A novella by Canadian Science Fiction Author
Phyllis K Twombly
The crew of the Andreas had adopted their captain’s tendency to call the spaceship ‘Andy.’ It had been somewhat of an adjustment for the ship’s computer but Andy soon showed a preference for the shorter version.
Chief engineer Bruin lived up to the physical part of his name. His muscles came in handy whenever some of Andy’s larger components exhibited their tendency to jam. Other crew members knew to stay out of his way when he began to wrestle with the machinery.
Bruin’s mind was on other things at the moment. A habitable planet had been found. Unfortunately this orb was made up of even more water than Earth. From this distance it was hard to spot the few land masses the computer insisted were there.
Bruin pressed the voice recognition button on his console. “Recognize chief engineer, Andy.”
A pleasant male voice responded. “The computer recognizes chief engineer Max Bruin. Please state your instructions.”
“Has the planet been given a designation yet?”
The computer responded immediately. “Captain Dion has named the planet the Aquarium.”
Bruin chuckled. “Is that going to be its official designation?”
“Unless the inhabitants have another name for it, the designation will remain.”
Bruin placed his large hands against his console. “Computer, are you telling me we’ve detected intelligent life in the Aquarium?”
“Negative, Mr. Bruin. The conclusion is computer generated. This system’s files were downloaded by the artificial satellite detected at the edge of the solar system. The data was then relayed to an underwater complex in the Aquarium.”
Bruin sucked in his breath. “Wow! Tell me, Andy, when were you planning on informing the rest of us?”
“Please restate your question.”
“Is the captain aware of the data download?”
Bruin groaned. “I suspected as much. Why do you always make me tell her the bad news?”
A series of clicks and whistles greeted the large blue creature with black eyes. He responded with a similar vocalization as he eyed the computer screen. The skin around his bottle shaped snout wrinkled slightly. He could see what was happening; he didn’t need a running commentary. He got it anyway.
“Commander, the alien craft is about to splash down. They have reconfigured it so that it won’t sink. If they make it to land…”
The station commander shook his head and torso. ”I can see that, Manti. We’ll have to make it sink.”
There was a pause before the clicks and whistles responded. ”Make it sink? The aliens might view that as an act of war on our part.”
”Not at all. They’re completely unfamiliar with our technology. I’ll send out a few sonic pulses that will overload their computer. They’ll assume it’s a malfunction. Have a dozen of your commandos ready. Retrieve the engineer. Their computer files list his affinity for lower life forms. He’s the one most likely to be useful for the linguistic interface.”
Bruin kept the descent through the alien atmosphere from becoming too disconcerting to the crew, all the while swearing about damage to Andy’s systems. The ship would need major repairs if they could find any metal on this water logged planet…assuming Andy was even salvageable after the splash down still to come.
Bruin double checked his computations. Andy’s triple side wings were now deployed. With the correct angle, it was possible the wings and pontoons might allow the spaceship to land and glide over the top of the water’s surface; maybe even until they could find a land mass. Possible, Bruin mused, but not likely. They were still coming down fast.
Still, attempting to touch down and glide on the surface of the water was a better option than having the ship submerge. A flash of nausea almost overwhelmed the chief engineer. He grasped a nearby console, only to see serious warnings on the computer screen. Several key landing systems were shorting out. The wings retracted. The pontoons disengaged and dropped into the water below.
Bruin tapped the intercom button. “Captain, something’s fishy down here! All the anti-submergence functions are failing!”
A calm female voice answered. “That’s impossible, Mr. Bruin. Please recheck your sensors.”
Bruin swore under his breath as he released the button. “Damn unflappable hybrid! She didn’t seem to care about the aliens copying our computer files, either.” He tapped a few more keys on his console before hitting the intercom again. “There’s no mistake, Captain. We’re going underwater!”
“Thank you, Mr. Bruin. This is Captain Dion to all crew. Execute water contingency plan four. Everyone who can’t swim is to evacuate to an escape pod. Those trained in advanced aquatics are to don snorkeling equipment. Wait for the ship to finish its descent and the lights to go to green before opening the hatches. I don’t want to lose anybody to decompression stress.”
Immediately the soft white lighting of the ship’s interior became a harsh red color.
Everyone was strapped into a chair but still felt the shock of the ship hitting the water. Captain Dion turned a full rotation in her chair to check the six members of her bridge crew. “Is everyone okay? Good, let’s prepare to disembark.”
Bruin ensured all of his men were in snorkel gear and ready for evacuation. He felt a bit juvenile, being the only member of engineering who couldn’t swim. At least it allowed him to continue monitoring the computer screen without hindrance. He frowned as the console began to emit a strange, increasing whine. He caught the full blast of light generated on the computer screen by another sonic pulse. He collapsed on the floor with his eyes squeezed shut in pain. His team gathered around and removed their snorkel masks just as the ship’s lighting turned green.
Bruin tried to open his eyes but only perceived the general change in the interior lighting. “Has Andy gone green?” he gasped.
Gibbs, his second in command, responded. “Aye, Sir.”
Bruin groped for his arm. “Listen, Gibbs. You’ll have to leave me. I’m no good to you blind.”
“That’s an order, Gibbs. Don’t worry, I know Andy like the back of my hand. I’ll find an escape pod. Just help me to my feet and point me in the right direction. Captain Dion will find me. She might be genetically warped but there’s no sub-human I’d rather have looking for me.”
Gibbs helped him up. “This way, Sir. The rest of the men are on their way to the hatches.”
The ten men gave him a dubious look. Gibbs scowled at them. They nodded and left the room.
Manti waited in the water near the alien ship. As each escape pod launched itself one of his commandos took hold of it and guided it to the underwater station. The aliens in artificial swim gear were no match for the superior strength of his team but Manti worried about the consequences of appearing so aggressive. At least the aliens seemed to calm down when they saw the station. Perhaps they had a fear of drowning. Rumor had it that they couldn’t breathe in water.
The sudden tugging sensation in Manti’s rounded forehead wasn’t completely unexpected. The alien records had noted their chief engineer had an ‘affinity for animal life forms,’ their term for ‘congruence.’ It might enable some communication with the new arrivals.
The strength of the feeling was most compelling. Manti grabbed the pod without hesitation. He felt a stab of conscience about how confused the alien must be feeling. He knew the poor fellow would face even more troubling events before he would understand. He nearly released the capsule before two of his commandos swam up to reassure him. They had felt the compulsion as well.
Captain Dion was nearly two feet shorter than the blue creature standing in front of her. She had tried talking to it, but couldn’t decipher the clicks and whistles it responded with. She assumed it knew she was captain of the Andreas from downloading the computer files. Obviously they were trying to form a connection. The creature had offered its webbed hand as if it understood the meaning of a handshake. Dion had shaken it and offered a smile, something the creature also seemed to understand. It had reached over and felt her short, brown hair for just a moment. It was an understandable reaction for a creature with no hair at all.
The moment the creature didn’t seem to be watching her, Dion rubbed the inside of her right arm. The genetic markers couldn’t find an exact match with any of the DNA samples implanted in her. She repeated the motion on her other arm. A potential match popped up in her mind, but she’d need access to the Andreas computer to verify these aliens as a distant match to the dolphins back on Earth.
Next time; talking to the aliens.
Phyllis K Twombly