Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: BAGGAGE (02/08/18)
- TITLE: The Measure of a Man
By Dennis Gallemore
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Spying Kostas, Second Officer Gavin Thorne stood. “Captain on the bridge!”
“As you were,” Kostas said, making his way to the command dais in the center of the vast control room. Sitting down, he swiveled to face First Officer Jansen. Seeing her grim face, he glanced down at her lap. “Things must be bad, Lakeesha; you're wringing your hands. The last time I saw you do that, you told me the ship had run out of real coffee.”
Pointing at a gigantic holographic display at the front of the bridge, she punched a button on her chair. “There's an uncharted space-time anomaly ahead.”
Swiveling toward the display, he stared at the massive vortex, its angry maw a cauldron of seething energy. “Distance?”
“Slightly over ten million kilometers.”
Confused, Kostas rubbed his salt and pepper beard. “Not close enough to cause any problems for the Pegasus. I assume you've ordered a course change.” He turned toward her, eyebrows raised. “Haven't you?”
Jansen nodded, her eyes glued to the maelstrom. “Of course, but we're running the reactors at maximum and it's still pulling us in.”
Kostas sucked in a breath. “That's not possible. No anomaly has ever been encountered that a Majestic-class ship couldn't pull away from.”
Jansen frowned. “Until now.”
Sitting at the end of the conference table, Kostas glanced at the assembled staff. “So, there you have it. We're trapped by the anomaly. We estimate that we have about four hours before the gravitational forces of that thing starts ripping the Pegasus apart.” He slammed a fist down on the table. “You're the best crew in the whole fleet. We're not carrying baggage this time! We've got a thousand settlers in cryogenic freeze in the cargo module. Over 250 families bound for Canton's Planet. Pioneer families that put their lives into our hands. Find a way out of this!”
Pushing back his chair, Jace Townsen, the ship's engineering officer, stood and stepped over to the room's solitary window. Placing his hands behind his back, he stared out into space, rocking on his heels.
Having seen this before, Kostas felt a glimmer of hope well up within him. “Jace? You've got an idea, don't you?”
Jace turned, a slight smile upon his face. “Yeah, but you're not going to like it.”
Three hours later, Kostas sat in his chair on the bridge, Jansen beside him. Looking down from the dais, his gaze locked on Townsen. “Jace, let's go over the plan one more time.”
Standing, Townsen turned toward the crew, their faces set in stone. “As you know, the cargo module was refit to carry cryogenic chambers for this trip. That module is detachable from this command module. Several low-yield clean nuclear devices are on board the Pegasus; these were to be used by the colonists for excavating building sites on their new home. We have placed those devices in a protective shell at the back of the cargo module. In ten minutes, we'll simultaneously separate the command module, remotely detonate the nukes, and thrust the command module at maximum toward the anomaly. Hopefully, the cargo module will be pushed out of reach of the anomaly. Action, reaction. As to our fate, well...”
Kostas nodded, his face set. “A message informing Earth of our situation has been sent. An emergency beacon on the cargo module will broadcast its location until such time that another ship can come and rescue the passengers. The automated systems on the module will work for at least a decade; plenty of time for a rescue ship to find them. Your...our sacrifice should enable the passengers to survive. It's been an honor to serve with all of you.” Suddenly, he grinned. “Who knows? Maybe they'll name a school or two on Canton's Planet after us.” Subdued laughter echoed around the room.
He turned to Jansen. “There was an old song that my dad sang when I was a boy. I've forgotten most of it, but a couple of lines stayed with me. 'It's not how high you go; it's not how much you make. It's about what you give, not what you take. It's being strong and true to those counting on you; that's the measure of a man.'” Gently, he kissed her cheek. “Or woman.”
Sitting together, the crew of the Pegasus gave one last time.
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