display. Strange, he thought, given how little we use the torpedo system. Ulysses made a quick check of the diagnostic results file, noting that the rest of the systems passed, then climbed out of the pilot seat and down the metal steps to the starboard side of the craft. Its sleek orange hull bore the Altek Corporate logo just above the small multi-purpose bay doors, outfitted for this mission with a submarine torpedo system he and his salvage team had recently purchased. The door was sealed with the magnetic auto-seals that could only be unlocked from within the ship or with an Altek mag-wrench, which they sold separately at an exorbitant price. Fortunately, MacLeod was better with his hands than his wallet. Ulysses smiled as he bent beneath the craft’s low-seated hull to inspect its belly. MacLeod implemented some other modifications that would make an Altek lawyer squirm. But since the power cell was housed in the rear of the Minnow’sstructure, MacLeod had to wire his designs through its underbelly. These Ulysses examined surrounding the torpedo bay, and, when he was confident they offered no hindrances to the system, he climbed back into the cockpit, unsealed the bay door, and climbed back out to check the torpedo. It was perfectly operational. He ran the diagnostic once again, and the test finished successfully.
Altek was going to get an earful when he returned to civilian space.
“Torpedoes loaded, Ulysses. I am prepped for the launch.” Takashi’s coarse black hair appeared over the rim of the open cockpit. Ulysses stepped out and jumped down the short metal stairs to meet his intense glare.
“Have you thought about an appropriate plan of descent?”
“All four drop into ocean. Two stay near surface, two descend 500 meters into fissure. Wait one hour to collect the data, see if there is danger. Then ascend. Minimize risk between salvage team.”
Ulysses’ eyes dropped to the metal grated floor to consider their strategist’s proposition. One thing was for certain: Takashi’s plans were ruthlessly efficient. Two vessels making the first descent would definitely minimize the risk of failure of the expedition, but Ulysses did not yet know how long they would have before MacLeod’s calculated orbit would come full circle. He sent MacLeod a message on his Wrist-Comm and gave a grateful nod to Takashi. Takashi bowed stiffly and went in the direction of his craft. Across the vaulted launch bay of the Intra-Orbital Vehicle, Rashida was testing her Minnow’s salvage arm. The hydraulic durasteel arm actuated, twisting up, bending at the mid-joint, and curled downward swiftly. She expertly grabbed an empty barrel just as the claw closed around it, brought it up in the air, and crushed it in a crescendo of squealing steel.
“Satisfying.” She said deeply from behind the joystick.
“Rashida, Takashi, briefing room, fifteen minutes.”
“Righto, boss.” Said Rashida, retracting the salvage arm MacLeod had installed and jumping out of the cockpit. As Ulysses stepped toward the exit, his foot kicked something that skittered across the metal floor. He bent down and picked it up. It was a torn Altek lanyard. Altek employees would wear them to proudly label themselves as part of the corporation. The employee cards that hung from it, however, were missing. Ulysses stuck it in his back pocket and followed his team to the briefing room.
The story sets our salvage team in orbit over an ocean planet. Contracted by Altek Corporation, a bloated intestellar bureaucracy, their mission is to recover the wreckage of valuable Altek property from the uncharted planet. But while Altek has hidden motives behind the recovery operation, Ulysses and his crew have secrets to hide as well.
The fate of this story has yet to be decided. While I do enjoy a bit of good science fiction, and even more so when writing it, I’m not always sure how to motivate the plot if the point isn’t to rehash more than a century of old material. The main focus of the planet is a fissure running like a tremendous scar across the underwater topography, cutting miles into the planet’s crust. While this deep Charybdis of darkness may provide numerous opportunities for mysterious discoveries and terrifying encounters, it remains to be seen if our crew can maneuver well enough to evade the aforementioned cut-and-dry duplication of the works of sci-fi writers anonymous. If in the upcoming years the support for this kind of story from you, the readership, rises, or if I consider my time too precious to be idled away in old age, I may rescue the concept from the executioner’s hand and create a tale worthy of your time as well.