Things Fall Apart: Chapter 8, Part 1

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Starship Bellerophon was minding its business, on a long return cruise from an exploration and mapping mission, when it suffered disaster, ripping a chunk out of the ship and leaving most of the senior officers and crew dead. Most of the ship's AIs are missing from the network, also presumed dead, with evidence pointing to a massive, internal "attack" by those AIs.

Now the survivors, including a single unaffected AI, are trying to hold their ship and their people together; figure out what happened to them, and why; and get to a safe port!

Singer had once heard it said that time was nature's way of preventing everything from happening all at once.

Which was all well and good in the microcosm of, say, one person's life experiences. But space was big. There was a lot of room for lots of things to be happening at the same moment, even if linear time were not an illusion.

It was therefore only mildly surprising when, hard on the heels of that decisive meeting a mere two kiloseconds before, Singer's musings over repair reports were interrupted by the intercom, with Cordé on the other end. "Skipper, we're receiving a distress call."

Much as it had been in the briefing room, Cordé's voice sounded brittle. She had not broken, but she was fragile. The briefing had not allayed her anxieties entirely. Accordingly, Singer decided her presence was actually needed, now. "I'll be right there."

Seconds later, Singer entered the bridge to find the speakers filled with beeping.

It took her a moment to recognize the pattern of that beeping: three dits, three dahs, three dits. SOS. A code so old that nobody really knew who the "Morse" was who invented it--a tidbit of history lost in war and diaspora in the era before the time compressor and the Tau Ceti Treaty. But it still meant the same thing: disaster.

What's more, it was automatic. Probably, Bellerophon had been broadcasting it (at low power) at some point during its own disaster. Chef and the surviving crew having regained control of the ship, that beacon would not be transmitting, now.

Without commenting on any of these facts, Singer asked, "Do we have a fix?"

Cordé answered, her voice a bit calmer than it had sounded over the com. "A bearing, and an approximate distance. We don't have enough of an arc on it yet for better, but we should momentarily."

"Is our transmitter up to a response?"

"Not if our approximation is correct. We'll need to get a bit closer first."

She looked over to the helm, where Wasserman was actually sitting in. "PO, are you up to a course change?"

He grinned back. "Easy peasy, skipper. We gonna close on the signal?"

"I think so. Plot the course, please."

She felt Cordé stir a bit near her.


"Ma'am, aren't we also in distress at the moment?"

It was a fair question, especially in light of Singer's own edict just two kiloseconds ago that repair came before investigation.

"We are, Ensign. But we're also ambulatory. We have light and heat and air and food and motive power. Whomever is broadcasting that signal--"

"--doesn't," the ensign interrupted, and sighed. "Understood, ma'am."

Understood, but Singer got the impression not entirely agreed with.

Wasserman saved her from having to think more about it right now. "Course ready, ma'am. The fix is still approximate, and I've deliberately built a bit of an arc in to the plot so we can get a better triangulation first."

On the holo, a blue icon of Bellerophon sprouted a solid line that bent their current course in the general direction of a red circle--the approximate fix. A yellow dot along the arc marked the point where the ship should be able to take a sufficiently distanced bearing from the one they had and triangulate a better fix.

Another marking appeared, a grey dashed arc between themselves and the red circle--the point at which their transmitter ought to be able to get a real-time signal to the beacon.

"All right, PO, execute."

Wasserman did whatever it was that pilots did to make the ship move. Singer decided to stay on the bridge until they had a result, and took her seat, watching the plot.

One thousand seconds later, the circle became a dot, the grey dashed line readjusted accordingly, and Wasserman, not waiting for an order, adjusted course to make a straighter line approach to the now triangulated beacon source.

That the beacon was reaching them, but they could not reach the beacon, meant that, despite whatever the disaster was, there was still a working time compressor involved. Apparently, that thought had occurred to others, as well, notably, Wasserman, who asked, in a tone that suggested it had just occurred to him. "Wait, are we receiving that? If they got hit by something..."

Cordé, being a comm officer, had the answer. "Ship disaster beacons have an additional time compressor. You can't drive a ship with it, but you can..." She stopped, and Singer, turning, saw her literally face-palming.

Singer didn't blame her. "I should have thought of it, too, Ensign."

Alexander chose that minute to enter the bridge. "Thought of what, Skipper?"

"Using the disaster beacon's time compressor to augment our comms."

Alexander stopped in zir tracks, and then also face-palmed.

"There's not much point in doing it now," Singer said. "If I'm remembering the way the hardware's set up, it'll take longer to repurpose it than it will take us to reach our current effective transmission boundary. After, though."

Alexander nodded. "I concur.

It was maybe two thousand more seconds before they hit the boundary. As soon as they crossed it, Singer said, "Alright, Ensign. Ping the beacon...voice only, for now. Let's see if it's got enough brains to answer."