06 August 2010

"Out of the Frying Pan"

By Curtis C. Chen


In the year 2345, the captain, first officer, and chief engineer of the United Earth troop transport WUKONG attempted to scuttle their ship after it was crippled during a battle in an alien star system. But an ancient artifact hidden in a nearby asteroid interfered with their self-destruct mechanism, and instead hurled the WUKONG four million years into the past.

Stranded without a functioning stardrive, the crew of the WUKONG made a desperate decision: they recalibrated their star-charts and plotted a course back to Earth at sub-light speed. Then, using the last of their power reserves, the crew put the entire ship into suspended animation, hoping to reach Earth in their own time period and to be rescued by their contemporaries.

Now, four million years later, the stasis bubble around the WUKONG has begun to decay...

Commander Emily Gunderson blinked. Did it work? She turned to look back at the captain and Lieutenant Firmin, WUKONG's chief engineer. They both appeared to be just as confused, bobbing in front of the helm and damage control stations, respectively. Still in zero-gee. At least that means we haven't crashed into anything yet...

The navigation console in front of her made a noise. She and Firmin had reconfigured this station to automatically triangulate WUKONG's current position using known reference stars, and to calculate the current date based on stellar drift. Emily smiled as she recognized the location coordinates. Her smile faded as she deciphered the date reading.

"Captain," she said.

"Commander?" Captain Loa pulled himself over the top of the helm console and glided down to the navigator's station. "Report."

"Well, there's good news and bad news," Emily said.

Loa nodded. He turned back to the damage control station, on the opposite side of the bridge. "Lieutenant?"

"Just a second," Firmin said, her fingers flying over the control panel on the back wall. "I think we're about to lose—"

The entire bridge went dark, leaving the three officers in complete darkness except for the phosphorescent red lines around the edges of their jumpsuits.

"—power," Firmin finished. "Dammit!"

"Well, the good news is, we made it back home," Emily said. "We're inside Neptune's orbit, headed for the inner planets."

"And the bad news?" Loa asked.

"We got here too early. The computer figured the date to be somewhere around 1863."

After a pause, Firmin said, "What?"

"1863," Emily repeated. "Middle of the nineteenth century. Pre-spaceflight. Lack of radio traffic confirms it."

"Goddammit," Firmin said. "What the hell are we supposed to do now? Even if we can find the power to rig another stasis field, what the hell do we do? Hide out on the Moon? Wait for Buzz Armstrong to dig us up?"

"We have a more immediate problem," said Loa, "don't we, Commander?"

"Yes, sir," Emily said. "We're still moving at nearly a quarter of lightspeed. Even if we can get power back, we don't have any fuel left. We can't generate enough thrust to stop WUKONG from falling into the Sun."



Photo: the Fremont Rocket in Seattle, Washington, September, 2008