Ghosts of the Sea Queen: With no particular prompt this week I went back to the list of titles Chuck Wendig gave us a few weeks back, and picked out this one, with various Marie Celeste images floating through my head. Then I decided to make it a 1500 word Pete and the Swede story. Yay!! It’s post book 2, and the first time I’ve been to the planet Zanzibar.
Dramatis personae: Pete and the Swede (Pete & Lars), orichalcum miners; Maggie, Lars’s partner; Dolores, Pete’s partner, now a qualified space pilot; Tree, a sentient sapling living in their ship’s biome; Ozi, the leader of the sentient tree colony on Sunset Strip. The trees can communicate telepathically with Lars. For a quick trip around the Viridian System, see this piece on the Viridian website. I see I need to update the coding for the planets.
Ghosts of the Sea Queen
“I have finished one of my background tasks. Do you want the results?”
Unlike the Vvoice of their old mining ship, Big Pete and the Swede got along well with the computer voice in their new spacecraft.
“Er, what? Okay. Just the one-liner, though.” Pete yawned and scratched his shaggy hair. Maybe Dolores would trim it for him when she got in from her taxi trip.
“Probability of orichalcum in Zanzibar’s Rings 99.6%.”
“Fine. Thanks.” Pete blinked a few more times. “WHAT?”
“Probability of orichalcum in Zanzibar’s rings 99.6%.”
“Yes.” He frowned; he really should be more alert. “You mean, the rings are mainly orichalcum, or there is definitely orichalcum somewhere?”
“Shall I give you the snippet?”
Pete sighed. “Hold on—Lars!”
“What?” Lars was in the sleeping cabin.
Pete rolled his eyes. “Are you busy?”
He heard Maggie’s giggle and some rustling noises. Lars appeared in the doorway, stark naked, and took up his usual place in the office, as they called their operating area.
“Not now,” he replied, with the irritating grin he often wore when he’d just finished being ‘busy’.
“Computer’s found something it’s smug about.” Smug, yes that was the word. A pair of smug smartasses he had to work with. Dolores was never smug. Neither was Maggie.
“Maggie! Any chance of coffee?”
Lars wasn’t paying attention. He soon would.
“Computer’s found something it’s so pleased with, it’s playing games with us.”
Lars sighed, scratched, and looked at Pete’s screen expectantly.
“Are you ready for the snippet now?” The computer’s voice was a pleasant baritone, selected by the girls on their lengthy trip of the previous year.
“Yep. Fire away.”
“Thirty-three of Zanzibar’s rings exhibit characteristics consistent with the presence of orichalcum, at densities ranging from 0.2% of solid matter to 83.4%. Confidence level 99.6%.”
Pete and Lars continued to stare at the screen in front of Pete, which simply showed a schematic of the planet Zanzibar, VS6, a gas giant in the outer reaches of the Viridian system.
“Everything okay?” Maggie asked, placing two beakers of steaming black liquid in front of them.
As silence continued, she raised an eyebrow. “Boys?”
Lars reached for his beaker. Pete matched his movement, and paused with the rim touching his lips.
“It should be okay to drink.” Maggie drank her own to check. “Just the right temperature.”
The two men drank. Pete licked his lips. “Sorry, Maggie. We’ve just had some…”
“…interesting news,” Lars completed for him as he searched for the words.
“How do you fancy a trip to the sixth planet, Maggie?”
“”Well, it won’t take long, will it? Dolores is due back in six days.”
“Computer, lay in a course for Zanzibar, to orbit above the rings, then arriving at Pleasant Valley on the sixth day from now.”
Zanzibar was nothing much to look at, a white gaseous ball with a slightly green-tinged set of planetary rings. The ring system was a flattened asteroid belt in effect, and the rings appeared due to differing densities of material in each of them.
“So, which rings have the densest orichalcum content?” Lars asked the computer.
“Displaying.” Its voice changed. “You have come in time.” The men frowned at the mellow soprano.
“Who’s that?” Maggie came up from the biome, where she’d been checking on plant growth.
“Computer.” Lars frowned and tapped a few screen patches.
“What do you mean, we’ve come in time?” Pete asked, shrugging in response to Lars’ unspoken query.
“We have waited for centuries of your time.”
Lars got up and went down to the biome.
“Who are you?” Pete tried.
“We wait for you.”
“For us in particular, or anyone with a spaceship?”
“For our saviours.”
“Oh heck.” Pete slapped the ‘silent’ widget on his control panel and looked at Maggie. “I’m all out of being the legendary hero. Where did Lars go?”
“Maybe he’s talking to Tree.”
“Well, I hope the computer’s still in charge of the ship, because I have no idea who’s taken over the comms.”
Lars returned. “Tree says there are many people here. She doesn’t feel comfortable with them though.”
“What does Ozi say?” Ozi was the leader of the sentient trees on Sunset Strip, their ground home.
“He’s on the other side of the sun at present. Should clear in six hours.”
“We should be leaving here in six hours.”
“That’s two ‘shoulds’. I don’t like that many in succession.”
“Why are you not talking to us?”
“Sirtis, where did that come from?”
“No idea. Not the comms. Sorry, we needed a private discussion. Are you familiar with the concept of privacy?”
“What is privacy?”
“The sonar panel,” Lars muttered.
Pete slid his hands around the controls to open up the computer’s screen messaging system.
Alien intrusion. Now diverted through sonar. I have control.
Keep it, Lars tapped out.
“Privacy is when you want to have a discussion with another person without anyone else listening,” Pete explained.
“We are not familiar with the concept of privacy.”
“I thought as much,” Lars muttered.
“It is a custom in our culture to respect privacy. Other cultures share everything. Is that how yours works?”
“Just keep them talking,” Lars muttered, continuing to tap responses to the computer’s on-screen messages.
“We share everything.”
Pete had the distinct impression that a consultation or debate had gone on before the entity replied. “Are you able to share your name and origin with us?”
“We will absorb you and you will share everything with us.”
“Not likely,” Maggie replied.
“We like to stay as we are, thank you. Have you always lived at this planet?”
“Many generations, many ancestors, many mindmelds.”
“Tree says she’s scared of them.”
“That’s all we need.”
“How did you get here, or was your race born on this world?”
After a short pause the mellow voice came again: “We were born on the Sea Queen.”
Pete watched Lars tap in Sea Queen for the computer, and grinned at its response: I heard.
“Well, what do you do here? Why do you need saviours?” Pete remembered their initial announcement.
“It is lonely here. It is far from any of our kind. We need to rejoin them.”
“Where are the rest of your kind?”
The screen that had been displaying Zanzibar shimmered and started flicking through star charts. “You have more charts than any other ship that we have met.”
“How many others have you met?”
“Don’t tell me,” Lars put in, “the Sea Queen, the Elroid 17, the Hope XXIV, the Voyager 1, and the Targelbuck F’hanna.”
Pete and Maggie looked at the list the computer displayed in front of Lars; five spacecraft listed as missing or lost that feasibly passed through the sector of the Viridian System.
“Voyager 1 had no charts. It was primitive. Worthless.”
“What was Voyager 1?” Maggie whispered.
Lars pointed at the screen, where the computer displayed: prehistoric Old Earth probe, ancestor of interstellar capability.
Pete pointed at the display for the Sea Queen. He grimaced at Lars, who took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “So, you absorbed the lifeforms on the Sea Queen and continued travelling?”
“It was the most practical option. Their lives are our lives. They live on.”
“Not much of a life, though, is it?”
“We are trapped. You are our saviours. You have knowledge of our home.”
“We do?” Lars asked.
Pete pointed to the star chart screen, which had settled on one sector.
“That is our home world. You can return us there.”
“We can discuss it, certainly. There are practical difficulties, though.”
“Practical difficulties can be overcome in time.”
“Well, one of the difficulties is the war going on in all the sectors between Viridium and your home.”
“We can divert their interest.”
“Another is the sheer distance. Even at Warp Ten it will take many years to reach there, unless we find a wormhole.”
“Noooo.” Maggie and Lars groaned as one.
“We have the time.”
“Well, why don’t you stay here, we’ll return to Pleasant Valley, and see about a ship to take you back there.”
“You take us.”
“No. We’ll find a nice ship to take you. We’re staying in the Viridian System.”
“Too right,” Maggie muttered.
“We will wait for you. We know where you are.”
“That sounds ominous,” Lars muttered.
“Good. We’ll be in touch. Leave now, please.”
All the screens on the control panel shimmered, then returned to normal. The star chart remained. The computer returned to its normal voice. “Permission to speak?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I have advanced our departure, but have recorded several useful surveys of the rings while you were talking.”
“What about keeping the ship’s system secure?” Lars growled.
“I did that too.”
“Thanks, computer. When you haven’t got anything else to do, why not calculate a rough path to this system in the Beta Quadrant, and tell us about it after we’ve got back to Pleasant Valley.”
“The Beta Quadrant?” Maggie asked. “I’m not going there.”
“Neither are any of us, but if that’s where they come from, they can go on an unmanned vessel, can’t they?”
“Who are they, anyway?” Lars flicked through more screens on the Beta Quadrant, having exhausted the data on the Sea Queen.
“Let’s just call them the ghosts of the Sea Queen. The entities in the Beta Quadrant are definitely not life as we know it.”
© J M Pett 2017
Curved Space for Corsair is now in second draft – a few more drafts to go. Ghosts of the Sea Queen may or may not make it into book 3 – I like the concept, though.