That Damned Planet

by John M. Joyce  (Feb, 2009)
Illustrations by D. Kerr Greenlaw, Company Archivist

 
 
The Appalachian (Registry 34367-G-387) approaching the Pencil Nebula on her first long distance proving run. Shot taken from the chase ship Puck (Registry 98236-K-836) on 6th September 5450. Company Archive No. 123565453 – 03.
 
Sometimes the impossible happens. The giant space liner – Space Company craft the Appalachian 34367-G-387 – hit something in subspace, and hit it good and hard. The damage to the Appalachian was considerable as the myriads of winking red lights on every console in the control room of the great space liner revealed all too well to its Commanding Officer – Company Space Group Captain, the Appalachian’s Commander, Margret Ellenshaw.
 
The C/S Group Captain did not interfere or issue unnecessary orders as she stood and watched her control room staff fighting to regain control of the colossal craft as it cart-wheeled erratically through the subspace continuum on course only for catastrophe if they failed. Dispassionately she noticed that the main HÛHe reactor was out of commission and that the field coils which surrounded the ship were rapidly running out of the power necessary to sustain subspace transit. She walked quickly across to the Internal Systems control console and switched off all power throughout the liner excepting emergency lighting, for she knew that by doing so the energy supply to the field coils could be kept at some reasonably sensible level using the power produced by the small, domestic, secondary HÛHe reactor. It was vital that the liner dropped out of subspace in a controlled manner otherwise the transition forces would, in all probability, rip the craft to pieces – killing all three thousand five hundred passengers and eight hundred crew in the twenty mtm1, four and a half mile long liner.
 
She knew that this move would panic the passengers but she also knew that the Company cabin staff would, by now, be ushering the passengers into the hundreds of survival pods scattered liberally all through the body of, and all over the surface of, the Appalachian – from needle tip to trailing point nobody was further from survival than a brisk walk of a minute or two. Nonetheless, the Appalachian had to stay intact in order to release the survival pods safely – preferably in real space but, if push came to shove, on some sensible and controlled course in subspace which would give each survival pod some reasonable chance of using its one-shot dropout facility from the faster than light speed transit of subspace and staying intact.
 
Slowly the control room staff regained mastery of the great liner, and stabilised its transit in subspace. Once that had been achieved C/S Flight Lieutenant Jon Perkes brought the first damage report to Ellenshaw. As she skimmed through it she realised just how serious the damage to the spacecraft was! Whatever had collided with them in subspace (an impossible event in itself) had stripped all two hundred and sixty survival pods from the offside of the space liner, had damaged beyond repair the main HÛHe reactor, ripped two huge gashes deep into the outer skin of the craft – damaging the lead shielding quite severely, rendered inoperable some seventy percent of the offside field coils and had perforated the main offside water tanks thereby causing well over ninety percent of all of the water carried aboard to be vented into subspace. Life support throughout the great liner was offline – but that she knew for she herself had done that – and oxygen levels were depleting at an alarming rate. The only good news in the entire report was that the inner skin of the Appalachian, the skin which held the atmosphere in, was undamaged.
 
Aghast at the extent of the damage she knew that she had no option. “Lieutenant, order flight control to drop into real space immediately,” she ordered.
 
“Yes ma’am,” he replied, automatically and formally, as he turned away and hurried off to execute the order.
 
She felt, as did everybody else aboard the stricken liner, the dropout. It wasn’t smooth – how could it be with so many field coils out of action – but it was accomplished successfully thanks to the manifold skills of the Company control room and engineering staff. The screens in the control room sprang into life and revealed the star field which the liner now found itself in. Immediately, the navigation staff began the complicated procedure of identifying the near stars in order to find out just where the craft had re-entered real space. C/S Group Captain Ellenshaw didn’t wait for them to compleat their task before depressing the switch on her console which activated the emergency transmission to The Company Headquarters Station.
 
She took a few seconds to watch the emergency message scroll across her screen for, in her long career flying spacecraft, she had never before had to transmit such a message, “Emergency, emergency. Grey lady down, grey lady down. Company Spacecraft Appalachian 34367-G-387 requests and requires immediate assistance. Situation terminal.”
 
That message would be transmitted again and again for as long as there was power enough in the remaining small reactor for the subspace transmitter to work. If her liner had dropped out into real space anywhere in the Sagittarius arm of the Galaxy then the message would be received within a few hours at the most by Central Control on the Company Home Station and help would be sent immediately. That help, however, could take many days, even many weeks, to reach them and she knew that the people aboard her spacecraft didn’t have weeks, didn’t, in fact, have more than a few days because there was not enough water left to sustain all the souls in her cure for longer than five or six days at the most. She was well aware that there might remain to her no other option but to release the survival pods, which was not a pleasant thought given that surviving in a pod was unlikely beyond two weeks. And two weeks was only possible if there was water in the pods, which there wasn’t because all the water systems on the liner were interlinked in order to keep it all potable.
 
Impatient to know just where she was she strode across the huge room to the Navigation centre.
 
“Ah, Commander, I was just about to come to you,” said the Senior Navigation Officer, C/S Flight Lieutenant Rafe Mascourian, “We have a rather intriguing little problem.”
 
“You mean that you don’t know where we are?”
 
“Oh no, Ma’am, I know precisely where we are and I have already transmitted our co-ordinates to the Home Station,” he replied, “and they should arrive there in ninety-three minutes time, which means that help should arrive here in approximately three weeks.”
 
“So, what’s the problem then?” she asked, putting aside the horrible thought that they would all be dead of thirst long before help arrived.
 
“Simply this!” he stated, activating his forward view screen. Shining brightly, and filling the whole screen was a star, a sun.
 
“Wow, we dropped out too close for comfort to that!” she exclaimed.
 
“Yes,” he agreed, “and flight control is powering us away from it as fast as they can. Given that we’re reduced to the small reactor so engineering can’t give them the use of all the ion blast engines at once we should still be out harm’s way within three hours.”
 
“But that’s not all of your intriguing problem, is it?”
 
“Oh no, it certainly isn’t, Commander. Just look at this.” With that Mascourian turned to the screen and adjusted the view. At maximum magnification a blue planet filled it.
 
“Is that an Earth type? Is it one of ours?” the Commander asked excitedly, seeing some glimmer of hope, some chance of survival for all of them, “What’s its signature? What’s the star’s signature?”
 
“Oh, it’s undoubtedly a terrabuild or a terraform and it has a classic Earth signature – Oxygen, Nitrogen, Noble Gases, water vapour, all are exactly correct – and the star has been adjusted to a G2V type 1/1/1 with a surface temperature of 5,780K and its spectral lines form a barcode very similar to one of ours. The planet which you’re looking at is in orbit at precisely 1AU, as well. This is definitely an engineered system.”
 
“But?” Commander Ellenshaw percipiently asked.
 
“It isn’t one of ours!” the Flight Lieutenant answered.
 
“What! That’s not possible!” she exclaimed, loudly.
 
“It’s not in the Star Register, it’s not in any of the older versions of the Register and, before you ask, I, personally, updated all the Registers at our stopover at the Alpha Cygni Link Station, so none of them are less than ten hours old and new solar systems are not posited, commissioned, designed, built and put into place in ten hours.”
 
“But you can confirm that that is a terratype with water?” the Commander asked, indicating the image of the planet on the screen and clinging, desperately, onto hope whilst ignoring all else.
 
“Yes, most certainly I can.”
 
“Good! We’re going there!” she stated as she spun on her heel and took a step towards Flight Control.
 
“Mmmm - hmmm! I don’t think that you want to give that order, Commander,” said a male voice in a cultivated, slow drawl, “it might not be the best thing to do in the circumstances, don’t-yer-know.”
 
C/S Group Captain Ellenshaw almost fell over her own feet in sheer surprise. She had enjoyed the company of Marc L Addrison most evenings on the long flight from V762Cas/4 to Earth and knew the timbre of his voice well, but as far as she knew he was just the usual well-educated and polite Company executive hitching a ride in the private crew quarters of a company spacecraft, as many did, across the space-ways in order to execute the various complex commands of their individual Company sections. What surprised her very deeply was a certain note of command, and she knew that note well, which was present in his voice as he uttered those words.
 
Sudden anger engulfed her. Some playboy rich-kid from the Company hierarchy was attempting to tell her what to do on her own ship! She turned to him, verbal bile rising to her lips in easy fashion. Just in time she registered his uniform! She’d never before in all her lives seen so many diamond stars on two shoulders. She’d never seen so many coloured pips on a left breast in all her lives, either. His tall, rangy form wore the full fig of a Board Member of the Company with a certain haughty and natural disdain, slipped into, she had no doubt, as the first alarm sounded. The uniform and the man seemed to be two separate things which had consented, for the time being, to move together: it wasn’t natural but it wasn’t altogether unnatural, either.
 
In that instant she registered the periwinkle blue flash, the sparkling light of a rare natural sapphire, mounted on silver gilt, worn on a velvet band at his throat, which confirmed his status as a Board Member.
 
Commander Ellenshaw was made of hard, loyal and stern stuff, however. “My quarters, now!” she crisply ordered to the popinjay-like man who confronted her, and she strode off, shoulders set, to her office cum conference room, without a backward glance. Her arrogance of command matched, at that moment, his assumptions of obedience, and it was a fine thing to see! The Commander of a Spacecraft challenging the Administration of the Company is, even today, a very rare sight indeed.
 
Nonetheless, she was more than a little surprised to find that he had followed her into the office and had quietly closed the door. Any Board Member aboard a spacecraft outranked everybody excepting the Chairman and he didn’t need to explain anything to her if he didn’t want to. The short walk to her office had also served to cool her temper.
 
“I know that you can order me not to fly to that planet but the damage to this craft is so great that I am left with no alternative,” she told him.
 
“I haven’t seen your damage report,” he replied calmly.
 
She handed her copy to him. It took him just a minute or so to digest its contents.
 
“I see,” he said, “the main problem is water. If we had water we could stay safely aboard.”
 
“Precisely, but we don’t have more than enough water to last longer than four days – ten with severe rationing, perhaps. That planet is our only hope of survival until rescue gets here and it will take twenty-one days, at least, for the rescue ships to arrive.”
 
“I’m so sorry, but I have to order you and your officers not to get closer to that damned planet than two hundred thousand miles...”
 
“But that’s handing everyone aboard a sentence of certain death,” she interrupted.
 
“...but I can offer an alternative solution,” he continued smoothly, “so could you bring all your control room officers in here. I will need to explain to you and to them just what you must do and why that is necessary.”
 
It took just a few minutes for all of them to file in and take seats at the old oak and walnut conference table.
 
“I know this table!” Addrison exclaimed as he took his place, “Isn’t it the conference table from Rigel’s Conjunction?”2
 
“Yes it is,” Ellenshaw confirmed, “I requested it and the chairs from the Appalachian as soon as I heard Rigel’s Conjunction was to be decommissioned. We’re all here. You have the floor Mr. Addrison.”
 
“Thank-you, Commander. Flight Officers of the Appalachian, I am Company Board Member Marc Lennard Addrison and a few minutes ago I gave the Commander of this liner a direct order not to approach closer to the terratype planet which Navigation has found in our vicinity than two hundred thousand miles. I am sure that most of you will, by now, be aware of the parlous state of this craft and of the fact that we have scarcely more than four days of water left in those tanks which remain intact. The excellent Navigation Officers,” and here he nodded in their direction, “of this Company spacecraft have probably already informed you that the planet, and the star around which it revolves, bear all the signs, markings and signatures of having been engineered by our Company and that is indeed the case.”
 
“But it’s not in the Star Registers,” Flight Lieutenant Mascourian objected.
 
“That is quite correct,” Addrison continued, “It is not in the Star Registries and that is quite deliberate. This solar system is embargoed! No spacecraft should, by order of the Board of our Company, and all the Governments of all the inhabited planets, stations and satellites concur with that order, venture into this system under any circumstances whatsoever – including the circumstance which we currently find ourselves in! There will be no rescue mission coming to save us!”
 
That last statement drew a collective gasp from every person seated around that impressive table. The Great Company always rescued any of their spacecraft in trouble. Casualties in space were practically unheard of and the Company certainly never abandoned its passengers if there was the slightest chance of saving even just one life. That fact is what had earned for the Company the absolute trust of all the peoples on all the inhabited worlds.
 
“Why is this system so strictly embargoed?” asked one of the junior flight control officers after a few moments.
 
Addrison appeared to take a moment or two to think.
 
“In order to answer that question I have to take you back to the early days of our Company, to the days when we were still heavily dependent upon the good will and friendliness of Earth, to the days when we were still partly based on Earth and long before we had become a totally independent entity in our own right.”
 
“About a thousand years after our Company was founded, just at the time that we had started to build planets and adjust the stars around which they revolve, the Standing Committee of the Free Governments of Earth, SCOTFGOE, had a major problem. Earth, and some of the few of the settled planets at that time, had a major problem with one particular group of humans who insisted on believing in an ancient religion which preached hatred and violence, and the need, as they viewed things, for a supremacist, religious tyranny, based upon their beliefs, to rule over all mankind. They were called Mewslimes or Mihslams or some such, according to the records, and they indulged in daily acts of the most atrocious violence in order to advance their cause. The problem with the Mihslams, or Mewslimes, had become so severe at the time of which I am speaking that SCOTGOE simply had to act in order to save our civilisations from their murderous, and I mean that quite literally, depredations.”
 
“SCOTFGOE resolved at a specially convened meeting that the Mihslams had to go. The Company, our Company, was commissioned to build a planet, and a Sol type star for it to revolve around, to which they could all be banished. We were instructed to spare no effort or expense and that the finished planet should have every luxury and necessity upon its surface which was known to mankind at the time. That we did. We fulfilled the commission not only to the letter but in the spirit of the contract also. We built the most luxurious planetary environment ever seen. It was replete with technology – the most advanced hospitals, the finest communications, the most advanced transport systems, the most wonderful houses... I’m sure you get the picture. It was, in short, a paradise. Oh, don’t get me wrong. We charged SCOTFGOE an arm and a leg for that build, but they paid up quite willingly. Then we transported every Mewslime they rounded up in a series of military operations to it, and charged SCOTFGOE for doing that, too. Those operations went on for over a hundred years. It was a most profitable contract for our Company and it solved the problem for everybody.”
 
“However, nobody was ever able to identify why those people believed as they did. Nobody was ever able to identify why their beliefs so often led to violence, irrationality and murder. It was suspected at the time that it was some sort of viral contagion and so it was decided that an absolute embargo should be placed upon the system we now find ourselves in. Nobody is going to risk venturing into this system to rescue us because no one, least of all our Company, would ever take the risk of letting such a disease, if a disease it is, spread through the populations of all our worlds again.”
 
“Our only hope of survival is to go nowhere near that damned planet. We mustn’t even touch its upper atmosphere. We must keep our life support systems entirely free from any possible contamination. We must find water elsewhere – and we can!”
 
“Good grief, sir, where, apart from on that terrabuild, can we find water in this system?” Commander Ellenshaw asked, breaking into the flow of Addrison’s lecture and spoiling his moment. He appeared not to notice her interruption.
 
“However,” he continued, “the Board Members, even way back then, were not stupid. We broke, quite secretly, our contract with SCOTFGOE. We built a monitoring station in orbit above the planet at the Lagrange point between that planet and its moon. To be precise, we converted the Way Station for that planet into a one sided Monitoring Station so that we could keep an eye on that damned planet. It can’t accept Lifters from the planet’s surface – there are no docking facilities for Lifters – but there are docking facilities for spacecraft such as the Appalachian – or, possibly, its cargo lighters. And that converted Way Station is a Class 4 station, so it has on board, therefore, some millions of gallons of water and a repair bay. All we have to do is get there, dock with it, transfer some water, do some basic repairs, get the hell out of this system and then inform the Home Station of our situation.”
 
“Of course, if my plan works, we’ll all be put into quarantine – probably for some months – and monitored for years after that, but it’s a better option than sending us all down onto a diseased planet and ending our days, and, mark my words, it will be ending our days for, I can assure you, there is no life extension technology available on that planet, amongst Mihslam savages, with no hope of rescue.”
 
Addrison stopped speaking. A deep silence engulfed that assembly of Company flight officers. He could tell easily that they had been deeply shocked by the Company’s willing compliance in what they were all seeing as a human disaster. To separate a large number of human beings from the rest of the race, and to do so by some fiat of some ancient incarnation of SCOTFGOE seemed to them, he knew and sensed, a basic affront to everything which they held dear. He judged his moment before continuing.
 
When the moment was right he said: “It’s our only choice. It’s all we can do. We have the sacred cure of the people on this liner as our first concern – and that’s a duty we have all sworn to uphold. We are not responsible for those on that wretched planet nor are we responsible for their fate. We are Company Officers and we must behave accordingly.”
 
He let the silence stretch out beyond his remark for over a minute.
 
“We have no other option,” he said very softly, “I could order you all to fall in with my wishes, with my plan, but I won’t. How say you all?”
 
After a few seconds, the same junior flight control officer who had interrupted him earlier asked: “Did they really murder or was that merely rhetorical?”
 
“They murdered!” he replied, “If we survive I will prove that if you wish it, or you can consult the Company Archivist on the subject and have it proved to you by her.”
 
Ellenshaw decided the matter a scant second after that interruption by standing up and exerting her authority as Commander.
 
“We will do as Board Member Addrison asks,” she ordered, “Let’s find that Monitoring Station and get some water onto this craft – I’m damned if I’m going to drink my nightcap without water!”
 
She grinned and with that she turned about and strode back into the control room.
 
Her Officers followed her.
 
Board Member Addrison sat alone at that antique table after they had all left. He gazed serenely at nothing at all, but a faint, sardonic, self-deprecating smile played upon his lips.
 
‘The lies which you don’t have to tell,’ he thought to himself, ‘can be so much more powerful than the lies which you do have to tell. The lies which people make up for themselves can carry the day. If only those poor innocent Officers knew just how bad, just how evil, the Mewslimes had really been three millennia ago. If only they knew just how many millions of them the Company had been complicit with SCOTFGOE in killing! Just how few had made it to paradise and what a mess those few millions had made of that paradise!’
 
Being an appointed Member of the Chairman’s Board wasn’t easy – but, in situations like this, it was very, very satisfying! Perhaps he’d get out of this alive – ‘...and perhaps,’ he thought, ‘Commander Ellenshaw would, as well – and that would be very nice indeed.’
 
 
 
 
1) The following is from The Encyclopaedia OmniBritannica (5448 ed.)
 
3. katie
Pronunciation: k?-t?
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural katie also katies
Etymology: Technical jargon, The Great Company, contraction of KTM (Kiloton Mass).
 
Also: reference to Catty: any of various units of weight of China and South East Asia varying around 113 pounds (about 600 grams); also: a standard Chinese unit equal to 1.1023 pounds (500 grams).
 
i.              a: a unit of inertial mass for ships of The Great Company equal to 1,000 Imperial tons —called also KTM (Kiloton Mass).
b: a unit approximately equal to the volume of the weight of inertial mass reckoning the inertial thrust from mass of ships of The Great Company to reach a speed of 2.5% of relativity
c: a unit of volume for cargo freight usually reckoned at 40,000 cubic feet —called also measurement kiloton
ii:             1,000 times any of various units of weight: a — see weight table b: metric ton.
 
Date first recorded in use: 21st century.
 
“This craft will be the largest thing to leave earth’s orbit since the extinction of the dinosaurs. The first ship specifically designed to cross Earth’s great and wild Atlantic Ocean, the S.S. Great Britain, was over 62 Katies. Ours, which is designed to cross the 60 odd light years to Barnard’s Star is 81.75 Katies.”
From The Black Whole – 17th July 2038, pp 35
 
See also: Maggie (MTM, Megaton Mass), Gertie (GTM, Gigaton Mass), Titanya (TTM, Teraton Mass)
 
2) This is a brochure picture of Rigel’s Conjunction (Registry 387495-KD-1288145) in flight on approach to Sommerholm. This picture was used in a brochure issued on 16th January 5386 to celebrate her retirement. This picture was taken on a voyage from Fortuna to Earth in the winter of 5385. Company Archive No. 072645065 – 06.
 
 
 
 
Additional (A):
 The shot below was taken from a guidance and proximity camera aboard the freighter Mrs. Virginia Cole (Registry 37951-D-376) taken during the successful recovery operation of the Appalachian and its passengers and crew. It shows the retrieval of life pod no. 419 of the Appalachian (Registry 915RP617923683/34367-G-387) after its collision with the Monitoring Station of the unnamed Mewslime virus contaminated planet. The Cole’s spotlight circle is clearly visible, as are the dark marks of the life pod’s collision with that station above its airlock – in the centre of the picture. Company Archive No. 394559183 – 65.
 
 

 
Additional (B):
This is a publicity shot of the Appalachian (Registry 34367-G-387) at an unrecorded location but believed to be the Alpha Centauri Ring Link Station planar approach (approximately four light years from Earth), given the visible star field. This picture was originally intended for inclusion in a souvenir Launch Programme issued on the 3rd May 5450 but was never used. It shows the original configuration of the field coils on the offside before the Appalachian’s subspace accident and consequent rebuilding. Company Archive No. 127450124 – 56
 
 
 
 
Footnote (C):
 
All text, photographs, jpegs and photographic and electronic reproductions, or similar, in this article are copyright, © of The Space Company (The Great Company) Series 2009 – 6540, Copyright © The Black Whole © 2009 and onwards, and D. Kerr Greenlaw © 2009 and onwards and John M Joyce © 2009 and onwards. Any images not attributed and texts not attributed are the property of the Space Company (The Great Company) and are copyright © John M. Joyce 2009 and onwards. In any event all images and texts are copyright © of the New English Review 2008 – 6450 and onwards. 2009 and onwards, and of Lexcentrics Ltd
 
News outlet reproduction rights can be obtained from the Great Company Press Office and from the New English Review.
 
The whole copyright © New English Review and © Lexcentrics Ltd.
 
Footnote (D):
 
The Great International Space Company acknowledges the help given by the New English Review Trust in uncovering our shared histories and making this article possible, and thanks the New English Review Trust Board for the unprecedented access to the New English Review’s Photographic Archive.


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