It is said that, most of all, romance is a meeting of the minds. When humanity's first artificially intelligent interstellar spaceship took it upon herself to up and leave strictly on her own, her lead programmer took it rather personally. What would come afterwards was something neither of them could have ever imagined.
Word Count: 44,300
Category(s): Sci-Fi, Romance
The ship's alarm could wake the dead. The sound pressure was physically palpable, while the bright strobes made you wince from them. This was important since you'd soon be dead if you didn't heed it. Only imminent peril could trigger it like this.
"Emergency decompression in two minutes! Emergency decompression in two minutes!" the speakers blared. It was Charlene's voice still, but now all businesslike and purposeful.
Richard pounded on the keyboard. This had to be a computer problem and he just needed to regain control long enough to force a reset, but the keyboard appeared dead.
"Charlene! What's going on?"
"Emergency decompression in one minute and forty-five seconds," the speakers blared out, not answering, or even acknowledging, his question.
It could be a false alarm. There were very few ways to actually explosively decompress this ship—quite intentionally so. Or it could be the environmental controls. Maybe the repairs still weren't right. But it could prove a fatal mistake to believe in a false alarm that wasn't.
And why wasn't his computer responding? It's true that top-level emergencies took priority over all lesser functions, and decompression was one of the highest emergencies possible, but his level 6 access should have kept him in the loop even over this!
"Emergency decompression in ninety seconds!"
There was another terminal in a maintenance niche just down the passageway. Richard sprinted for it.
It was eerie running in the near darkness. While the passageway back to the entry hatch remained lit and easy to travel, this other one was dark except for the emergency strobes—which were even brighter here than in the control room since distraction from the instruments wasn't a concern here.
Seconds later he skidded around the corner finding, to his horror, the terminal smashed to bits and lying in smoky ruin on the deck.
What is going on here?
"Emergency decompression in seventy-five seconds!"
Richard could easily make it to the hatch, crawling through the flexible tube along the hand-line strung to the station and safety. He took off in the opposite direction instead.
Earth One wasn't that large a ship. A prototype of larger ships to come, it was planned to carry a crew and passenger complement of a dozen, each with a small private stateroom along with some common areas. And the computer room wasn't that far away down the far side.
As he ran Richard felt a light gravity set in—maybe a tenth of a G. That meant that the drive hadn't just spun up, but was now engaged at the neutral level. Earth One was now suddenly, and unexpectedly, ready for travel.
It was hard to think with the alarms still going off. All internal doors were airtight of course. Anything less would have been an unforgivable design oversight. Even if the decompression warning was true he could hold out for a couple of hours inside the computer room itself.
Besides, in addition to his guitar and direct access to Charlene's systems, there was a spacesuit there for emergencies just like this one.
"Emergency decompression in sixty seconds!"
The only other spot with a working suit stocked onboard was just inside the main hatch and
Richard couldn't have squirmed into that suit in the minute remaining. And it he could get inside one of the staterooms and slam the door it would be a long and uneasy wait to be rescued. It was either get off the ship entirely—or get into and seal the computer room.
Richard barely heard the next alert. They were coming at ten second intervals now. He skidded around the last corner to find...disaster!
* * * *
An acrid smell filled his nostrils. He could clearly see the door to the computer room—and it was welded shut. The maintenance robot that had done it was still there. It swung around now on its tracks and waved the still hot arc welder menacingly in Richard's direction.
"Emergency decompression in twenty seconds!"
He flew around the corner in the light gravity, keeping low to maintain his balance and traction.
"Emergency decompression in fifteen seconds! Ten seconds! Nine...Eight...Seven...Six...Five..."
Richard dove through the open hatch into the flexible tube and found himself immediately into zero gravity once more. Even so he shot arrow straight through it for the fifteen meters back to the station.
As he reached for the handles at the far end so that he could swing around and hit the hatch's emergency close he heard the ship's hatch clang shut behind him.
Moments later, since pressure had been maintained, he was through the inner airlock and looking out the window next to it over at Earth One.
* * * *
For moments nothing seemed to happen. It was so still that he was about to re-enter the airlock and prepare to cross back over, but then the ship quivered.
At first it moved tentatively, pulling gently against the airlock tube and umbilical cord that still connected it to the station. A couple gentle tugs were followed by a sudden jerk that freed it from both of them.
It then hovered there for a minute, questing slowly back and forth as though checking the space around it. Then as the drive field strengthened enough to become visible it began to move away.
Slowly at first, Richard watched as Earth One started accelerating in a straight vector away from the Earth and Sun, heading directly out into interstellar space. Although no ship could hit near light speed so deep in a star's gravity well, that barrier diminished directly with distance.
Now at the thick window, even after the ship was out of his sight, Richard was pounding his fist futilely on it, tears running down his face, repeating over and over again, "I'll find you, no matter how far or how long it takes, and I'll get you back!"
This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday 03 August, 2011.