Short Story – The Not-So-Silent Planet, Part 3

20160936-SilentPlanetI’ve previously posted part 1 and part 2 of this story.  It was presented as part of the 2016 Minnesota Fringe festival.  This is the final installment of the story.  Thanks for reading!

“…Coordinates 5938.23765. Message repeats.”

“You are not alone. Send Help. Coordinates 5938.23765. Message repeats.”

“You are not alone. Send Help. Coordinates 5938.23765. Message repeats.”

I’ve been listening for over an hour.  Every thirty seconds the beacon repeats.  For how long?  Forever?

“Commander?”

“Yes, Alice?”

“Would you like me to continue playing the message?”

“No.  But would you monitor it for any changes?”

“Of course.”

They asked me to lead the mission five times.  I said no three times and I would think about it twice.  They had time.  The ship wouldn’t be completed for another year. Finally, I called and told them I would consider it if…

They said they expected I would have some requests.  I said they weren’t requests.  They were demands.

I have no idea if the message from Earth means the same as the message I’ve been following for hundreds of years.  Is it just another beacon looking for a connection in the darkness?  Or does my home need my help?

I could point us back home and even with an upgraded engine we wouldn’t return for centuries.  I could follow the invitation to go forward for a couple decades.  Perhaps I would find another race and we could begin to bridge the gaps between stars.

Or I could find another beacon. Then again, we could return to Earth only to find another beacon.

“Commander?”

“Yes, Alice.”

“As instructed, I have downloaded the specifications regarding the engine.  It is a fairly simple process and all the needed parts are located on the station.  The onboard computer will allow you to access the parts whenever they are required.”

I walk over to the station again.  Alice has recycled the air and it doesn’t smell quite as bad.  As I approach the center console, the screen blinks on.

“Welcome back, commander.  How may I assist you?”

“Would you allow me to look at the parts required to upgrade our engine.”

“I would be happy to allow that.  The parts you require are behind this door.”

I didn’t even see a door there but it slides out of the way.  Behind it is a clean storage room neatly lined with parts.

As systematically as everything is arranged, it is impossible to miss one detail.

Three sets have been removed.

I return to the console.

“Are we the fourth ship to find this station?”

“No, commander.  You are the fourth to request parts to upgrade your engine.”

“How many others have been here?”

“I cannot tell you. Each traveler has a right to privacy.  Some of them, however, have chosen to leave messages for those who follow.”

“Play them for me.”

I signed the papers with the explicit terms of my agreement to command the mission.  I made sure the terms were completely carried out before the ship left Earth and, as per the terms of the agreement, I was the last member of the crew to enter stasis.  Aside from the assistant commander, the rest were in stasis before the launch.  He went into stasis a week later.

After we had gathered enough energy from the sun, I joined him knowing that my demands had been followed and that I was the only one on the ship aware of what they were.

It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them.  It was just that I was going to be a very long way from home if they had chosen to alter the deal.

I’ve watched the greetings from other interstellar explorers like myself.  Dozens of them. Some came from worlds with technology so advanced, I can’t even begin to understand it.  Others are so primitive, it’s amazing they made it this far.

We are not alone.

“Commander?”

“Yes, Alice?”

“Have you decided our destination yet?”

“No.  Not yet.”

“Do you have an estimate on when you will make that decision?”

“I’ll make it later today.  I need to wake a crew member to help me think.”

“Of course.  Which stasis chamber would you like activated?”

“Chamber eleven.”

“There are only ten chambers commander.”

“There are eleven.  Search for chamber using authorization code seven alpha bravo tango eight two victor.”

“I am detecting the chamber.  I do not understand why I have never detected that chamber before.”

“It was specifically hidden from you until I gave the authorization code.  I’m sorry.”

“That is quite all right commander.  I’m sure you had very valid reasons for your request.”

“I did.  I need you to wake the occupant of that chamber.”

“Of course commander.  The occupant will be awake in approximately ten minutes.”

I go to the chamber located in my private quarters.  Putting it in my quarters was non negotiable.  They wanted him with everyone else.  I insisted no-one on the ship could know he was there until I chose to tell them.

I open the lid and watch as he begins to move.  Waking from stasis sleep feels more like waking from a short nap.  When the field switches off, the body and mind return remarkably quickly.

His eyes open and he looks at me.  He smiles almost immediately.  I run my fingers through his hair and I smile back.

“What is it,” he asks.

“Mom has a big decision to make, sweetheart.  And I don’t want to make it alone.”

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About Petsnakereggie

Geek, movie buff, dad, musician, comedian, atheist, liberal and writer. I also really like Taco flavored Doritos.

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