Authors: Craig Gaydas
-As soon as host planet is identified, relocation of source assets will begin immediately. The Science Unit, under the direction of the Head Ambassador, will work with assets in establishing a functioning culture, basic survival skill training, insertion of wildlife/flora and rudimentary industrial skills. The Science Unit is responsible for making sure any DNA samples exhausted are replenished and stored following proper storage protocols.
-Once relocation has been completed, Engineering will establish monitoring hardware, software and transceivers to allow Consortium follow ups as necessary. All follow up maintenance will be under the direction of Lead Engineer. Portals only allowed under Commander of Explorer's League approval.
“Evacuation protocol?” I whispered at the computer, as if I expected an answer. “That must have been what happened with Mars.”
I closed the file and flipped through more programs, and immediately recognized some—Solitaire, Minesweeper, chess—games that were meant to keep me entertained during the voyage. I dug further and came across a game I played many times at home. Seeing the familiar logo brought a smile to my face.
“Awesome, they have Angry Birds.” The game popped up on my screen, with the red bird loaded and waiting to be launched.
I stared at the screen in amazement and thought the computer had read my mind by starting the game for me. I closed my eyes and let images of chess float around in my mind, concentrating on the queen blocking the king for checkmate and opened my eyes. The red bird was still on the screen, waiting to be launched. I scratched my head in bewilderment but the red bird continued to stare at me, begging to be launched at the snickering pigs.
“What the heck?” I rubbed my eyes in frustration before a thought came to me. Could the computer be voice activated?
“Chess.” No sooner had I said the word when all of a sudden I stared at the black side of a chess board.
, read the screen.
“That's pretty neat.” I cleared the screen, and once again stared at the sea of icons. My feelings of unease ebbed, and for the first time since I woke up in Satou's strange lab, I relaxed. I was about to shut off the computer when a program piqued my interest. It was just two simple words, but it's uniqueness among the other programs made it stand out and grab my attention.
I expected something resembling a map to pop up on the screen. Instead I came face-to-face with a question.
What is the most luminous object in the universe?
“What the hell?” I muttered.
The cursor on the screen flashed at me, waiting for me to type in the answer. I scratched my head and rubbed my eyes. The only thing I thought of was the sun.
I typed in
but hesitated for a moment over the
Wait a minute, that's not right
, I thought, and deleted the word. My tongue poked between my lips in a comical imitation of thought. I keyed in another word.
I hit enter and waited. The computer hummed as the hard drive processed the answer.
Congratulations. You have level one clearance.
The screen momentarily went black and I leaned forward with concern. I wondered if I broke something but then a sentence splashed across the screen.
The desert eye that can be seen from the sky. This Richat Structure cannot see, but is located here.
I placed my hands on my head and leaned back in the chair. I may have scored a 2200 on my SAT and could outthink most of the kids in class, but this particular brain teaser was on an entirely different level. Waving my hands in exasperation I typed the first thing I could think of.
More vibrations sprang from the bowels of the computer as it processed the information. I assumed I was incorrect and reached over to switch off the computer but stopped when another message flashed across the screen.
Level two complete. Welcome, Cartographer.
The message vanished and replaced with a map. It resembled no map I had ever seen, however. When I glanced at the symbols and locations I soon realized it was much different from a map of New Mexico, New York or New Zealand.
It was a map of the universe.
Passing The First Test
he snaking corridors of the Cirrus confused me and I grew worried that their twisting halls would lead me somewhere I didn't want to be. Fortunately, a passing crew member—a seven foot tall humanoid with bulging muscles, flowing blond hair, a birds nest of a beard and fierce azure eyes(later learned to be an Orgellian)—guided me to Calypso's quarters.
I stared at the door, not sure how to alert Calypso of my presence, so I simply knocked. The Orgellian looked down at me, chuckled, and placed his thumb inside a recess next to the door. I heard the familiar melodic jingle come from the other side before Calypso opened the door. Thor (my clever nickname for the Good Samaritan) threw me a brief nod before departing down the hall, leaving me alone in the doorway.
Calypso opened the door and smiled. “I have been expecting you, Nathan. Please, come in.”
He moved to the lone window in the room and stared into space. The room was rather bland and surprisingly devoid of furnishings save for a couch and a table equipped with a Sustanant. I didn't see a bed, but a closed door along the far wall caused me to assume he slept there, if he even needed sleep at all.
“You've been expecting me?”
He motioned me towards the couch and I plopped into its welcoming cushions. Calypso plopped down beside me.
“Yes, I assumed you would have questions for me.” He folded his hands but his smile did not waver.
I felt slightly uncomfortable under the gaze. I shook off my apprehension and decided to tread lightly to make sure I didn't overstep my bounds or offend him. I wasn't quite sure how he would take the news that I passed the test.
I shrugged. “Yes I do, but I wanted to thank you guys for making me feel at home.” I scanned the desolate room and wondered why I received such preferential treatment, but decided to leave that question for another day. “Thank you for making my room feel like home.”
“It was our pleasure, Nathan.” The smile faded. “But it appears something is bothering you.”
“Well,” I said before hesitating. “I came across something on my computer called `The Map', so I clicked on it.”
“Oh really,” he replied with a raised eyebrow. “What happened when you clicked on it?”
“It asked me some questions.”
“Oh?” He leaned forward and tossed me a curious look. “Did you answer them?” His interest level seemed strangely high.
“Yes, so do I win a prize?” I quipped.
His jaw dropped and his mouth formed a comical O. He shot up and walked over to an intercom mounted on the wall.
“Yes?” Satou's voice bellowed from the other side.
“Nathan passed the test!”
The line went dead and Calypso turned to me.
“Is that a big deal,” I asked.
Calypso's smile widened. “You can say that again! I assume you caught a glimpse of the map?”
“Yes I did, although it was a lot of information to absorb to be honest,” I replied. “My head is still swimming.”
A confused look spread across his face. “How does a head swim?”
I chuckled. “It's just a figure of speech on Earth. It means that I'm dizzy from all the information I had to process.”
Calypso matched my chuckle. “Yes, I suppose it is a lot of information to process.” He seemed to notice the confusion still etched on my face. “What's wrong, Nathan?”
“Well, there was something else on my computer I found interesting. What is a Helios Protocol?”
His smile wavered for a split second and he cleared his throat. “It has been a long time since I heard that term.”
“Sorry for snooping,” I said nervously. “I was browsing through the games and came across it. It kind of popped out of the screen at me.”
Calypso quickly held up his hand. “No, I find your curiosity and thirst for knowledge refreshing. Especially for a human.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Pay no heed to my ramblings, but I will be happy to answer your question. Helios Protocol is an emergency evacuation procedure put in place generations ago to assist the Consortium with preserving interstellar life.”
“OK, can you repeat that in English?”
Calypso chuckled. “To summarize, Nathan, it is a set of protocols that we use in the event of total planetary loss. Think of it this way, on Earth if you have an event like a flood or earthquake that causes catastrophic loss of life and property, your people have emergency procedures in place to evacuate the inhabitants to safe areas, correct?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well, we have the same thing, except on a galactic scale. A majority of planets throughout the universe eventually die. Whether it is through war, famine, astronomical events or disease it is usually inevitable. Although there are exceptions to the rule we like to have these contingency plans in place in order to preserve life. The Consortium regards life as sacred and should have a chance to persevere no matter the circumstance.”
“OK now I get it,” I replied. “You guys are kinda like an Intergalactic Red Cross.”
Calypso cocked his head. “A what?”
“Never mind,” I sighed.
Satou burst through the door, interrupting our conversation. He bent over and put his hands on his knees, attempting to catch his breath.
“Sorry…for…bursting in like this,” he wheezed. “I just could not believe it. I had to come see for myself.”
Calypso noticed my confused look and let out a hearty laugh. “Ah yes, Satou. Our new human companion is our new Cartographer.” He paused and grabbed my shoulder. “That is, if he wants the job.”
I yawned. “Can you wait for my answer until tomorrow? I'm tired.”
Satou roared with laughter and grabbed me in a bear hug. “Of course! We would not want to wear you out before you even start.”
“Satou, would you please escort Nathan to his room?” Calypso asked.
Satou accompanied me to my room. During the trip, he rambled on about how he was proud of me and how long it had been since they had a Cartographer and other such nonsense. I was so tired and unable to maintain any sort of serious conversation. By the time we returned to my room I collapsed in the bed and was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
My dreams were disturbed by visions of laser beams, spaceships and bodies falling from skyscrapers. I was on fire, trapped in a building, with no window or door to escape from. I struggled to breathe as the smoke overcame me.
I woke up breathing heavily, drenched in cold sweat, looking for a window that wasn't there as the fragments of the dream still tugged at the back of my mind. I rubbed my eyes, fell back against the pillow and stared at the ceiling. Time escaped me in space so I had no idea how long I had been asleep.
I dragged myself out of bed and trudged to the Sustanant. A sea of icons stared back at me and I was afraid if I pushed the wrong button I would get a warm glass of motor oil or a steaming pile of feces. I eyed a button that had a picture of an empty glass and pressed it. A cursor blinked on the keypad and I typed in “milk” but nothing happened. I tried to lift the sliding door, but it wouldn't budge. As I struggled with the door a blinking icon flashed red next to the keypad. It was a switch that read “hot” on one side and “cold” on the other. Thinking that hot milk would be awful, I moved the switch to “cold”. The door slid up and I pulled out the glass of cold milk.
I took a swig, placed the glass on the table and returned to bed. The vividness of the dream tugged at my thoughts and I found it difficult to fall back asleep. I focused on the ceiling and counted imaginary sheep until my eyelids started growing heavy.
The doorbell prevented me from drifting back to sleep. I groaned as I got up and opened the door. Satou stood on the other side with a smile on his face.
“I hope you slept well. I wanted to let you know we will be docking within the hour,” he beamed.
“Yes, we will be interfacing with the ISS Argus before resuming our journey home,” he replied.
“Well that was quick.”
“Quick?” Satou looked confused. “I am sorry but you have been asleep for over six hours.”
I rubbed my eyes wearily. “Great, I feel like poop.” I sat on end of the bed and pulled on my boots. “Um, you mentioned home? Are we returning to Earth?”
Satou cocked his head. It was meant as a sign of puzzlement but for a guy with an octopus head, the gesture seemed absurd. “I am sorry but I meant Caelum, not Earth.”
I finished putting on my boots and dropped my head in my hands. “I'm sorry I forgot that I have a new home now.” I rubbed my eyes and looked up. “So what's the problem with flying to Caelum on this ship? Does this thing get poor gas mileage or something?”
“The Cirrus is designed for short, interplanetary travel only. We are required to interface with an interstellar class vessel in order to make the trip across galaxies. Without getting into specifics, it is all a matter of engine design. ISS class vessels have warp capabilities but IPS vessels only have basic propulsion systems more suited for traveling from planet to planet.”