Mid November and NaNoWriMo continues to provide a daily word-count challenge. I thought this was going to be easy – ha ha ha ha ha. Silly me. Whatever was I thinking? I’m keeping up, but my eyeballs are drying out and my neck needs a cracking. I’m a recluse, spending every second of free time plastered to the keyboard. I could use a shower and a meal, to be frank. I live in my pajamas.
You’ve probably noticed that this month my blog is offering a short story in 4 installments. You can also download the entire thing in one fell swoop HERE and ignore me for the next couple weeks. Or if you missed a previous post, the links are below:
Ghost Story Part 1
Ghost Story Part 2
Without further ado: Part 3
Ghost Ship (Part 3)
Hands behind his back, Quinn stands before Captain Landry’s desk, giving his oral report. Placards and framed memorabilia dug from the ship’s archives checker monotone walls, every indication that Caspar Chevall existed neatly erased and replaced. The thought depresses him well beyond the surface presentation.
A first-class prick, Landry doesn’t offer a seat or cup of kava. He doesn’t glance up once from the graphic submission Quinn tendered earlier that morning, the report scrolling down a holo-screen at the desk’s corner. Quinn isn’t sure the man’s even listening. “In summary, Sir, based on the innocuous nature of the virus and our long history of coexistence, I recommend we take no action to purge it.”
“It’s a holo, Lieutenant.” Landry taps the screen and it vanishes. “A fabrication. A program with a flaw, a serious flaw.”
“I appreciate your reasoning, Sir,” Quinn states, careful with his words. “The ghost acknowledges the virus and insists it’s dangerous to us only if we try to remove it.”
“Ghost?” Landry barks a laugh. “You sound like Chevall.”
“I understand his word choice.” Quinn meets the captain’s steely eyes. “The holo isn’t your typical data-point; she’s too multi-dimensional, too real to have been invented. I believe she was modeled after a living alien.”
“And your ghost says she can’t control this cataclysmic event that will occur if we shut her down. How convenient for her.”
“I have no reason to assume otherwise.”
“How do you know this virus isn’t a chrono-bomb set for some future date?” Landry raises a blond eyebrow. “With or without the holo’s knowledge? The thing has infiltrated the ship’s major systems including defense, Lieutenant.”
“How do we know it isn’t symbiotic at this point, Captain? We could be interdependent.”
“You reason she was a living alien. That implies this holo is an alien program, an implant. What if it’s waiting for outside activation?”
“An invasion?” Quinn doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. That thought never occurred to him, but why would it? He trusts the ghost, believes her, and in some marvelous, mysterious way, he’s in love with her. “Captain, it’s been over a hundred years since we even discovered the infection.”
“How long is that to an alien species?” Landry narrows his eyes, the smirk on his lips cold.
“Captain, she’s not dangerous. I’m certain of it. She has no reason to destroy us or herself.”
“She’s a fucking holo, Lieutenant. Of course, she’d destroy herself. Why not, she’s a program. Programs are programmed.”
“She’s more than that. She’s—” Quinn’s jaw clenches as he clamps down on his emotions.
The captain leans back in his chair, studying him with eyes sharp enough to cut. “You’ve come under her spell, same as Chevall.”
Quinn forces himself to engage the captain’s gaze, though the urge to look away borders on irresistible. He exhales a slow breath. “There’s something happening here we don’t fully understand. I urge you to reconsider. Go meet her, spend a few intervals in her company and make an assessment for yourself. It’s imperative, Captain, that you choose the correct course here. Our lives depend on it.”
“Is that an order, Lieutenant?” Landry asks, his icy demeanor taking on a pall of threat. “Chevall was a fool to keep this ghost alive. He risked the ship and everyone on it. You’ll go back there, Lieutenant, and this time you’ll obey my orders or start a three-year stint in lockup.”
“Yes, Sir.” Quinn’s back stiffens, further argument pointless.
“Good.” Landry taps the air and the holo-screen reappears at his fingertips. “Portence, Systems Engineering and Integration.”
“Captain, Portence here.” The feminine voice clicks on, all business.
“Lieutenant Morales is in my office. Explain the action.”
“Heya…” Quinn hears her catch herself before she slaps him with a droll greeting. She flips swiftly to operational details, “At exactly 17:00, we’re shutting down the entire ship, everything, and I mean everything, Quinn, uh, Lieutenant—respiration, rotation, communication—you name it. We’ve got eight intervals before life-support becomes a concern, so no problem there. Having communication and circulation down is inconvenient, but we can override locally if necessary. It’s the loss of sim-grav that’s going to be a nightmare right from the start. The whole place is going to lift off, so the quicker we get this done, the better. How much time do you need to deactivate the holo?”
Quinn’s hand scrapes through his hair in an attempt to conceal his fury, his report an exercise in futility. He wouldn’t be shocked to learn Landry began planning this before Chevall died. “Fifteen minutes,” he replies. “I know where she keeps the data-crystal.”
“We’ll give you thirty,” Portence states. “Then we reboot and restore with our purged back-up. No sweat.”
“This is a go, Ensign. No second chances here,” Landry warns her. “We’re taking this holo’s threat seriously.”
“Yes, Sir.” Portence practically snaps a salute over the com.
The captain taps her out and looks at Quinn. “Don’t screw this up, Morales.”
“I’ll handle it, Sir.”
“Where does she keep the data-crystal?”
Quinn pauses. “An ivory box on the fireplace mantel.”
“I’m putting a security unit outside the holocell as backup.”
“You have a problem, Lieutenant?”
“Then get the fuck out of here and do your duty.”
“Yes, Sir.” Quinn salutes, turns on his heel, and strides from the office. He marches around the corridor’s bend and punches the wall, his blood on fire. He wants to throttle the man. Technically, the order makes sense—a realization that burns him. It’s almost risk-free unless the threat is hardwired or somehow cloaked, or external, or…it all just seems so improbable. The peril Juliette presents is most likely a ploy, whether she knows about it or not, a holographic self-preservation program, or something odd like that. Perhaps the designer couldn’t bear to see his creation destroyed, which is exactly what would happen if the ship died. So why kill the ship?
His back to the wall, he hangs his head. He’s in love with a holo, a ghost of an alien, after only a few intervals. Another rush of anger surges through him, jealousy of Chevall’s position as captain, his freedom to choose for himself, to live an entire lifetime with his love regardless of what or who she is. Chevall hadn’t cared and neither does he.
Yet, if he doesn’t follow orders, someone else will. He can see Landry charging in there with a security detail, blind to the beauty, bent on destruction. The bullish man will put an end to Juliette, her candles and clock, her tapestries and spinning globe, her sparkling crystal chandelier, and all the intricate details of her world. He can’t let that happen.
Eyes shut, he rests his head back, calming his rampaging feelings and slowing his heart. He hauls in a breath and lets it slowly blow through him. He spent a magical night in her tree bed, bathed in the light of twin moons. Not engaged in what he ordinarily defined as sex but in a sublime sensory rapture, every nerve in his body alive with…love. It was an experience beyond ecstasy, an immersion in sound, color, smell, taste, and touch, the swell of emotion pulsing through him in rhythm with the waves of her alien sea. She was luminescent, almost translucent, the galaxies within her body rippling with light, her eyes emerald fire. She played him like music, all parts of him in perfect harmony, until the final crescendo erupted from his soul and—
“You alright, Quinn?”
His eyes pop open to find Portence looking up at him.
“Right as everyone else, Selene.”
The cute redhead rolls her eyes, a commentary he fully understands. “He’s an ass. We’ll work around him.”
“It won’t be easy,” Quinn warns her. “The captain’s no fool.”
“Whatever. I could kill Chevall for dying on us.” She quirks her lips and punches his bicep. “You good with this plan?”
“No. Yes, it makes sense and it’ll work. But no.”
She crosses her arms. “It’s the holo, isn’t it?
A shrug lifts his shoulders.
“Chevall couldn’t fool me and neither can you. Longrow and Wilton have been slathering over her since they first started holodeck duty. Talk about cushy detail, by the way. So, she’s something else, isn’t she?” When he doesn’t reply, she smiles knowingly. “We all fall for holos, Quinn. I have my own little pirate program that’s good for a romp. Sex in a hammock; I swear I’d lose my mind without it. So, I get it.”
“She’s not like other holos, Selene.”
“Yeah, that’s what we all say, lover-boy.”
“No, I’m serious. I’d swear she’s…sentient.” He glances down the hall, his suspicions demanding a voice. “What if she is conscious? What if she’s—”
“Quinn,” Selene interrupts him. “She’s a holo. She even showed you her crystal.”
His head drops back with a sigh. “You’re right. Forget I asked. I don’t know what I’m thinking.”
A sly smile dimples her cheek as she leans in and lowers her voice, “Listen, after the deed is done, bring me her data-crystal. I’ll stay up way past my bedtime, back her up, wipe the anomalies, virus, whatever is screwing with the ship, and reload the whole program. You can have your own private love nest—and owe me big time.”
“You can do that?” The possibility staggers him, and he can’t imagine why he didn’t think of it.
“Give me a break.” She twists her face in disbelief. “You command officers probably think dark-matter warp-drives are high tech. Ever think of joining the twenty-eighth century?”
“Why didn’t Chevall have you do that?”
“He was pretty sure it’s alien, the crystal larger than ours for one, and he didn’t want me to mess with it. I offered.”
“She says shutting her down will destroy us.”
“Listen, we’ve got it covered.” She glances down the corridor toward the captain’s office. “I need to run. Bring me that data-crystal. If it can be fixed, I’ll fix it.”