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Fiction Science Fiction

Milk Run

Somedays, I really enjoy these so-called ‘Milk Runs’ to the Mars colonies. A Ten-hour flight there and back with an overnight layover at one of the luxury hotels under the dome. Easy peasy job; even a cadet could do it in their sleep.

I made my run, delivered the twenty-four tons of cargo at the spaceport, and had a nice dinner at the little café overlooking the city. Life was good.

The Martian government was doing a great job building more domed cities to make it feel more pleasant now like Earth used to be before overcrowding became a problem. I had to laugh; I love those commercials that say, “getaway for the weekend, only twelve hours away and enjoy a leisurely weekend under the dome, and have a picnic under a real tree with real birds flying overhead and a freshwater swimming pool, and water parks.” Ah, what a beautiful view they show on the news vid feed. Hell, it makes me want to move here permanently.

I just finished my morning breakfast, and the space weather news was saying something about an apparent macro-sized proton star that may be moving through our solar system this week. Ugh, I love it when they say ‘May Be’ or ‘quite possibly could.’ It usually means they are not sure what they are seeing, just wanting to add some drama to space travel. Add a little excitement for the newbies, lol.

Well, it’s time to get going. Maybe if I get lucky, I can get some cargo to pick up to return home with and have a nice payday. People back home love to buy Mars Made items. I must admit that most of the Mars Made artwork is pretty awesome. Being here on Mars seems to bring out the creative side in others.

I was lucky to pick up ten tons of ore to take back home, and four tons of Mars Made clothing and manufacturing goods. Heck, I might make more on the return trip. Yes, I might be fortunate indeed.

Back on the ship now, doing all the preflight checks. I see a flashing message from the spaceport. I tap the screen to read the news. “New Message from Jezero Spaceport to all outgoing ships: Be ADVISED: Some minor gravitational anomalies have been detected by our survey satellites between Mars and the asteroid belt. BE ADVISED:”

Ok, so I need to make a slight gravitational adjustment for the flight home—no big deal. Thirty minutes later, I get another message: “BE ADVISED: Phobos orbit has been altered by the gravitational anomaly. Advise course correction by twelve degrees positive and three degrees negative on the Z axis for flights to Earth. BE ADVISED:”

Ok, Done, let’s go already. I want to get home while I’m still young, you know. I make the adjustments, and I get the green light to go from Jezero spaceport. Alright then, let’s go home, I said into the microphone. A voice said through the comm set, “CREST21, you are cleared for takeoff. Good Luck and Good Flying. Jezero Spaceport out.”

About time, I muttered to myself. Jeez, three hours sitting and waiting for them to clear me to go home. Jeez!

Launch. I never get tired of that sudden jolt of raw power during a launch. I switch the display to the rear camera view. Watching the city getting smaller and smaller, and then the planet’s curvature getting smaller. What a view. So far, so good. No problems. I might take a nap; I still have ten hours of flight to go. I check all my instrumentation. Everything looks good. The flight plan looks good. Right on course for Houston One spaceport. I check once more for gravitational drift. Everything is in the ‘green.’ I’m good to go.

I head to the galley and grab a bite and a cup of coffee.

I wake up suddenly, and the screen is filled with the image of the Earth. I am confused. Did I fall asleep the entire ten hours? Suddenly alarms start going off, warning me of incorrect approach angle and descent speed. I quickly made the adjustments needed. I listen to the comm set. Funny, I don’t hear anything. I switch to Lunar one base signal. Nothing. I tried New Delphi, but nothing. Ok, now I’m starting to get worried. If I can’t get my radio working, I can’t land. I did a scan on all emergency transponders. Nothing. What the hell is going on? Did something fry my radio while I was out? I look for my coffee cup. Where the hell is it?

I noticed a blinking light on my navigational system. I touched it to open the navigational computer. The computer said: A course correction was adjusted due to a micro-singularity explosion caused by a collision with a macro brown dwarf star. A possible temporal discontinuity may be experienced.

Do what?? I had to rerun it three times, just to be precise. Ok, now what am I going to do? I sat there for a few moments, letting all this information sink in. Computer, what is the current Earth time?

The computer replied, “Based on ship time or solar earth time?” Say what? Now I am confused.

“Computer, is there a difference between ship time and Solar Earth time?”

The computer answered, “Yes. There are five hundred years, three months, and eleven days difference.”

I sat up, leaning forward to the computer, and asked, “Which is behind?” but I already knew the answer.

The computer answered, “Earth solar time is earlier than ship time by five hundred years.”

The computer stated, “According to Space Travel Law established over three hundred years ago, ship time, you are not allowed to land on Earth or make contact with anyone from Earth. You are ordered to impose a self-destruct protocol to prevent any timeline contamination or paradoxical event. Self-destruct procedure is clearly outlined in the event of a temporal displacement. The self-destruct protocol has been initialized. Please press---” Computer off! I shouted.

What the hell! I thought. I will not blow myself up today or any day if I can help. Damn it! Not happening. I lean forward and say, “Computer, is there anywhere on Earth I can land and live without affecting the timeline? The computer quickly responded, “Inside a volcano would not affect the timeline. However, it is doubtful you would survive.”

Dammit, computer, I don’t want to die! I want to live! Is there any other alternative to this scenario?

The computer promptly responded, “Recreate the event, and reversing your flight plan should place you within your former timeline.”

Well, you’re no help, computer. No way I can recreate a micro singularity collision with a macro-sized brown dwarf star!

Computer, are there any other alternatives to this scenario? The computer replied, “Working, working, working, working.”

The computer answered, “You have enough food, air, and fuel to travel up to four-point eight light years in any direction. However, there are no known habitable planets within your life support range”.

“Computer, that is so NOT helpful.”

The computer responded, “This is why Self-destruct protocol is required.”

Computer, can I ignore that protocol?

The computer responded, “Yes, you can ignore it; however, I cannot. Once you begin your descent, I will initiate a self-destruct.”

My mind was racing now. I damn sure didn’t want to die, and the sound of drifting through space till I die did not sound appealing either. There had to be a way out of this scenario.

I get up from the command console and head to the galley. As I head down the corridor, I think this will probably be my last supper. I might as well enjoy it.

I ordered a steak with a loaded baked potato and a glass of red wine for my last meal. As I’m eating, my mind drifts. I know it’s not an authentic steak from a cow, it’s not a real potato dug up from the dirt, and I know it’s not a real glass of wine made from pressed grapes. It’s all synthesized from a computer program using power from the engines. Eating this food got me thinking.

The early terra-formers had problems with food supplies. They didn’t have the fuel or space to carry perishable foods, and that’s how the food replicators came to be, and then the synthesizers became the standard on all space-capable ships. Granted, a synthesized part wasn’t as reliable as a manufactured part, but still, they were good enough to get a job done. That’s it! All I need to do is replicate the circuit boards and modules that contain the self-destruct protocols and replace them in the main computer. HA! I had a plan!

I started pouring over all the manuals for the ship’s main computer interface. I bet I read every day for almost a month till I found a loophole. The self-destruct protocol was in one module in the navigational array system. Just one! Upon further reading, I found the new protocol module could be replaced by the previous version, which the synthesizer could replicate by an override command.

However, there was one tiny catch. It would have to be done under a complete system shutdown to replace that module.

Full system shutdown! No power, no life support, no lights, nothing. The estimated time for replacement, and complete reboot, is three hours.

Three hours in the dark, no heat, no circulating air. No lights. No Air. No Heat.

Ok, now, how can I do this faster? What all do I need to ensure I can get this done and land?

I need a self-sustaining portable light, air to breathe, and a quicker way to replace that module.

I frantically searched the upgrade and replacement manuals and found I could replicate the entire board and remove and reinstall it in less than three minutes. My GOD, I had it! I could do this!

Ok, today is the day. I replicated everything I felt I would need to replace one little module. I sat down at the central console and initiated a complete system shutdown. The computer went through all the system checks for a shutdown, and I turned on my lights and got my screwdriver bits ready to remove the system board.

Complete system shut down. Man, it was strange not hearing the hum of the ship engines and air circulation. Within five minutes, I had the board replaced. I reached over and turned off the light unit I had made.

My God, it was beautiful! The Earth was glowing with its own radiance. Almost no city lights on the planet. No clutter of satellites in orbit. It was peaceful, serene, and beautiful.

I sat there for about ten minutes, gazing at the planet and burning that image into my mind.

Ok, time to go. I got to find a new place to live.

I pressed the system start button. Praying everything came back up correctly. After five minutes, the computer came on. It was running through all its diagnostics and full system status. Then came the question of the full engine start sequence. YES, I thought, omg, yes.

Yes, computer, full engine start, please.

Thank God! I can feel the engines powering up! The navigational computer is showing no destination entered. I click on manual flight mode. The computer speaks and says, “Automatic navigational control has been turned off. Navigational beacons can not be found. Would you like assistance with manual descent?”

“yes, please,” I respond.

“Computer, can you give an approximate date based upon historical data for the planet below?”. The computer replied, “Working. The estimated date for North America based upon archived data is circa eighteen eighty-two, March twenty-first.”

Wow, just after the civil war. So, I need to find a place with fresh water, not close to people, not too cold, and not too hot. It has to be pretty secluded, with plenty of wildlife.

Jeez, I wish now I had more attention in history classes.

“Computer, where can I land that has few people, close to a freshwater lake, not too cold in winter, and not too hot in summer, fairly secluded, with ample wild like for hunting for food?” The computer responded with, “Working. Several hundred Pacific islands are uninhabited, with plenty of freshwater lakes and abundant aquatic life. New Zealand would be an ideal location meeting all your requirements.”

From what I recalled, New Zealand was an excellent vacation place, but too many mountains. I didn’t want to live like a hermit.

I decided to do my own manual search, starting near what I knew to be Texas. As I zoomed in around the Texas coast, the Lake Charles area in Louisiana was looking better and better. Moving closer, I found a place near a decent-sized lake near the center of Texas, but not too close to Dallas. I wanted to avoid the railways. I had the computer overlay the current metropolitan areas of Texas with the visual map of Texas on the screen. I found a place that would be reasonably secluded for the next three hundred years. I had the computer do a complete background search on the location.

I just smiled when I read the report. The area was supposedly ‘haunted’ by spirits, according to the local Indian legends. Perfect. It looks like I found my new home. I was going to live near what would become a state park some three hundred years in the future.

As I made my descent, I saw a lot of beautiful land. Lakes, rivers, cliffsides, lots of woodlands, and lots of open farmlands. This would be perfect. The nearest settlements were a reasonable distance away by horse, over a day’s ride in all directions. Perfect. I found a clearing close to a small river with cliffsides nearby. I had the computer check for future settlements, and the computer found none.

So, I landed.

My first night was amazing. Clear skies, clean, fresh air. Almost intoxicating. I saw lots of wildlife near the river at night. Yes, this was a good site. After a week, I decided it was time to find a way to hide my ship. Too bad I didn’t spend the extra credits to buy a cloak. I never thought I would need one. I wasn’t dealing with the different militant factions, I didn’t sell contraband goods, and I wasn’t a pirate. Now I need to hide my ship.

Man, this was turning out to be more complicated than I expected. I had three choices. One, just dig in and get it done. Two, just walk away and leave no trace, or three, move to some mountain area, and live like a hermit.

The following week, I spent my time looking at options for housing, where to build it, and how to hide the ship. I didn’t want to dismantle my ship, just in case I might need to get away for some reason. I had the computer search the database to see if there was a way to build a droid to help with the heavy lifting. The computer found four options.

Man, this was getting out of hand. I had the computer build two droids, two loaders, and one excavator. I had decided to make my house on top of the cliffside out of stone and wood. Build a stairway to the river, then halfway down the cliffside, to the left of the house, excavate room for a hanger for the ship.  The hanger was the primary task at hand. It took almost a month to excavate the hanger and transport the rock to the top of the cliff for the house. I had to make two more droids for that. Once the hanger was up to specifications, I moved the ship inside and had the droids seal the entrance. It was now only accessible by the stairway and hidden by a holographic doorway. The droids worked day and night building the hanger and then the house.

By mid-summer, everything was finished. I hid the loaders, the excavator, and three of the four droids in the ship’s cargo bay.

I finally decided to see what all I had in the cargo bay. When I opened one of the crates for the ore, I just had to laugh. Gold. Gold ore. Somehow, whatever happened to send me back in time, turned the ore into gold. Now, it looks like I don’t have to worry about anything.

Now I can buy five hundred acres of this land and not even have to worry about it. Hell, I might even buy the whole state. Hahahaha. Oh well, so much for maintaining the timeline.

Life is good.

July 16, 2022 01:58

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7 comments

Samuel Yates
07:48 Jul 23, 2022

Now that contest is over, is it possible to post a revised edit of the story? More for feedback based on the suggestions provided? I am curious to know if it is allowed? I really do want to be a better writer. I took the advice provided and re-wrote some parts, added some more bantering with the computer, and changed the tense.

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Isa C
06:01 Jul 22, 2022

I liked this story! The casual writing style was really refreshing especially since it was mixed with all the high tech language and the ending made me curious to see if your self-serving protagonist really messed with the time line. Since it was definitely more of a light hearted story, I would've loved to see another character for our protagonist to engage in some banter with, perhaps the computer could've served this purpose if it had some artificial personality.

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Samuel Yates
18:07 Jul 22, 2022

Thank you! Originally, I did have banter back and forth with the computer AI, but it went over the word count limit. I am still trying to work out what to leave in and not make it too wordy while trying to keep in what makes a good story. Thank you for your positive feedback!

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Jon Casper
19:05 Jul 21, 2022

Wonderful story, Samuel! I enjoyed all the descriptions of the futuristic tech, and the "first contact" type politics. The protagonist has some ingenious solutions to his dilemma. Thoughtful work went into this. In the way of critique, I would only suggest that you look at the changing tense throughout: you switch back and forth between present tense and past tense quite often. Great premise and lots of fun to read. Nice work!

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Samuel Yates
18:13 Jul 22, 2022

Thank you for your feedback. Ok, I will watch the past/present tense usage. After re-reading it after your comment, I can see it now. Thank you!

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Katy B
18:13 Jul 19, 2022

This is a very fun read! The descriptions were enjoyable, the character was superbly believable and relatable. I thought the whole premise was so cool, and honestly the name was so great. Awesome story!

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Samuel Yates
05:32 Jul 21, 2022

Thank you! I had to work at keeping the length within the guidelines. There was so much more possible with this. Thank you!

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