The Spark - Part 1

Here's the revision of the opening section of the Spark. Still tuning a bit.. I took time to try and normalize the perspective and cut out a lot of the background info that wasn't key to building the scene through dialog and action. I'd appreciate comment.

-----------------------------------------------
The Spark - Chapter 1

 Lt. Commander Jessie Marshal, recently appointed ships navigator of the UCS William Argyle, enjoyed her typical pastime of counting the blinking lights on the countless instrument panels of the bridge.

Three days to real-space. They’d been traveling uneventfully for two months now. Two months of nothing to do. Two months of boredom and malaise. Empty hours mostly spent reading technical reports and familiarizing herself with their destination. Often, she found herself lamenting the lack of creature comforts aboard the ship compared to her usual place driving a desk at the Confederate Exploration Institute.

Another light blinked on and off in the sea of displays. Jessie almost missed it, but she’d taken to counting the useless signals to pass the time. She added another tick on her tablet's scratch pad under “Blinking Displays”.

Monitor shift was never exciting. The ship piloted itself through portal space, there was little need for a human to oversee the flight and there was absolutely no need for a navigator to alter course or speed. It was all preset upon entering the transit corridor.

Jessie wasn’t an engineer. She didn’t understand how the engines worked and frankly didn’t care. She didn’t believe most people understood how the drive worked either, they just had faith that once they set out they got to the destination in one piece. Hell, if they didn’t make the trip safely then they never realized it, they were dead.

Another light went out suddenly and Jessie heard the annoying screech of the inner ship communication system alert.


“Lt. Commander Marshall.” The voice was masculine with the slightest hint of what Jessie would call a New Jersey accent. Of course New Jersey accents weren’t common even in New Jersey these days. Earth was just one world in a large conglomeration of human occupied worlds, the education system extinguished most regional dialects, but his tone reminded her of the funny way she'd heard actors use in old gangster films.

“Yeah Lou, what can I do ya fer?” She tried to affect a slight drawl in her response and could hear Lou chuckling as he replied.

“Watch is almost up. Mind some company? I’m done with the security reports and needed some conversation to keep me grounded.”

“Sure, if you don’t mind coming up to the bridge. Anything is better than counting the blinking lights.” She ticked another mark next to her list as an indicator marked “Dec Int Res” flickered and went out on the console.

Lou laughed again. “Be right up. Want anything from the Galley on the way?”
Jessie considered for a second and smiled though no one was there to see.

“I could use a fresh cup of coffee. Hot Chocolate chaser to spike it up and some whip cream topped with nutmeg and a cherry.”

“Yeah, I’ll see about that.” Lou clicked off.

Jessie knew she was getting reprocessed black coffee and nothing else, but it didn’t hurt to ask. There were some advantages to being a desk warrior – fresh food, a warm comfortable shower, and wide open spaces with sunlight or rain or snow – any weather at all felt like a lost treasure after being on this ship for so long.

“Oh well, at least this will be my first and hopefully last round trip space flight. I’m beginning to appreciate the simple pleasures of a desk job.”

A few minutes later, the main bridge hatch to Jessie’s left opened and in stepped Major Lou Kowalski. Lou had a certain ethnic appeal to him, swarthy skin tones, coarse brown hair with just the hint of gray that would surely curl were he the sort to let it grow out. Lou always looked a bit cramped on the William Argyle, a ship designed for people just below average height. His six foot height wouldn't stand out most places, but in the cramped exploration vehicle he looked like a half-size too large doll playing in a small playset.

“I brought the grog Jess.” His hands cradled sealed mugs and he smiled as he handed one over to the only living occupant of the room. She took a cautionary sniff and sip, before fully tipping back the caffeinated sludge.

“Thanks.” Lou seemed to noticed the tablet scratchpad sitting on the computer console. Flashed her a sardonic smile and seemed to let it go unmentioned.

“We’re still a couple of days out and the preparations for landfall are coming up.” He reminded her. Jessie’s eyes grew sharp and her mood picked up as she looked over at Lou. Landfall was something Lou had done several times, and he knew this was her virgin trip. She suspected he was making it his job to get her through the experience.

“Excellent! You have to let me know what I can do to help.” Jessie’s tone betrayed her excitement. He nodded quietly and smiled.

“Relax Jess. This is no big thing, you’re part of a veteran discovery team and we’ve done this so many times its practically intuitive to do it again. We can handle the prep. You need to focus on keeping out-of-the-way and not letting the excitement get to you to…”

Alarms broke the peaceful conversation before he could finish the sentiment. Loud klaxons sounded and Lou fell to the deck as the William Argyle shuddered and jolted like it had from a high crest into the trough of a tall wave.

Jessie's stomach lurched at the sudden inertia, safely strapped into the command chair. She reacted seconds too slowly, inexperience prevented her from jumping to action, while Lou was immediately up and assessing the ship's condition. The blinking lights went solid and the sirens ceased a second later without either crew member’s prompting. Lou cursed and exited the bridge as quickly as possible.

“Lt. Commander Marshall!” The com came alive and an exasperated male voice barked at her. Jessie took a second, gathered her wits and cued the mic.

“Captain. I’m not sure what just happened, but we seem okay.” The indicators before her didn’t show any impending emergencies, the ship seemed exactly normal to her.

“Well, continue to look over the displays. Give me a full brief when I get there.” He replied, and Jessie suddenly regretted wishing for a “more active” shift on the bridge.

A second after the captain's response, the ship's engineering communication channel blinked. Jessie flipped it on.

“Bridge. Um. Er. This is Engineer’s Mate VanJones. The Portal drives just snapped offline. We’re in real space. Um. Did you do this?” VanJones’s voice was weak, soft and relatively unsure. Jessie knew how he felt.

“Hey VanJones, this is Lt. Commander Marshall. Nope. We didn’t do anything up here. What do you mean we’re not in portal drive?” Jessie felt worse about this whole shift every second.

“Well, we’re back under normal drive. The portals just switched off and I’m er.. I’m seeing a gravitational reading. I think we’re close to something.”

“Not possible VanJones. We’re clear of everything. Three days out from our destination.” Jessie checked her charts, then double checked them again. Nothing was supposed to be here.

“Portal Drive only flips off like this when we get close to a real-space mass Lt. Commander. Unless they failed, that is the only reason…” Jessie could hear someone else on the communicator now, yelling at the him. VanJones seemed to forget her and began arguing back.

“Engineering! Hey, VanJones!” She yelled, trying to regain control of the conversation. A second later a different voice spoke up.

“Bridge, this is Velasquez. We’ll get back to you.” The channel chirped static as it closed abruptly.

The few minutes of chaos settled and the ship readouts resumed their normal pattern once again. Blinking lights and silence, it felt no different from every other shift she'd worked. Jessie knew there were people hustling about inside the metal skin of the ship trying to find out what had happened and she was not included in the scampering. The silence on the bridge was even a bit unnerving and when the hatch opened a seeming eternity later it caught her completely by surprise. Startled, she jumped in her command chair.

“Marshall?” The captain had not apparently cooled off on his trip to the command center. His voice was taut and gruff. She knew he resented being saddled with an inexperienced Navigator on this important trip. He was professional because she was technically competent and certified on the ships systems, but she was green and he knew it.

“Cap.. Captain!” She took a deep breath and reseated herself. “Um. Am I relieved sir?” Her question was simple and followed protocol only slightly – as was her way.

“Relieved?” His eyebrow cocked and he sighed, exasperated. “No Lt. Commander, I don’t plan on relieving you. The bridge is still yours. I want a status report though.”

“Well sir, Engineering says we’ve dropped back into real-space. The portal drives kicked off on fail-safe. They don’t know why yet.”
“Engineer’s Mate VanJones was a bit surprised, he assumed we killed the drives on purpose. Chief Engineer Velasquez is in the drive bay with him now. I’m awaiting an update.”

Despite the cramped space of the bridge, Jessie could see the old man prowling and pacing. He seemed to mull over the situation and the conversation lapsed just long enough that she assumed it had ended. The engineering communication light blinked again. Jessie almost jumped for the switch, hoping the news would send the Captain back down to his stateroom without any further attention being focused on her.

“Bridge here, report.” She said in an officious tone for the Captain’s benefit.

“Lt. Commander, this is V. I have an update on the drive failure.” Chief Engineer Velasquez announced. Jessie though back to their first conversations. V's demeanor, as the oldest “sea dog” on the ship had been protective but encouraging. They’d spent a few days before launch discussing the inner workings of the portal drive system – discussions that Jessie registered, but didn’t file for reference later. Most of it hadn’t caught her as interesting, so she smiled and nodded when the conversation indicated she should.

“Go ahead.” she urged.

“Well it was definitely the drive fail-safe kicking in that put us back in the black. The drives shutdown and not answering start up requests, so something is still out there that the ship thinks is a threat to us in portal drive. I checked the drive logs and it looks like we’re not where we expected either.”

“What do you mean we’re not where we should be Velasquez?” asked the Captain.

“Well sir, I’m no navigator, but it looks like we’re on approach to PTK-341. We’re about two hours from atmosphere and we’re accelerating.”

The Captain looked at Jessie. His face was blank and composed, but she felt his frustration as a little panic welled up within her.

“Well, Marshall?” Jessie pulled up the charts, triple checked her navigation plan along with the sensor readings. They reconfirmed the ship was nowhere near the planet.

“Sir? We’re three days out according to these readings. I’m not sure what the Chief is seeing or where he’s getting those numbers.” She waved the Captain to look over her readouts. Everything they displayed confirmed her proclamation. “If there is one thing I don’t doubt Captain, it’s my Navigation skills.”

“Velasquez, do we have maneuvering power?”

“Negative sir. Whatever shut us out hit the systems pretty hard. We’re flying with no aux maneuvering power. I’m having VanJones work on getting something rigged. Damned kid says he can bypass the shutdown systems and honestly I didn’t believe him until I saw him start working on it.”

“How long then?”

“No idea sir. The kids moving fast though, reflexes like you wouldn’t believe.”

The ship lurched and jolted. Through the decks everyone could feel a subtle vibration and shaking. Jessie looked back down at her readouts and immediately they changed. They were approaching the planet, the chief had been right.

Reactive, she slapped the warning klaxons and called for all hands to assume stations. The William Argyle was going in and she was going in fast.

The captain turned to grab a seat and the Jessie saw the maneuvering systems fire to life at full burn. This was impossible. There was no way they were moving that fast and still in one piece.

VanJones managed to get firing the maneuvering ports to slow the ship down, but in her head she could do the math as naturally as breathing. This was not going to end well, no matter what the he mate tried.

“All hands! We are breaking atmosphere. Find something to hold on to. Brace yourselves!” The captain yelled over the general com channel.

“Yeah and pray your asses off!” Lou chimed in from wherever he was.

Jessie lost focus and a brilliant white light engulfed her. Seconds later, the William Argyle breached atmosphere of PTK-341. They'd arrived at Omega and nothing was going according to plan.

Comments