time fiction

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DRAKE'S PROGRESS


NIGMA


Frances Clark


Copyright 2012 ©

All Rights Reserved



CHAPTER 1


DOUBLE TROUBLE



Guided by centuries old celestial law and incognizant of its impending doom, the gigantic chunk of rock lumbered silently along. The asteroid's journey had carried it far beyond the realms of its violent birth.

Suddenly a shattering cosmic impact sent it hurtling on a different course. One that would affect many and engrave a new chapter into history.

Released from its ancient orbit by the mighty stellar collision, the scorching jagged mass blazed a swift and fiery trail till gravity obliged to end its flight. Its gigantic size reduced little on plummeting through the atmosphere of the small verdant sphere. White hot and blistering, the meteor slammed into the planet's crust with catastrophic force. Its sonic boom echoed menacingly across the trembling land. Matter surged upwards. A sinister groping hand of raw energy, reaching out into the limitless void…

*

Drake pushed through the wall of the shower bubble then from inside lightly touched its translucent casing. Mentally selecting the required cycle, he relaxed into the warm cleansing water as it sprayed from a myriad tiny holes above his head. He lathered his thick dark hair, scrubbed his body then faced into the spray as it freshened to rinse the soap away. The water ceased, the tiny holes vanished, warm air began to blow from multiple outlets appearing within the blister. Drake's skin dried quickly and by silent command, the air vents abruptly disappeared.

He stepped out through the membrane, half turning to glance at his reflection in the bubble's shiny mirror-like surface. With CC's continuous support, the last century had been kind to his six foot plus human form. As he stepped through the bathroom wall into his sleeping quarters, he finger combed his still damp hair to tidy its short wavy cut.

He pressed the panel above a small alcove beside the large bed and watched as a full set of neatly folded clothes appeared. Drake removed the damp meldkey from his right wrist, placing it on the small silvery illuminated bedside table to air for a moment. The metallic band rarely left his person. He felt more than naked without it. It was his link— his lifeline to his ship.

He slipped into his under-shorts, black ribbed shirt and stretch pants before shrugging into his dark grey protective vest with its unique collection of small tools. He sat on the bed to pull on his thick grey socks. Finally, he tucked his feet into black calf length boots and secured the metal side clasps. Standing up he grabbed his meldkey, making to place it back on his wrist…

There was a blinding flash. The ship lurched violently, throwing him heavily to the floor. His head hit the base of CC's glowing central column. For a moment he lay stunned, unable to move. Slowly, he opened his eyes to the warm luminance of the column flickering and fading— flickering and fading. The golden light gradually returned to its normal slightly rhythmic glow.

Dazed and disoriented, Drake sat up, gingerly touching his head. Beneath his hair, grew a small painful egg shaped lump. Had the column's short light show been his mind playing tricks? He felt strangely weak, as though his energy had been drained. Weird echoes reverberated through his head as he struggled to his feet. Something was terribly wrong. His ship began to make peculiar tortured groaning sounds.

"The control room— must get to the control room," muttered Drake, as he battled the confusion wreaking havoc in his head. Clutching his meldkey in one hand, he used the other to grasp anything solid to steady himself against his ship's erratic movements.

As he fought his way around the room to where he could safely step through the wall, he pulled the meldkey over his wrist, feeling it gently attach to his skin. He burst through into the control room, quickly crossed the floor then leapt into his command seat. No sooner had he placed his hands into the indents on the arms, than a screen formed from the silvery ceiling matter directly before him. One quick glance at the scrolling data told him he was light years from his original destination— Tritan.

Powerful forces were dragging his ship off course, hurtling them through space, completely out of control. Using every ounce of mental strength, Drake fought to override the damage. His head ached as he struggled to set her back on course. Try as he might, she would not respond— could not respond, the alien forces simply too great. Unable to fight any longer, he deactivated the scanner. He withdrew his hands from the indents in order to grab the low side rails of his seat. Silvery strands of safety webbing emerged from the back rest, creeping over his upper torso, creating a harness. Stunned and helpless, he rode his wildly careering ship towards its unknown destination.

*

As suddenly as it had begun the chaotic ride ended. The tortured cacophony ceased, replaced by a more familiar sound. A quiet almost imperceptible pulsating purr. Drake let go his white knuckled grip on the side rails then rubbed his aching head. No longer in use, the safety webbing melted back into his command seat.

Desperate for information, he placed his hands back into the indents, relieved to discover they had at least landed on a habitable planet. He reactivated the scanner. The screen showed a small patch of short green grass unevenly framed by blackness. Drake frowned. "What's going on CC?" he asked aloud. "Where's my 360º view?"

The SEACC spoke into his mind. "My sensors are compromised Drake."

Peering hard at the screen he concentrated, trying to bring more into focus.

All that showed was the same small sunny area of grass. He examined the scanner for faults, meticulously working his way through the ship's systems. To his surprise everything checked out fine. Though still puzzled by the scanner mystery, Drake ignored it.

He needed to be on Tritan. He changed course settings, attempting to initiate take off. CC protested loudly emitting a deep tormented metallic groan, a sound that echoed from deep within her very being. Again he tried. Again CC's anguished outburst filled his senses.

"It is no good Drake. We cannot leave. Something beyond my control is holding me here."

Drake double-checked her systems but the cause remained elusive. Sitting back he rubbed his brow thoughtfully. They were going nowhere. As he watched the screen melt back into the ceiling it occurred to him, he might find the answer outside. He climbed from his seat then pushed through the silvery wall directly before him to emerge onto an internal ramp.

He walked down to ground level then went to step through CC's pulsing golden outer membrane. A burst of light shimmered around his leg as his foot slipped through but something solid and heavy blocked the upper half of his body. Slowly— carefully— he reached his hand out to feel the obstruction. It was hard and cold and appeared to be at least a foot thick. He ducked beneath the impediment to the outside. Relieved to be standing safely on solid ground, he turned to inspect his ship and was astounded at what he saw.

Except for a small exposed lower portion, the remainder of his huge craft appeared to be completely encased in solid rock. The grey flecked irregular slab towered above him. Assorted plants grew undisturbed in small pockets of soil on the rock face. Lush greenery, grasses and ferns cascaded luxuriantly over the craggy wall. From the ground beside the exposed portion of the ship, grew an enormous tree, its low branches softly embracing the rock. Drake frowned and tapped the tree's rough bark. It and the rock were definitely no illusion.

The situation defied logic. They had arrived only minutes ago, yet it was as though his ship had merged with the planet centuries past.

How could it have happened? What sort of place had they been unwillingly dragged to? Mystified, he turned to study the local scenery. A perfect carpet of soft short green grass, almost artificial in appearance, widened into a sunny clearing. Encompassing the clearing stood a dense forest. Green leafy branches reached up to touch the bluest of skies. Drake breathed in the wonderfully clean, fresh morning air and considered his surreal surroundings. Strangely still, oddly silent, the scene had an unusual enigmatic quality to it, almost too well preserved— too perfect.

As he walked towards the towering forest, the only noise was that of his own breathing and footsteps. He admired the massive trees. They were magnificent ancient specimens with huge straight trunks.

Then he heard it— an anguished cry. It came from somewhere off to his right— the voice oddly familiar.

Scanning the area carefully, he saw nothing but a clump of grey rocks partly hidden by undergrowth at the furthermost edge of the clearing. But then, through the vegetation, he noticed movement— something pale seated on a rock and from the sound of it something in pain.

Drake trod carefully towards the creature. Years of experience had taught him to be cautious. Its back to him, the naked being clutched at its head in agony. Drake inched closer identifying the bent over figure as humanoid— almost certainly male. His senses detected no hostility so he walked around to face the creature. Though he stood directly before him, the man remained unaware of his presence. Drake placed a hand gently on the man's shoulder.

"Hello. Is there anything I can do for you?"

Roused by the touch and the voice, the man lifted his head slowly and gazed directly into Drake's dark eyes.

Astonished, Drake took an involuntary step back. The pained and puzzled face staring incomprehensibly up at him— was his own!