Happy New Years! And welcome back to the blog! I’m Timothy Scott Purvis and this is Story Time With Tim! An ongoing series where I share my old writings and writings that don’t seem to be doing anything more than gathering dust! I have some new offerings that should cover much of this year and am working on new material as well. Maybe this will be the year I get an official publication beyond self-publishing! Or, not. You never know. Gotta keep trying though.
Anyhow, this story is a novella I wrote back in 2019-2020. It’s all about a ship being propelled through space to the nearest star system of Alpha Centauri… I think. I based the plot off of a plan scientists currently have utilizing lasers to push small swarm satellites to one fifth the speed of light in the hopes of reaching Alpha Centauri within twenty years. I thought the concept was fun and came up with a sort of deep space mutiny involving solar sails and stupid people. Just like all great stories do!
Thanks for coming back for a new year of storytelling and I hope you enjoy what is coming next! Until next time, folks!
THE DAY THE LASER DIED PART ONE
IT WAS A DREAM.
HE WAS SURE OF THAT. How long he’d been dreaming was impossible to say. But it was a wonderful one and comforting. In it, he’s standing on a hill looking over an Appalachian valley full of grasses and leafy trees all running the gamut of green from light to forest. The sky a crystal-clear baby blue, sunlight warming his flesh in a comforting embrace. A gentle wind blowing his short brown hair back. Birds and grasshoppers singing a calming symphony. His young daughter frolicking just down the gentle slope with her pet schnauzer, Greyson. Though his fluffy coat was very, very black. So maybe she should have just named him, ‘Blackson’, or ‘Onyx’, or ‘Blackie’. But, she said, ‘Greyson sounds regal and most proper.’
He smiled at the thought as she came racing up the hill towards him, Greyson at her heels, her seven-year-old smile bright and laugh filling in his ears. He drank it in and knelt down, arms out ready for her embrace. She had the tightest, loving hugs and he loved them.
Next thing he knew, he was sitting at a dining table across from Henric Elby, an old colleague and direct manager, if that term still applied. Bespectacled and somber. His blond hair wavy and thin. Skin always so pale compared to his own tanned visage that he wondered if he ever got out of the labs. All things considered, dreaming about his daughter was much better. The sensation of a growing frown was strong.
“I know it’s a long trip, Doug.” Henric was saying, though he wanted nothing more than to tune him out. “It’ll only take twenty years, and you were always one of our best captains.”
“You’re not talking about a twenty-year trip! You’re talking about a lifetime!” Doug said his face getting hot, his jaw aching as he clenched his teeth.
“You signed a contract with this company. Besides, how could you want to pass up an opportunity like this?”
“The answer is no.” He stood up, grabbing his suit jacket off the back of his seat and slinging it on. “Taking a boat out for a weeklong tour is one thing, this is an impossible ask.”
“You’ll be in break of contract, you know? That carries serious consequences.”
Doug hesitated then finished tugging at his collar. “I’ll deal with it.”
He’d left then, the only thing on his mind getting home to his family. The thought made him smile.
IT WAS A NIGHTMARE
AFTER SO MANY DECADES OF LIFE, ONE GETS AN IDEA OF WHEN SOMETHING IS A DREAM OR NOT. Even unbidden memories crop up when they feel the urge to poke you in the head or the mind starts wondering, ‘What have I done?’ Guilt, anger, repulsion all settles on the heart and sits there until there’s no choice but to cry. How much crying had he’d already done? Was he crying now? How often had these sequences of dreaming gone on?
Here he hated. With a passion. Yes, he could turn his mind’s eye away from walking out of that building rising up behind him like a seven-story brick just aching to collapse on top of him. And maybe it had. But the mind, does what it wants. The inquisition he’d just left drilled him long and hard about his determination in the matter of refusing to be a part of their new and clever program. Since he was refusing, their conclusions were firm: incarceration for violation of contract. He had just this one, last day of freedom before he’d be spending the next three years in the Mao Corporation’s penitentiary for disgraced employees. And there was nowhere to flee to, either. His city pass had been revoked in the process. He was now a prisoner. Yet, that was better than what they were asking of him.
Walking through the front door, he had every intention of delivering the bad news to his wife and daughter. The chance never arose. Tears rolled down his face, a silent scream on his lips. The briefcase in his hand dropped with a reverberating clunk. On the floor of the living room were the bodies of his family. They were naked and lying on their backs in pools of their own blood, faces pained, a multitude of stab wounds (so many, too many) punctured all across their torsos. He forced his legs to move him forward to them, his hands coming to his face.
As if to dull his trauma, just a little, the mind skips over his kneeling down and holding them in his arms. The authorities arriving (though he still doesn’t recall calling them), and his family being taken from him for the final time.
And once more he stands at the window in the cold room staring through to the covered forms on the tables in the next chamber. The spartan white mortuary playing host to their last journey into the awaiting incinerator at the back wall. An almost hue cast across the interior as the dancing flames with the furnace flickered in a spectrum from yellow to red.
Beside him stood Henric. His words a painful doldrum he wished would go away and stay away. That luxury, however, wasn’t in the script.
“And what they uncovered is unfortunate. Semen was recovered, of course. But, regrettably, there is no genetic match in the registry. You have my deepest sympathies, Dough.”
Henric turned to leave, but Dough took that moment to speak. There was no point fighting what had happened. He was a prisoner, his family just tokens for his servitude.
“Tell me more about your project.”
Henric paused and turned back to Dough. Then placed one meaty hand gently on Doug’s shoulder. He said nothing, only squeezed. Henric turned, left, and though he couldn’t see it, Doug got the sense the man was smiling. As if they just shared a sick, secret joke between good friends.
DARKNESS GAVE WAY TO LIGHT AS DOUG OPENED HIS EYES CAUTIOUSLY. His thinking was groggy, but the sensation of loss and loneliness still raw. The burning forms of his life still flickered in his mind’s eye. It took two minutes for him to be cognizant enough to get up. And another minute for his eyes to adjust to the lighting. At first, all was blurry, yet, with a few rubbings with the balls of his palms, he was able to take in his new home.
It was the hibernation chamber. Fifteen feet across, forty-five feet long. The walls curved up to an apex like a half circle where LED lighting traveled the middle running the length of the chamber. The only furniture to speak of were the twenty hibernation pods that always reminded him of coffins with windows. Then there was the diagnostics machinery at the head of each pod. Ten combinations of this combined units lined each side of the chamber.
His own pod’s hatch had slid back and upwards and the unit sunken closer to the floor allowing him to swing his legs over the side and sit there trying not to wretch. He braced his hands on the pod edge and looked to the other pods. They were still closed. It was his job to wake them and prepare them for their future task. He listened closely to the engines of the ship. There was a low hum, no hint of the thrumming propulsion of the Planetary Laser Systems. So, it was true then, they’d arrived at their destination. That was something he’d start wrapping his mind around shortly.
For now, he was hungry and needed coffee. All he’d been fed for twenty years was a nutrient solution provided through food patches applied directly to the biceps. They were a clever invention that somehow worked (he had no idea, he never bothered investigating their functions), yet left him nauseous and his stomach in knots.
Doug pulled off the patches and slid off onto his feet. He held his hand to the pod for several moments while regaining the use of his balance. The smells of the atmosphere were just as nauseating, stale, antiseptic, chilled, like machinery just starting up after a dozen years. After some ten minutes, he worked up enough will to clap barefooted towards the mess hall the next chamber over. Lights clicked on brightly as he meandered through the large curved portway into the brightly lit eating foyer with its singular lighting fixture hanging like some chandelier but aligned in a circular manner from a wired mesh that attached to a ring of flat titanium.
The chamber itself was round as well with a flat ceiling and far back wall that seemed to lead to other areas of the deck. Benches lined the curved walls with some small tables and tall chairs spread around randomly. The shining floor looked to be made of a metal, but instead of freezing cold after the long slumber, was warm to the touch. To his right, was what looked like a bar but was what served as the kitchen. It had a countertop for setting materials down upon and a series of consoles lining its wall behind the counter. There he would find one of the half-a-dozen food synthesizers containing a variety of ‘molds’ that could take the protein and nutrient pastes funneled into them and convert them into meals that halfway resembled the real thing.
His favorite was a steak and potato plate that tasted pretty close to the real thing, right down to the sizzle and the clumpy mash. Even the smell was somewhat appealing. If you didn’t mind the awkward meatloaf presentation of the ‘steak’, and the slimy texture of the ‘potatoes’.
He wasn’t after anything extravagant, though. He programmed in a hot coffee into one synthesizer, and bacon and eggs into another. Two minutes later, breakfast was served. The coffee was a brown slurry that was a little viscous, but otherwise had the sharp aroma of a classic dark roast. It was the first thing he got into his belly sitting at the massive table all by himself.
They should’ve put in a skylight, add some atmosphere. The logistics of that thought he didn’t want to know. There were three levels to the ship and engineering slash observation was what was above him. This level contained crew quarters, bathing facilities, and the medic bay. All said, the vessel was roughly five hundred feet bow to stern, one hundred fifty feet belly to dorsal, and two hundred feet port to star. One of the roomiest vessels ever built. Yet, no room for a skylight even on the top level. He’d have to thank the chairmen for bestowing it upon him when he got back.
He smiled at the thought and dug in to the back and eggs which looked more like jerky and lumpy yellow potatoes. They were the most delicious thing he’d had in years.
COLLEENA MERRICKS WAS THE FIRST AWAKENED. As systems engineer and one of three Mission Specialists, her responsibilities would be to ensure navigation was operational, landing protocols were initiated, and that crew morale was strong. Assisting Captain Holland in awakening the remaining crew was also on the agenda.
It was almost too bright as she struggled to open her eyes. She ran her hands repeatedly across her face as she sat up and swung her legs over the side of the pod by instinct. Nothing was in focus yet, but the cool air blowing across her body was filling her with energy and alertness. And there was a presence near her that she could sense.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” he said.
She shook her head and smiled. “Doug, it’s good to hear your voice again. How does she look?”
A cup of something warm was thrust into her hand and she accepted it eagerly. Taking a sip of the dark roast she tried looking around. Everything was still a bright blur but the slurry in the cup was sure to help.
“Don’t know. Haven’t been up to observation yet. Fed my face, woke up, then came to get you. Figure we’d wake the bridge crew and get our bearings.” She heard him take a sip of his own coffee. “Once all system checks have been performed, I figured we would wake up everyone else.”
“Mmmm,” she grinned savoring her morning juice. “That’s why they made you captain of this suicide mission. Always using that noggin for great ideas.”
“Right. That’s why.” He replied and he started coming into focus, a blue suited blur picking up a digital pad.
“Bad dreams?” Colleena sighed.
They’d known each other for years. Used to get their families together to play card games and grill out. When they were given permission by the Ministry, of course. Doug’s sorrow was raw and she understood why. It’d been horrible what happened to his family and it got her to thinking about her own. Her husband had been shipped overseas to fight the Imperial Hegemony. There hadn’t been a chance to contact him before the Ministry had assigned her this mission. And when she asked who would take care of her two boys, they said they’d send over a caretaker until her husband returned home. Little Astin had cried, begging her not to leave. The tears stained her cheeks as well.
“I know, baby, I know. I wish I didn’t have to, either. But you have to be brave.” She’d looked at her eldest, thirteen-year-old Jinti. “You take care of him, okay?”
“I will, mom. Please come back soon.”
She’d gripped his shoulder then and forced a smile. “I love you both.”
Colleena wondered if her husband got back all right. Were her children orphans? Did he come home to a new wife lovingly provided by the Ministry as compensation?
Doug’s voice brought her out of her unbidden thoughts. Her vision had almost cleared all the way up and she noted him quickly skimming through some data on the pad in his hands.
“I’m sorry.” She looked him in the eyes and offered up a sad smile.
He turned away from her gaze and picked up his coffee. “Don’t be. We’re all in this together. And we’ve got work to do.”
A shallow smile crossed his face and he started past her as she got to her feet and steadied herself on the pod edge. He turned but didn’t stop, pointing the pad at her.
“You should get something to eat first. I’ll wager you’re famished. I know I was.”
“Right.” She called after him.
Welp, that is the end of this week’s posting! Please come back next week for part two and stay tuned for more material coming down the line in the near future! Let’s make this a great year!
~Timothy S Purvis
Since you’re here, why not check out the whole work available on Amazon right now? Just click the link below to be taken straight away to The Day The Laser Died novella! It’s cheap and a fun read if you enjoyed what you’ve read already! Please, support the cause:
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