a Serial in Seven Parts
By CJ Alexander
“Report!” I direct my glance first at Engineering, then Security, then at all the rest of the bridge staff down the line. Twenty days out, everything’s still ship-shape at 0800. It’s theoretically daytime, not that it matters to me in deep space where it’s always dark outside. I settle into my roomy chair, digesting a light meal of Ensign Edwina Karnowsky’s O positive blood. Not my favorite, but then I’m not much of a breakfast person.
“Orders, Captain?” First Officer Renata Toloache peers at me with an edge to her voice that wasn’t there before. I shrug it off. I stay out of my crew’s personal lives. If Toloache needs help, there’s a counselor on board more qualified than I to handle such problems.
“Get Hawking from astrophysics up here. Make sure he’s got all the latest data on Alpha Centauri’s solar system.” I vacate the chair and stride to the private conference room adjacent the bridge.
The bearded face of Dr. Dennis Hawking, PhD, a direct descendant of both twentieth century physics genius Stephen Hawking and the renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, appears in the view screen on my console. “Enter!” I bark. My bark is gruff and meant to intimidate, but I’m told it’s nowhere near as bad as my bite.
“Well? What’s out there, doctor?”
“Captain, the planet orbiting Alpha Centauri is two day’s travel from our current position.” He pauses, frowning.
“Good. Go on.”
“The atmosphere is breathable, and many of the existing elements we know of abound.”
“How about water?”
“There is salt water, and aquatic lifeforms.”
A minor problem, really. We’ve had salt-removal technology since 2095. He’s holding something back. I hesitate – here comes the big question. “Is there any evidence of sentient life?”
“Well, there are structures floating on the ocean that appear to be fabricated, rather than naturally occurring.”
So there are, or were, other intelligent beings in this part of the galaxy. A little variety in my diet would be welcome. I wonder what new flavors of blood I’ll soon be able to sample. I’ll occasionally dine upon aquatic mammals – dolphin and whale – but I won’t touch fish. “How about buildings?”
“Funny thing. I haven’t found any trace of land, Captain. No mountains, no islands, no snow-capped poles.”
“No land at all? Where did the structures – boats or floats – come from, then?”
“Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?”
* * *
Two days later, I send Commander Toloache to explore one of the floating islands. She checks in with: “Captain, the flotation devices hold small metal canisters welded shut, obviously to keep water out. There’s no writing or symbols on them.”
“High, but not lethal. Still, it’s too risky to bring any aboard for further analysis, sir.”
“Did you open one? What’s inside?”
“Nothing, sir. Nothing at all.”
To be continued