OtherSpace: “Missing” – Log 8: Next Steps

Continuation of the main OtherSpace storyline, involving the missing expedition from Meriwether Station:

Dormerura steps out of her habitation pod, yawning as she does. It’s time for her to get to work, and go to the Science division to actually get to work. She’s a bit frustrated that some of her time’s been taken up by helping set up the up-and-coming teleportal, seeing as it’s more installation than innovation, but she respects it – after all, her journey here would have been much shorter if the teleportal system had actually been put together. Still, she has some time to herself to fiddle with her own ideas, even on top of her job. Like right now – she takes a few scraps of material from the pockets of her coat and starts fidgeting with them, experimenting as she starts walking towards the labs. Or maybe she could swing by somewhere else to grab something to eat first – she has a little bit of time, right?

Dormemura’s commlink pings as she walks down the corridor. The display indicates the call originates from SCIDIV.

Near the labs, Tilsworth is approaching in order to get an early start himself, his cane lightly tapping on the deck plating as he approaches. For now most of his attention is focused on the PDA in his other hand.

Dormerura sighs at the sound from her commlink. Looks like she won’t have time for a snack before she goes to work. She sticks her tinkering back in her pocket so she’ll have her hands free, then answers the call. “Hello? Dormerura speaking – I’m on my way to the labs now.”

The voice on the other end of the Castori’s commlink says: “Thatcher here. Listen, if you’re going by the food court, please pick me up a coffee. Three sugars. No cream. And a bagel. Onion, if they have it.”

“Yes, sir.” She’s far from thrilled about having to fetch someone else’s food, but at least this way she can grab a bagel for herself, as well. Besides, this is what happens when you’re new to a job – you can’t really deny your superiors requests, and pretty much everyone is a superior for now.

Tilsworth stops mid stride, a bit of a rumble from his stomach suggesting he get some food before starting his day. An about face, and he begins to head in the direction of the food court.

It’s morning shift in the food court area. The automated kiosk is available for ordering, but a message blinks in red letters across the upper quarter of the holographic display: “COFFEE DEPLETED. NEXT DELIVERY: 12 HOURS.”

Ugh. And she can’t exactly show up to the labs without Thatcher’s coffee after she said she’d get it. A twelve hour delay isn’t exactly acceptable, either. She looks around the food court, trying to spot anyone else who might actually have coffee available – or even better, various digestible fluids that could be used to make a coffee substitute. Sure, she’s not exactly a master chef, but it’s just chemistry, right? She can do chemistry.

The systems are largely automated in the food court. If you can determine a method for combining chemicals from various stations around the big chamber, go for it! But the customers settled into tables at the food court all look particularly grumpy, probably because none of them have actual coffee. Some do seem to have beverages, such as hot tea or carbonated sodas.

Hm…A part of her wants to try crawling inside the automated systems and mess around with their insides, try getting one of them to mix the drink up for her, but that’s probably a bad idea. Most likely. Like, she’s 80% sure she’d get in trouble for doing that, especially if it didn’t work. Instead, she decides to go for a slightly less dangerous approach – though one which may still result in some yelling. She pulls out her commlink once more and dials back for the Science Division. “Hello? Can I speak to Thatcher?”

“Thatcher here,” responds the voice over the commlink. “Go ahead.”

“Hey, it’s Dormerura…So, the food court’s apparently out of coffee. They won’t be getting any more for 12 hours. Is there another drink you’d like? Tea? Soda?” She figures, better to ask him what he wants her to do rather than do something reckless.

There’s a displeased grunt from the scientist on the other end. Then a sigh. “Ran out again? The hydroponic farms still can’t keep up with the demand. They must be waiting for a shipment to come in from off-station. I’ll settle for green tea. Hot. No cream. Honey, if it’s available. And I still want a bagel. That should do it.” A pause, then: “Thank you.” The connection breaks.

Well, that should be manageable. Now that she actually knows what to order, she goes up to a kiosk and places it – one hot green tea, with no cream but possibly honey, and an onion bagel for Thatcher, as well as a small soda and a blueberry muffin for herself. While she waits for the system to process her order, she considers how to possibly improve the hydroponic farms. She doesn’t really know what the problem with them is, but she can still consider ideas. New irrigation system? Higher intensity lights? Maybe some variant of the transportal mechanism, to take advantage of relativity and accelerate the farms while keeping them easily accessible? Then again, it’d probably be easier to get the standard transportal station up and running – warped space-time makes the math much more complex. Fixing the transportal station would at least lower the time it takes to get off-station shipments.

The system accepts the order for the Castori and the Timonae clerk soon delivers the requested items. Several credits are deducted from Dorme’s account. “Have a great shift,” he says.

Tilsworth comes up shortly after to place his own order, adjusting his thick glasses to read the menu. “Hmm… no coffee. A shame… but perhaps a nice Earl Gray.” he says, punching it in and also selecting an ‘egg’ sandwich.

“You too!” Dormerura gives the clerk a friendly smile as she carries the two drinks and the pastries. It’s certainly a nice aspect of life here – far more diversity than she’s used to.

As she makes her way out of the food court, she notices Tilsworth standing in line. She gives him a small wave. “Hello, sir. Grabbing some breakfast?”

His order finished, Tilsworth turns upon hearing the Castori. “Ah, hello there! Indeed, I would prefer a nice cup of coffee to jump start my day, but it seems alas, there is none, so tea must do. He takes a look at the variety of food she is carrying. “Let me guess… Thatcher roped you into picking up breakfast?” he says with a grin.

She nods, not quite in the mood to grin .”Yeah, he did. At least it gave me a chance to get some food for myself, too. Really is too bad the coffee got depleted.”

Her commlink pings again. Once more, SCIDIV shows in the display.

It’s a bit hard to pull out the commlink while holding the food, but she can just about manage it. “Pretty sure this is him now.” She answers the call, fully expecting to hear Thatcher’s voice again. “Hello? Dormerura speaking.”

“Is my bagel cold yet?” Thatcher grumbles, oblivious to the Castori’s inconvenience.

Of course he’s called to ask that. Still, gives her a chance for at least a little snark. “Oh! No, it’s not – I didn’t know you wanted it cold. I’m sure I could find a good endothermic reaction in the labs to cool it off if you want.”

Tilsworth pipes up, likely so Thatcher can hear it. “I have a few radioactive sources that provide good heat. A few minutes next to that should warm it up nicely.” he says with a chuckle, motioning for the Castori. “Come, let us get to the labs. We have much work to do.”

Thatcher mumbles something in response, but the words are lost in the clank of glass against metal before the link goes silent.

Dormerura is certainly glad that the link ends – she wouldn’t want Thatcher hearing her giggle at Tilsworth’s comment. Still, she nods – “Yeah, we should definitely get going. I don’t need him any more impatient than he may already be.”

Tilsworth chuckles as he starts towards the labs, his cane tapping on the deck plates. “He needs a lesson in patience, to be honest. Impatience leads to cutting corners, cutting corners leads to mistakes, and mistakes are one thing we do not need right now.” he says, looking to the Castori. “We have a missing expedition to find, and a picture to paint of what we may encounter when we go to look for them. It is going to fall largely on my department to accomplish that.”

In the Science Division lab, Alexei Thatcher glowers at a human intern who has spilled a glass beaker on a metal work table. “And what if that had contained nitric acid? You’d be responsible for replacing the table.”

The young man frowns. “It was an accident.”

“Yes,” Thatcher says. “That was an accident. So was the Sivadian blue plague. The Martian pox. The Eighth Fleet crisis. All accidents. All avoidable.”

“I’ll be more careful, Dr. Thatcher.”

The scientist shakes his head. “I won’t take that risk. You are suspended, pending final action after I make my recommendation to station leadership.”

“But…”

“It is not debatable,” Thatcher says.

“…my father,” the young man continues.

“He’s not my problem.”

The intern departs. Thatcher gets to work cleaning up the spilled water from the table.

Dormerura nods – she doesn’t know much about the big picture things like a missing expedition or exploring New Amundsen, but perhaps that’s why she’s here? For now, she decides not to comment – she’s been more focused on the station itself, so she’s a bit ignorant – but heads towards the Science Division. Even if he needs a lesson in patience, she’s not going to be the one to teach it.

The doors to the lab slide open as Tilsworth approaches, tea in one hand, sandwich in the other, his datapad tucked in his lab coat pocket. “Good morning, everyone.” he says. “Another day of discovery awaits.”

“Not for everyone, I’m afraid,” Thatcher reports gravely as he walks toward Tilsworth and Dorme. “I’m recommending that Dr. Avocet be removed from this project.”

Tilsworth raises an eyebrow, glancing to the young scientist, then back to Thatcher. “Really? For what, may I ask? His record has been exemplary to this point.”

Once again, Dormerura decides not to get involved in office politics, and hands Thatcher his tea and bagel. “Here’s your breakfast, sir. What should I start working on?” She’d prefer to get to work, rather than risk getting tangled up in whatever Dr. Avocet did.

While Thatcher is busy accepting the food and beverage from Dormerura, Neal Avocet interjects: “I apologize, Dr. Tilsworth. I was startled and knocked over a beaker of water. It broke, I’m afraid.”

“Horrible breach of protocol,” Thatcher adds as he sets his tea on the metal table. “Wildly unprofessional.”

Tilsworth now looks utterly shocked, but the expression is aimed at Thatcher, not Avocet. After the shock passes, his eyes narrow. “You must be joking. Suspension? Over a broken beaker. A piece of equipment that costs at most 10 credits.” he says, setting his breakfast down on his nearby desk before turning back to face Thatcher. “Ironic that I was discussing impatience with our Castori friend here.” he says, pulling up a chair, sitting, and leaning his hands and arms across his cane. “Do you have any idea how many accidents there were when my father and Mr. Cooke were developing the Tilsworth-Cooke drive? Yet, eventually a revolutionary method of travel was discovered that allowed us to begin our first explorations of interstellar space, furthering mankind.” He says leaning back. “I will not tolerate such impatience in my lab. Such rigidity. THAT is unprofessional, and to be perfectly blunt an affront to all science and the achievements that have come before. Come talk to me when something other than minor property is at stake.” he says, looking back to Avocet. “You are NOT suspended, young man. Just do be more careful in the future.”

Thatcher frowns and steps forward. “Now, see here, if we give him another chance, the next time it may not be water in whatever he breaks.”

Tilsworth stands up, glowering at Thatcher. “You are not in charge of this department. I AM. Your recommendation has been noted and dismissed. I will hear nothing further of it, or you may find yourself facing removal from this project. Is that clear?” he says. “If I had a credit for every piece of glassware I’ve broken over the years, I could by my own moon and retire! The fact remains, it was an accident, and there was no harm. I am not going to play a game of ‘what ifs’ with you.”

Thatcher opens his mouth to speak again, raising a finger, but then seems to think better of it Instead, he takes a bite from his bagel and chews. Venomously. He slumps onto his stool.

“I’ll be more careful,” Avocet assures Tilsworth. “But, if I could, I’d like to explain why I was startled.” He taps the silver audio tick clamped into his right ear. “I’ve been monitoring frequencies for any broadcasts from the planet below. I finally got something. Mostly static, but every 30 seconds or so, there’s a message on repeat. I’m only catching part of it. A man’s voice saying ‘Merry’. Or ‘Meri,’ perhaps. Like they’re hailing us.” He plucks his PDA off the table and shows the display to Tilsworth and Dorme. The image is of two matching audio waveforms. “I matched the voice snippet against our archives. That’s Arjun Bright, with 89.6 percent certainty.”

Huh. There’s a chance that’s related to that missing expedition. A very high chance. “What frequency has the message been broadcast on? Is there a more powerful communicator or receiver we can use to try catching more of the message? I assume the message has something to do with ‘Meri-wether Station’, but it’d be nice to know more.”

Tilsworth widens his eyes, and nods to Dorme’s analysis. “It could very well be, that is too close of a match to disregard it offhand.” he says, looking closer at the PDA. “We must find an algorithm that will allow us to better process this message, see if we can pull more from it, and if at all possible, determine if it is a live transmission or an automated recording, but this could be a break we have been waiting for.”

“It’s on the general hailing frequency, but the signal is very weak,” Avocet replies. He looks from Tilsworth to Dormerura. “We can probably enhance the signal to a certain extent from here, but not much. Something’s in the way. Atmospheric disturbance. Electronic jamming…”

Hm…a surface signal probe might be effective, but without an improved method of communicating with the probes, it’s just moving the problem back a level – instead of difficulty communicating with the missing team, they’d have trouble communicating with the probe. Then again, maybe if it’s set up with a high-power, focused beam directed straight at Meriwether Station instead of sending out broad signals? Of course, it’s possible that the missing team is already doing that, and that the problems persist despite that. They don’t know what’s causing the interference, which makes the entire situation hard to solve. Part of her wants to try creating some form of Psionic scanning device or telepathy enhancer, to try going around the issue rather than simply overpowering it, but that’s likely just because that’s her area of expertise – she’s not entirely sure if it would work, especially without knowing the population of Arjun’s team. Besides, she’s still new here – it’s probably better to hear what Tilsworth thinks of the matter, given his experience and familiarity with the situation.

Tilsworth looks towards Dorme. “You look like your gears are turning, to turn a phrase.” he says. “Do you have in idea?”

“Er, a few ideas, but I’m not sure how good any of them are. We could try building a probe to serve as a relay station, listen to the hailing frequency then re-send the message on a more unique channel – maybe a high-frequency, high-energy beam rather than a broad-spectrum wide-range message distribution, but without knowing exactly what’s causing the interference, it’s hard to make something that wouldn’t be blocked, and I’m not sure we have the supplies for multiple attempts. Something on the station would obviously be easier to recycle if it doesn’t work, but that’s not really going to fix the problem. It’s far from ideal, but so long as we have some signal, we could try setting up a few satellites to listen in and triangulate the source – give us a better idea of where the signal’s coming from, even if we can’t quite decode it entirely – but of course, all of that’s assuming that the signal continues long enough for us to do so – which isn’t necessarily a good assumption, since an automated recording would obviously last longer than a live transmission. If it is live, I’m not sure we’ll have time to build any appropriate devices to fix things up.”

Avocet offers a faint smile. “I don’t think it is live. The message begins the same way each time, at regular intervals. My suspicion is that Mr. Bright recorded the message for transmission and left it on a loop, hoping that we might hear it.” He adjusts the image on his PDA’s holodisplay. “The good news is that even if we can’t capture the complete message, I have been able to use our station sensor pods to triangulate the signal within a few square kilometers. Southern hemisphere.”

Tilsworth listens to Dorme, and nods to Avocet. “Excellent work, young man… that gives us the best data so far on their whereabouts. Now if we can just hear them.” he says, putting a hand to his chin. “A probe I think is an excellent idea. If we can get it to as low orbit as possible, we may be able to amplify the signal.”

“Wait, do we want a low orbit, or one which synchronizes with New Amundsen’s orbital period? The former would likely minimize interference, which is obviously a concern, but with the right orbit, the satellite could remain above the signal’s source to some extent – which might be preferable for establishing further communications. But is a synchronous orbit worth the extra altitude?” Of course, that’s assuming the team is still alive – the message only means they were there at some point, not that they’re there now.

Thatcher grumbles between bites of bagel. He sips his tea, then says, “Why take such baby steps with this situation? A probe? Should we not dispatch a team to land in the area where the signal appears to originate? What if the entirety of that message is ‘Meriwether Station, we are currently standing in a rising pool of lava?’ Time, to me, seems of the essence.”

Tilsworth looks to Thatcher. “So you are suggesting that we send lives into a situation we know nothing about, where people have already gone missing, and just hope that things work out? Is that, in fact, what you are saying?” he says, with a hint, nay, an absolute certified letter, of contempt.

Dormerura makes sure she’s closer to Tilsworth than to Thatcher – both to show her alignment on the issue, and to hopefully mitigate a bit of blowback. “I don’t think it’s quite that urgent – if they were at immediate risk of dying, why would they take the time to set up an automated message instead of just manually hailing for as long as they can manage? Not to mention, we don’t know how long they’ve been hailing us for – maybe the interference weakened a little bit, and we’re only just able to hear it now?” She looks to Avocet, since he’s the one who heard it. “If they’ve been trying to reach us for a while, they can afford to wait a little longer while we prepare to actually save them, right?”

Avocet considers, but then shrugs. “It’s not up to me. But…” He glances toward his not-so-best friend, Dr. Thatcher. “It seems to me that there’s a middle ground. Perhaps launch a shuttle for a low-altitude pass over the region, with enhanced listening gear. If they are in immediate peril, we’d be prepared for rapid response.”

Tilsworth nods to Avocet. “An interesting suggestion..” he says, and nods to Dorme. “And an excellent observation.” he says, pulling up his chair to sit. “A shuttle equipped with the necessary communications equipment would be a good compromise, but we should coordinate with the other teams since if we believe a response may be needed. We will want the personnel available to go down should that scenario arise.”

Dormerura nods. “In that case, we should probably start preparing the equipment while we start co-ordinating, right? Make sure we’re ready for the mission as soon as a team is ready?” She’s not sure if she should be part of the team for the mission, given her general lack of knowledge on the situation and survival skills, but she’s not going to explicitly withdraw her name – she’s still a little concerned about office politics.

Thatcher looks very much as if he wants to take issue with this plan, but as it seems to creep frighteningly close to what he had in mind, he spends a few more moments chewing his bagel, swallows, and then says, “Someone should inform Griffin Bright that we may have found evidence of his father’s survival.”

Tilsworth nods. “He will need informed anyway as the team assembly moves to completion. There have already been many volunteers to go down for the search.”

Dormerura stands by, not particularly familiar with Griffin or any volunteers, but able to pick up the basics from context clues. Still, with nothing particular to add to the conversation, she simply listens.

“I’ll requisition a shuttle,” Avocet says. He looks toward the Castori. “You don’t get flight sick, do you?”

Dormerura is a bit taken aback – she’d assumed that one of those other volunteers Tilsworth had mentioned would be handling it. Still, she can’t very well turn down an order right now. “Er…no, sir. I’m able to fly on a shuttle. I’m not a pilot, but I can fly, at least.”

Tilsworth nods. “We’ll need every possible hand, so if you are available, you’ll be welcome along.” he says. “We must begin assembling our gear to hopefully account for any surprises, as we are still going in somewhat blind, but with some luck we will answer some of our questions with the closer scan.”

Thatcher taps in several lines into his PDA and then transmits. “I’ve notified Mr. Bright. Presumably, he’ll want to schedule a briefing to cover what we do know before we launch our new effort.”

Dormerura nods. “Right. All hands on deck. I’ll…start preparing some equipment.” She certainly hadn’t expected fly-bys of unexplored plants when she moved here, but it looks like that’s what she’ll be doing soon enough.

Liked it? Take a second to support Wes Platt on Patreon!

Wes Platt

Lead storyteller. Game designer and journalist. Recovering Floridian.

You may also like...

%d bloggers like this: