Chapter 5. Catch and Release

Log Entry 20:16:31 – 12.27.2185

It was eleven days ago. Data from the six sensor remotes came pouring in and for a second, Spegg was there. One small ping. A blip in space. Then, the data began to crash the systems. All of it, collapsing, sending each redundancy into subsequent failure. For a time, I stared at the scrambled data on the screen before me, trying to remember the location, as it related to the ship. Then, lines of corrupt code obscured all that I could see. I stabbed at the screen with a finger, hoping to make a permanent mark where I saw the blip. Once again, the damage was done. I was alone again.

In my mind, Spegg is a vile and devious creature. If I can bring him back to the SM5 and lock him down, hopefully I can eventually get him back to the JAXA labs for dissection and analysis. This is my every intention.

[Communication sent: 27DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 06:24:17 – 12.28.2185

Since locating Spegg’s weak signal twelve days ago, I’ve been busy developing a plan to re-capture the survival pod and subdue Spegg.

Every ship with a survival pod comes equipped with reclamation mechanics. If you can get close enough to a rogue pod, you can remotely signal and recapture the pod, magnetically secure it to the ship, and even re-tool the ejection mechanisms to fire again. Done properly, I can re-use the pod and disembark the ship. First, I have to get Spegg out of the pod without incident. Fortunately, part of the reclamation process involves decontaminating the re-acquired pod.

From within the ship, you can scrub the entire interior of the pod with anti-bacterials, anti-microbials, ultra-violet light, etc. Due to the fact that I want the pod back for my own use and to see Spegg incarcerated, I’ve decided to hunt down the pod, recapture it, and flood the compartment with hydrogen sulfide and a few other exotic gasses from one of the long-term stasis pressure vessels on the ship.

As part of a cross-development program through JAXA and the IDSA, I spent three years working with engineering and mechanics on ships of this type. That experience became highly useful, as I’ve spent days re-engineering the injection feeds from the ship to the pod with the gas supplies from the stasis vessels. Once I have the pod locked back in, Spegg won’t be able to enter the SM5 without having me disengage the hatchway from inside the ship. Although it has never been tried on an LMO, I believe I can put Spegg into a chemically-induced stasis, evacuate the excess gas, open the hatch, and then secure Spegg for transport in one of the chambers. As part fish in design, these transgenics have fair metabolic flexibility. With the right mixture and a low-oxygen situation, I can hold Spegg until the supplies run out.

It appears that we are prepared to settle the score with our LMO. The hunt is on.

[Communication sent: 28DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 17:19:43 – 12.29.2185

I finished the modifications to the pod decontamination feeds, using the gas supplies from one of the stasis vessels. When I re-acquire the pod, I can control a flood of hydrogen sulfide gas mixture into the compartment from the touch of a button [image attached]. Spegg should be very little trouble from that point forward. However, thanks to Spegg’s meddling with the integrity of the Central Data Core, the navigational information we have is imprecise at best. Since I had only a brief glimpse of Spegg’s survival pod location information, I’ve run scans of the area a dozen times now. Based on the strength of readings, I’ve catalogued 23 objects of similar size to the survival pod within a 1.52 ± 0.14 AU radius from the SM5. There is a bit of a margin to work within, as I’ve had to make adjustments based on the distance of the pod’s blip before the systems began to crash. In any case, it’s a vast area of space to search.

[Communication sent: 29DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

decon_systems

Log Entry 05:59:08 – 12.30.2185

This is troubling. The search for Spegg and the survival pod has been hindered by inconsistencies in the data we’ve received from the scans.

Unusual as it may sound, the scan data shows numerous inconsistencies in “preferred object size” numbers from scan to scan. I can’t rule out failing system code or software or calculations, given that Spegg engineered a fairly devastating systems crash prior to departing the ship. This seems strangely different. Something isn’t right. Since systems native to a deep-space vessel like the SM5 have enormous fault tolerance, as well as both roll-forward and roll-back recovery for different catastrophic error situations, it is almost as if some objects kept appearing and disappearing at random. At one earlier point, I altered the scans to return object numbers using the mass and density data for the SM5 herself. I waited for several hours before an ongoing scan returned an exact match. Thinking it might have been another ship arriving, I jumped at the nav system monitor and tried to lock in the location data. In an instant, it was completely gone.

Adding an increased level of confusion to the situation is the fact that the ship’s communications array also picked up a signal fragment at the same time. Due to the duration and content, however, this may be simply a signal reflection. I am well aware that space is an extraordinarily unpredictable environment, but even for extreme deep space, this is an unusual set of occurrences. My plan is to put these concerns aside for now. I have a fish to catch.

[Communication sent: 30DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 16:32:24 – 12.31.2185

I’m staring into empty space.

The main console at the navigation station in the cockpit shows me nothing. Minutes ago, there was a survival pod on screen. Specifically, it was the survival pod from the SM5. This survival pod had the same mass, the same density and, hopefully, the same pilot. It was no small task to navigate the SM5 alone to this particular region. Granted, out of the 23 detected objects, this particular blip was closer than the rest. But it also had the strongest reading and energy signature returns from the scans I performed.

Given the information on the target movement, after a lock on its position, we set a short jump exit vector within 165 km. With a little surprise, this moderate distance would have allowed us to use recall signaling systems to attract and re-capture the pod. As we exited the jump into the planned coordinates, I punched up the locator and sent a ping out to the pod. I received a positive return and queued up the pod signaling and remote management systems. From the parent ship, it takes about a minute to hail a lost pod, log the pilot off the system, and take control. But within seconds, the target space was empty. This makes no logical sense. Spegg and that survival pod were out there.

Now, I’m staring stupidly at a blank screen. No pod. No jump signature. No debris. No Spegg. At this point, the question becomes: What were we seeing and where did it go?

[Communication sent: 31DEC2185 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 15:34:57 – 01.01.2186

After the strange disappearance of Spegg and the survival pod yesterday, just before we could override the pod’s systems and complete the re-acquisition, I made an interesting discovery.

Frustrated that the survival pod I thought was in our grasp had simply vanished, I immediately began reaffirming all other similar targets in the region. After I called up every target that matched the mass and density of the survival pod that Spegg escaped with, I began tracking the objects individually and measuring the consistency in properties for each over a period of time. Much to my astonishment, I found that many of the survival-pod-sized targets that the scanners are tracking in this region have what appears to be a wavering quality of mass. It’s as if some of these targets are flickering in and out of existence. To make things even more difficult to believe, some targets flicker faster than others.

Those targets closest in distance to the supermassive black hole in this region appear to be less viable than those at a greater distance. Therefore, I have a theory to test and a new target locked at the 0.73 ± 0.01 AU range. Presently, I am confirming coordinates with the nav systems and spooling up the hyperdrive. My plan is, once again, to drop in within hailing distance of this new target, lock in, control and re-acquire the pod.

In short time, we’re going to discover just what these flickering anomalies are all about, by taking aim at the weakest target that is near to the event horizon surrounding the supermassive. If all goes well, Spegg may be in for quite a surprise. Then again, I might just have another ghost ship on my hands.

[Communication sent: 01JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 17:11:42 – 01.01.2186

TARGET ACQUIRED!

The Survival pod and Spegg are docked and locked to the ship. The hatch is secured from inside the SM5 [image attached] and Spegg is completely captive. The plan worked without fail. Within seconds of exiting behind Spegg’s survival pod, I signaled the craft and launched the remote management systems. Control of the pod was ours before Spegg could somehow disappear again. Communications lines from the ship to the pod are not presently responding, so I have no knowledge of Spegg’s present condition and I can’t monitor his activities. Nevertheless, I am about to flood the compartment with the hydrogen sulfide gas mixture and put this mutinous saboteur down for a good long while.

[Communication sent: 01JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

pod_locked

Alert 16:04:23 – 01.02.2186

All COMS: This is Maxim Akihiko Broussad, onboard the Shinkai Maru 5. We have encountered a massive gravitational disturbance that is threatening to tear the ship apart. Ship engines and systems are powerless against… no known explanation… the survival pod may have… as density increases… somehow

»»abrupt transmission end««

[Communication sent: 02JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 19:52:42 – 01.02.2186

Both the survival pod and Spegg are gone.

Before I could finish preparations and open the hatchway to the pod, the SM5 suffered a massive series of increasingly-violent tremors. Some bizarre gravitational deformity of space-time apparently seized the SM5 and threatened to wrench Spegg and the survival pod from the starboard hatchway. Every light and siren in the SM5 was instantly blaring. Power, O2, electronics, operating systems, navigation, internal gravity, and nearly all subsystems were on the verge of complete stoppage.

From a visual standpoint, I thought that the collar around the pod and most of the hatchway would surely tear away from the ship. Every electronic system that controlled the connectivity or separation of the pod was unresponsive. Only the manual release mechanisms allowed me to unlock and jettison Spegg and the re-acquired pod. When released, the SM5 shook violently once again and then no further drag forces could be perceived.

Over time, internal ship functions returned to normal status. From the starboard-side observation port, I could see the pod moving through the accretion disk, and past the event horizon, with ever-increasing speed. Hours passed, but I stood and watched until it was over. Soon enough, I saw the pod disappear from view into the heart of the supermassive [image attached]. The pod’s remote management systems monitored activities until 18:57:09, at which time the pod apparently crossed the final boundary and ceased to exist.

[Communication sent: 02JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

porthole_supermassive1

Log Entry 19:24:12 – 01.03.2186

Unfortunate, disastrous and terrible. From all perspectives, the events of yesterday that took the survival pod and Spegg toward a horrific end are as puzzling as they were shocking.

I am bothered by both the unusual nature of the event, as well as the loss of my captive and the reclaimed survival pod. Although I regarded Spegg as a vile and devious creature, whose actions were nothing short of deliberate sabotage, I believe that Spegg deserved to be delivered to JAXA and the IDSA for examination and assessment. In the end, Spegg would be dissected and dissolved, but even that fate seems less appalling than being drawn helplessly toward a voracious singularity.

For the record, I still have no plausible explanation for the strange gravitational event that seized the ship and caused such calamity. Additionally, I now have no access to the survival pod. The pod would certainly come in useful, if I needed to depart the SM5 for any reason. Deep space explorers like this ship don’t come fitted with landing components and certainly would not stand up to an atmospheric re-entry. The pod may be badly needed at a future point.

[Communication sent: 03JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

Log Entry 17:07:44 – 01.04.2186

I have a terrible uneasy feeling in my gut. After a long night spent trying to resolve the unthinkable, something new is wrong. I’m back at the main console at the navigation station in the cockpit, staring at a screen filled with new potential targets that have the same mass and density data as the survival pod that I just yesterday witnessed going through the supermassive black hole. Spegg and the pod are gone. Who are these others? Why are they here? Is it Spegg… again?

[Communication sent: 04JAN2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

targets_on_nav

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transmission details:

A communications specialist in the year 2185 is abandoned in deep space by a deranged Living Modified Organism, setting up a series of events that lead him back in time to a ruined home world ruled by a wealthy eccentric, a scientist playing God, and the very creature that first stranded him in space.
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