Fiction Fragment Friday
I honestly don’t know where the inspiration for this week’s story came from. Like many I sat down and started writing with the story developing from the first few lines that came out. I know after I started with the alerts I did a bit of research and focused on what would cause the results that were in the error. It is really one of those weeks where the story kind of wrote itself. It also is one of those weeks where the story could very well be expanded to be part of something much larger.
I was well into the fifth hour of my shift and almost didn’t notice the warning light start to flash on my monitoring dashboard. I had done about thirty minutes work of actual work this shift, chatted with coworkers about nothing for a few hours, and was just settling in for my post break nap. Most people seem to think that all shifts are equal on a generation ship since there is no concept of night or day, but most people are wrong. The captain is on first shift, and that means the vast majority of the high-ranking command team is also on first shift. All the important meetings happen then. Second shift is the up-and-coming crew. They don’t quite have the rank or seniority to be on first shift, but they are hungry to prove that they are capable of it. The self-important meetings happen then. To be fair most of the innovative ideas also come from second shift. Third shift is the rookies, the burnouts, and people too lazy to have any form of ambition. I fall squarely in that last category. With no important meetings, and no real supervision the only thing that is ever asked of me is the bare minimum and to not break anything. That is why I love being on third shift. The freedom to do whatever I want and still get paid for it.
The alert was a low severity warning that the air composition has varied from the standard deviation by point 5 percent on a minimum of three sensors. Technically I could push the alert off to the next shift as long as it did not increase to a medium severity though doing so would be highly frowned upon. While I am admittedly very lazy, I am not reckless or incompetent. When it comes to environmental systems on an enclosed ecosystem there really is no such thing as a low severity warning in my mind. Things can go badly very quickly, and it takes much longer to recover than it does for the damage to be done. It would be even harder to recover if everyone was dead. Just because I didn’t want to do my job didn’t mean I wasn’t as or more capable of doing it than the career minded first and second shifters.
I opened the alert and started examining the data. I was expecting to see a rise in carbon dioxide as that is the normal variant, but it was sitting firmly at point 46 percent. That was a point higher than normal, but well within the standard variation and not enough to trigger an alert. The alert was being generated due to an increase of hydrogen. The standard blend of air is 22.64% Oxygen, 76.90% Nitrogen, and 0.45% Carbon Dioxide. Hydrogen isn’t supposed to even be in the mix, but there it was and Oxygen was taking a dip to account for it in the percentages. “What the hell?” I asked myself looking at the numbers. I switched over to the reporting sensors and found they were all clustered together. Expanding the range, I could see that nearby sensors were getting close to alerting as well. This had started at sensor J23 but was spreading from that location.
There was no way around it, I would have to go personally inspect the area. I filled out an incident report will all my findings and logged it. That way if anything happened the next shift would know what I did going in. My tablet was tied to the dashboard so if any other alerts popped up, I would still get them while out. Grabbing my work bag, I headed out from environmental not at all happy to have excitement on my shift. When it comes to systems keeping everyone on-board alive a boring shift is a good shift, and an eventful shift is something you hope never happens. I checked the location, and the alerting nodes were in maintenance tunnels. This meant I was going to be in an even more enclosed area than usual.
As I arrived at the sensor location the issue became immediately clear to me. There was a green sludge on the wall and everywhere it touched the iron in the wall was rusting away. I could see through one of the forming holes that one of the central communication conduits was behind the wall. There are redundant runs to compensate for any failure of this backbone system, but it was still extremely concerning. I tapped on my tablet and did a quick check for Hydrogen anywhere else in the ship. That search would take a while, so I canceled and narrowed it down to only sensors along the redundant run. What I most feared soon showed up in my search. They had not yet alarmed, but the same anomalies were found along the redundant run and were increasing. I reached into my bag and pulled out a test tube. I needed to get a sample of this green sludge and analyze it.
When I touched the glass tube to the green sludge it reacted. The sludge moved on its own to avoid the tube. It had been spread over the wall, but now it condensed into a small area taking on a much darker shade. I pulled back startled by the change and that was the only thing that saved my life. The sludge lashed out forming a sharp looking tendril that aimed for my throat. There was a sharp hissing sound like a cat warning me to back off. I stumbled away from what I now recognized to be some sort of creature. The tendril raised up and I thought it was going to take another swipe at me, but instead it plunged into the data conduit and severed it with one slice. Alarms flashed red all over my tablet screen as systems failed and attempted to reroute to the secondary paths.
I crawled as quickly as I could to the nearest maintenance tunnel hatch and climbed out onto the corridor. I can’t say that I’m in particularly good shape, but I ran faster than I ever have before towards the tunnel where the secondary feed was located. We would be severely screwed if it were severed as well. I opened a communications line to the managers of first and second shifts. I’m sure they heard heavy breathing that sounded completely inappropriate as I forced their lines open. “We have a serious emergency here. I don’t know how else to say this, but something is on the ship, and it just cut one of the central communication conduits.” I had to pause gasping for air as I reached the hatch and grunted opening it. “I’m pretty sure there is another working on the other one. I’m in J45 now to see if I can stop it.”
A tired voice came back over the line. “This is Commander Roma. What do you men by something?”
“Well Jen this thing looks like some kind of green sludge, but it can move on its own. It tried to slice my throat and when it missed it slashed the conduit. Here I’m turning on my camera.” I could see the wall covered in more green sludge, but the rust was not as bad. I aimed my tablet at the sludge so they could see it.
“What the hell is that stuff?”
“No clue,” I replied. I grabbed another tube and touched it to the sludge. Just like before it condensed and lashed out at me. This time I was expecting it and I held out a wrench to block the blow. It wrapped around the wrench and pulled it from my hand with more force than I had anticipated. I ducked at the wrench went flying over my head. “You getting this?”
“Oh I’m seeing it. Security is on the way.” The voice was Captain Mahatma. I had not noticed when Commander Roma added him to the chat, so his voice startled me.
I thought about the chemical reaction that the sludge had created. It was pulling the Oxygen from the air, but there was no other source of water. It had to be providing that. I reached into my bag and pulled out a container of Sodium Sulfate. Getting as close as I dared to the creature, I tossed the powder onto the sludge. The creature let out a horrid wail that could only be taken as a scream of pain. It shriveled and writhed as it was dried out until finally it fell to the floor. Looking into my kit I found my empty coffee thermos and carefully scooped the creature into it sealing the lid tight.
“Well Mr. Mallory,” the captain chimed in reminding me that the video line was still open. “It seems your skill may just be wasted on third shift. Once this is all sorted out, we are going to have to see about getting you some more responsibility.”
I could see my long nights of reading, socializing, and naps becoming a thing of the past. I was not at all happy about that, but I tried to keep it out of my voice. “Yes Captain.”