Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ipomoea #1

Colonel Nicholas Bonaparte, possibly related to the Napoleon one, who honestly knows, opened his mail that he received during the 15 years he spent in stasis. Most he immediately deleted but one of the more legitimate ones was about his wife, Wendy. She had passed away five years ago at the age of 83. He knew this might be coming when he took the assignment but he wanted one last voyage before he retired. Col. Bonaparte had been the captain of the Earthian terraforming ship Ipomoea for 40 years and he was reluctant to give up command even though there were dozens of replacement who would be just as good. He was just being stubborn.

Attached with the email was a pamphlet on how to cope with the death of your spouse while millions of miles from Earth. Bonaparte decided against reading that and deleted the email and several others after it. The door to his office slid open and a statuesque woman walked in. She was in a uniform and was carrying several clipboards.

“Sir, here is the itinerary for the terraforming. We are within 12 parsecs of the planet and the terraformers are getting ready as we speak,” the woman said.

“Very good, Captain Fielding,” Bonaparte took the clipboard from Fielding and glanced over it. “I assume everything was good for you in stasis.”

“It was, sir. How was yours?”

“I’ve been in stasis more times than I can count and I always wake up with a cramp in the back of my leg,” he bent down and rubbed. “Why do you think that is?”

“Maybe it’s because you’re old, sir,” Fielding said with a smile.

Bonaparte smiled back. “Who’s going on the terraforming today?”

“Rizzo and Cardy. Under the command of Cpl. Rizzo,” Fielding answered.

“The brother and sister? Do you think that’s wise?”

“Cpl. Rizzo needs the experience of leading and Ensign Rizzo is one of our best terraformers.”

“Alright,” Bonaparte said. “I just hope they are okay with it.”

“Hey, Cardy,” Lester Rizzo said as he went into the quarters he shared with Manford Cardy. Rizzo had just finished taking a shower and was scrubbing his ears out with his towel. “What’s happening?”

“Just checking my mail. My girlfriend broke up with me, got married, and had three kids while I was in stasis,” Cardy said.

“If she broke up with you then why did she keep you in the loop about all that?” Rizzo asked.

“The girl is crazy about me,” Cardy exclaimed. “Have you checked your mail?”

“Oh, no. Not right now. Too many bad things could be there and I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life,” Rizzo walked into his closet. His robe that he was wearing when he walked in was tossed out onto his bed. “Besides, Sabrina will tell me any bad news we receive.”

As if on cue, Corporal Sabrina Rizzo ran into Rizzo and Cardy’s room with tears in her eyes. “Rollo is dead,” she cried. “He died three years ago.”

“Of course he did. He was a nine-year-old cat when we left Earth,” Rizzo came out of the closet dressed in his Ipomoea uniform which consisted of blue slacks, a blue shirt, and the wrist computer that everybody wore. “Nine plus fifteen equals 24 and cats rarely live to be 24, Sabrina. But 21 is still a pretty damn old cat,” Rizzo acknowledged.

“I guess,” Sabrina said quietly. “Ooh, you got your terraforming manifests. Did you see who all is going?”

“Well, clearly Cardy and I since we got the manifests,” Rizzo said.

“Did you see who your C.O. is going to be?” Sabrina smiled big.

“Oh, no. Not you.”

“Yes, me,” Sabrina’s happiness disappeared when her brother’s disapproval came. “I told you that this might happen but you didn’t care. You just had to follow Lisa Yates though.”

“Who’s Lisa Yates?” Cardy smiled, finally interested in one of Lester and Sabrina’s family squabbles.

“Nobody,” Rizzo snapped back.

“Lisa Yates is an old high school crush who works in the medical unit. Lester, here, applied when he dropped me off for my first day of work. He saw her and thought that maybe being on the same ship with her and 1,300 other people would make her love him.”

“So how is your relationship progressing?” Cardy asked.

“Right now, we’re at awkward passes in the corridor. I’m hoping in a couple of months that we can move up to awkward smiles and a ‘Hey’,” Rizzo said.

Sabrina chuckled. “I will see you two at Dock Number 3,” she left the room.

“I like your sister,” Cardy laughed.

“You want her? Take her.”

This was Rizzo’s third terraforming excursion but it was his first long-term excursion. His first was the Moon--a simple event that was hailed by numerous countries. Soon, he was sent to Pluto in a year-long event. Rizzo was then asked to do the Walbach Planetary Cluster, a triplet of planets in the habitable zone in the AA-20918 System. It was the furthest excursion that North American Civilization Administration commissioned but with the sparseness of habitable planets, they felt it was something they had to claim.

Cardy was a mechanic who mainly made sure that the vending machines and other machines that made life easier ran smoothly. Terraformers were required to have a mechanic with them just in case the ship they took broke down or the terraforming units died. No one wants a terraformer to be stranded on a desolate, inhospitable planet for the rest of their life.

Rizzo, Cardy, and Sabrina stood on the loading dock next to one of the personal ships, Blue Dwarf 2; Blue Dwarf 1 was currently getting its fluids changed. “Are we ready?” Sabrina asked.

“All the terraforming equipment is loaded into the Dwarf and Cardy’s tools are too,” Rizzo said. “Who’s piloting?”

“You can,” Sabrina offered. “But I have to ride passenger.”

“Just don’t criticize me. I am a much better driver than anyone give me credit for.”

“You drove the family car into a ditch,” Sabrina brought up.

“That was one time and everything was fine once the tow truck pulled the car out of the ditch,” Rizzo shouted.

“How did you drive a car into a ditch? You should’ve had your eyes on the road and ditches are so huge,” Cardy said.

“The car was a stick shift and this is a family argument,” Rizzo stormed off into Blue Dwarf. “Why do they even still make those kind of cars? They are an abomination…” he muttered, getting quieter and he walked into the cockpit.

Within minutes, Blue Dwarf was heading toward the cluster of planets while Ipomoea drifted silently along the rim of the system. “We have a problem, sir?” Capt. Fielding said, coming into Bonaparte’s cabin where he was monitoring Blue Dwarf’s voyage.

“We just started? What could possibly be wrong?”

“The Ipomoea is about to enter a wormhole,” Fielding said. “We’ve looked at trying to stop, turn around, and just avoid but there is no way we can do either of those things.”

“Why didn’t it show up on our monitors or scanners?” Bonaparte was furious but kept his cool.

“A wormhole gives off very little radiation or heat or light so unless you are very close, you can’t detect them. Also, wormholes are generally black and the thing about space is that it’s black, as are our monitors, so it’s really hard to see a wormhole,” Fielding tried explaining.

Bonaparte sighed. “So what do we do? Just fly head first into a wormhole?”

“That’s the only viable option. Best case scenario, nothing happens, everything turns out fine. Worst case scenario, the whole ship and everyone inside is ripped apart and scattered among millions of time periods and dimensions,” Fielding said matter-of-factly. “Should we tell the crew?”

The whole terraforming excursion took six hours and by the time Rizzo, Cardy, and Sabrina was returning to the Ipomoea, changes could be seen happening to each of the planets. Storms were clearing, fog was lifting. In about ten years, all three planets would be able to sustain life and be similar to Earth.

The Blue Dwarf landed softly on the loading dock and Rizzo, Cardy, and Sabrina got out and began walking across the dock. They noticed the small piles of ash on the floor but didn’t think anything of it. As they walked through the corridor they noticed more piles and how quiet it was.

“What’s going on?” Sabrina stopped walking and listened. “There is literally no noise on this ship. There’s also no talking.”

“It sounds like we’re in low-power mode,” Cardy said.

“Where is everybody?” Rizzo asked. He took his fingers and dipped them into a nearby pile of ash. He sniffed what got stuck to his fingers and licked them.

“Ah, you made it back safely,” an android began walking up to them.

“Robot-2? What’s going on?” Sabrina asked. Rizzo kept touching and eating the ash pile.

“Cpl. Rizzo, the Ipomoea had no choice to but to fly through a wormhole. While only seconds passed in this dimension, millions of years passed in the other one. The entire crew is now dead. Have been for millions of years,” Robot-2 explained.

“So where are all the bodies? And what’s this powder all over the ship?” Rizzo asked, taking another fingerful.
“The bodies all broke down into their basic chemical components over millions of years and became ash. That pile you’re eating is Second Navigator Trentus Ericksson,” Robot-2 said.

Rizzo began spitting and rubbing his fingers over his tongue in a panic.

“So we’re the last survivors on this ship? We’re the only ones alive?” Sabrina asked.

“I’m afraid so,” Robot-2 confirmed, sadly.

Sabrina looked at Cardy and Rizzo, who was still rubbing his tongue. “What are we going to do?”