Interstellar

I flicked the switch on the control console. The Personal Transport Vehicle, known as the PTV, went into autopilot and slowly maneuvered to dock on the Spaceship Z-Alpha, the largest spaceship in the galaxy AFRX-10. The blue lights flashed, throwing a deep blue hue inside the cramp space of the PTV cockpit. The PTV remained the most reliable and fastest single occupant vehicle, that covered the distance from our planet Zetron to the spaceship at a breathtaking 15 minutes, down from an hour in the previous generation of the transporter.

The PTV docked with a small thud and a shush. I shut it down, by pushing the cut off button. The pressurized cabin opened onto the landing spot. I unstrapped myself, removed my helmet and stepped out onto the ship. The docking crew whisked off the transporter to the parking stations ten floors below.

I walked on the solid iron floor down the circular and tubular corridor winding towards the control room at the center of the Spaceship. This early in the morning, the sun shone through the oval slits along the sides of the corridor. The spaces glowed and the tiny florescent lights lining the sides glowed like airport landing lights.

The first time I stepped on the Spaceship was when I turned eight. In the colony, no children were allowed in the Spaceship Alpha. At first I thought the large letter “A” emblazoned everywhere on the ship and on the official gowns worn by the staff on the ship stood for the Alpha Spaceship. I learnt the true meaning much sooner than I had anticipated.

All eight year olds, five hundred in number, were inducted in the colony that year. Dressed in overall suits and uniforms, we boarded the giant transporter from planet Zetron bound for the Spaceship Z-Alpha. While onboard, we were taken to a huge auditorium and spent the better of fifteen days every day being taught everything about our origins. Six in the morning to six in the evening. We slept in tiny cubicles, but ate breakfast, lunch and dinner in the auditorium.

It was amazing learning about our origins. This was done by Deputy Paramount Chief Amollo. He told us we came from a planet that had died, known as Earth in a galaxy far, far away. Our part of that planet was known as Africa. Due to land misuse and mismanagement, the climate changed and food became scarce. Through their interstellar voyages, they discovered the Planet Zetron and migrated to it. When they returned to Earth several decades later, it was already completely uninhabitable and everything had vanished. We were shown pictures of the green country side, mountain ranges and flowing rivers that used to cover the Earth. There were beautiful cities and towns.

The A sign emblazoned on the Spaceship sides, walls, uniforms and equipment denoted Africa where we came from. It stood as a reminder of what we lost, and left behind. It showed what happened to a planet due to its mismanagement and destruction by our activities. It symbolized the continent we once lived on in the now disappearing Planet Earth. Maybe one day, we might find ways to recreate the environment and return to the once glorious Planet. Our induction and training was about hope, hope for the future.

The permanent displays of African scenery covered the walls on all side. Images of the mighty Kilimanjaro mountain towered over lush green grassland, the white snow top looking like a cape. The animals that covered our land in the African continent, from the views of the Serengeti in what was East Africa, to the elephants along the Zambezi River, to the sprawling Sahara Desert with its numerous hidden secrets. The African big five took their positions on the walls – lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard.

Several years later, I always got awed by the massive Spaceship Z-Alpha at the geostationary location above Planet Zetron. I walked towards the Central Control and Operations Room at the heart of Z-Alpha. It served as the heart and soul of the Spaceship, where everything happened. The Spaceship Commander had the most central spot, sitting behind a huge steel desk and facing the large two meters high screen. A control monitor with many buttons sat atop one end of the desk, to move pictures and feeds onto the large screen.

A line of computer banks and screens two levels below the main console received most of the feeds from the thousands of the small unmanned drones scoring the outer space. The central computer received the data at the processing unit and relayed them onto the main console.

Deputy Amollo swiveled in his chair and turned towards me as I stepped into the main cubicle. Two young officers worked on computers at the side of the large table.

“Welcome aboard, Junior,” he said. He had a loud baritone voice. He stood at six feet five inches tall. He wore his full Spaceship apparel, a flowing dark coat over his light blue trousers and shirt. The ubiquitous A emblazoned his chest piece. He looked like he was readying himself for a battle. I wondered what battle awaited me.

“Thank you,” I answered. “You call me, sir.”

“We have been receiving some weird signals from the direction of Planet Makuria. It doesn’t look like something we have seen before.”

“So . . .”

“I thought you should see them. You are our number one analyst, remember?”

“You could easily have sent it through the network system.”

“Well, we . . . I mean, I thought it is a good idea for you to come up here.”

He pushed a small data tablet across the table towards me.

“We have all the data from the past several weeks in there,” Deputy Amollo said.

I took the data tablet and turned to walked away.

“I also want to say I am sorry about your dad. We all are.”

“My dad is not dead,” I shouted at him. My voice reverberated across the great hall. The two officers stopped what they were doing, stunned.

“I did not say that. It is over six months and we have not heard anything from him. The drones have not picked any signal from his space craft.”

The two officers got up and left the cubicle. Deputy Amollo had always been getting on my nerve. There always was something about him that irritated me so much. It was not his physique, which looked like he was a cross between an obelisk and centaur. It was not his voice either – boring baritone voice.

“He will be back. I know he will. My Dad will be back.” I said slowly. My heart started beating faster like a mystic drum.

I walked out of the control room and headed towards my cubicle office in the far end of the long winding corridor. I needed time to think. I had not been thinking of him lately. I thought by not talking or thinking about him, he may miraculously appear one day.

One of the young officers from the cubicle appeared and walked beside me.

“Junior, I am also sorry about your Dad,” he said. “I know it may not be appropriate but I have something for you.”

“What is it, Mansho?”

“Keep walking. Deputy Amollo is not telling the truth. There is something I like you to see.”

Mansho slipped a data card in my hand. He turned into a corridor and entered a side door.

~ ~ ~ ~

My Dad served as the Paramount Chief and Captain of the Spaceship Z-Alpha for the last twenty or so years. He was the two hundred and thirtieth Chief to ascend to the position since the relocation of our people to Zetron more than two hundred years ago. He succeeded Paramount Chief Lotole III. As a trained engineer, he also served in the innovations division, supporting the young engineers working on new ideas and programs for the Spaceship Z-Alpha and Planet Zetron. They were testing a new type of spaceship landing vehicle with new capabilities in terms of speed, maneuverability and stealth mode. It was known as Namsa II, after a former Paramount Chief of Zetron.

He had perfected the design and all the crucial segments himself. After several tests within the engineering workshop and the air tunnel, my Dad decided to take the new proto-type space vehicle for a spin around the galaxy. He had not returned since.

I remembered the day perfectly. We all stood in front of the big screen in the control room. The small team of mission control staff for the new space vehicle were huddled around their consoles and small screens making final touches to the mission launch as zero hour approaches.

My dad worked out of the fitting room with three members of his crew and climb into the Space vehicle. We could all saw this from the big screen. After they were strapped in, the camera zoomed out and we saw the whole ship. Namsa II was a beautiful ship. It had been kept a secret right from inception. Dad did not even speak about it at home. No one had seen the full-size spacecraft except for the engineers working on it from a secluded workshop.

Deputy Amollo oversaw the launch from the control room.

“One minute to launch,” he beamed into the microphone.

After that, a clock started counting down. My heart tightened as I watched the space vehicle come to live and the lights blinked on its side.

“Ten seconds,” a female voice said over the speakers. Then the voice continued to count down. “Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one . . .”

“You are on your way, Namsa II,” Deputy Amollo said.

Namsa II floated off the launch bay and into the atmosphere around Z-Alpha and sailed off at a supersonic speed into the darkness.

Mission control monitored their progress, as Namsa II sent back data about its progress. The test ride took them past the Planet BX-Atom and into the atmosphere around its solitary moon Tutu. They spent one month, testing the new equipment onboard and all its communication and computer systems.

On the day they were to perform the last test and head back to Z-Alpha, all communications with the space ship were lost. All emergency signals were suddenly lost like there was an explosion. The engineers tried all they could to restore connection but to no avail. It seemed there was no hope of them returning.

Now this young engineer said the reports were not true.

Where are you Dad? What happened to your Namsa II?

~ ~ ~

I inserted the data card into my mini laptop and the program immediately went into secure mode with the firewall. No one would see what I was doing. As the system opened the data, the information streamed on the small screen. I realized immediately that these were raw data, unfiltered. No one on the spaceship could visualize the raw data received from the thousands of drones out there in the interstellar spaces. Not even me.  What we got were filtered and pre-analyzed data to work on.

I hooked up the laptop to my UX Box, the Ultra-Data System Analytics, known as the UUDSA, and pressed the enter key. During the analysis, the screen showed crisscrossing shapes, cubes and circles and multi-colored triangles.

After one minute a summary appeared on the screen. I transferred it onto a larger screen on the side of my cubicle office. It showed that the source of the signal was coming from a location not far from Planet K-Lock. It zeroed in on an area of about 50 thousand square kilometers. Too large. I reviewed the last known location of my dad’s spaceship. It was within the zone. I checked the date stamp: 20 January, 2320.

The crew were sitting on a data for the past four months and nobody told me about it? I knew my Dad was alive out there. I always knew. But why was someone hiding the information from me, from most of us? Has Deputy Amollo had something to do with it? Someone was hiding the data. However, I knew who to talk to.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The giant unmanned K-9 supply ship docked at exactly nine in the morning. These ships come up every month to supply the Spaceship Z-Alpha with food and water and other necessary supplies. The engineers had installed three floors to be used for gardening and storage, which could reduce dependency on supplies from Planet Zetron.

I found my uncle Damaris supervising the final unloading of the K-9 supply ship at the docking bay.

“Junior, good to see you,” he said. “How have you been?”

“I am doing great, Uncle Damaris,” I said. “I would like to talk to you for a minute.”

He turned to give instructions to his assistants. The two men listened attentively to his directives and left.

“Let’s go back to my cubicle,” he said.

I followed him through a small door into a slightly dark corridor. The passage wound through the different sections of the Spaceship, with wide glass windows on either side throughout. We passed the room where the engineers checked the vehicles before being carried off for parking after each trip. Down the corridor, we came across the room where several small boys practicing judo and doing yoga. I could see them in their white garments, with the now universal emblem on the back.

“What is bothering you?” Damaris asked, when we got to his office. He had a much larger office than me. It was in one of the corners of the spaceship, had two wide windows to look out into the open space far away. From here we could see the PTVs coming to dock in the several bays below us. It had enough space to dock up to 20 PTVs at once. On most nights, you could see shooting stars spray the sky with a splash of bright lights.

“It is about my Dad,” I said. “What new information do you have about his disappearance?”

“We have no new information. You know all that I know. I had briefed you about the searches, the efforts to pick up signals form their ship. Everything.”

“Everything?” I asked.

“Yes, everything,” he answered. “What are you alluding to? Is there something I don’t know you want to tell me?”

I debated in my mind how to approach it. Uncle Damaris would have known if there were additional information. There would be no reason why he shouldn’t share with me what he had learnt. After all, he should be as worried as everyone else, maybe, even more because it was about his brother. Maybe he was being kept in the dark too. It was possible.

“I don’t know how to phrase it but there is new information about my Dad,” I said.

“What information?” he asked.

I gave him the printout from the data analysis I did on the card Mansho gave me. He looked at it and remained quiet, studying every little detail on the paper. His face registered nothing. Maybe, I was expecting more reaction from him, even a little, of joy, at least.

“I was told the last communication picked up from Dad’s spaceship was five months ago. This data showed that they received some signals from the spacecraft three months ago,” I added, when I did not hear anything form him.

“Where did you get this from?” he asked.

“Someone left it in my cubicle with a note. It said they received new information, but no one is talking about it,”

“It is my first time to see this. I will double check with the Deputy and let you know. If they are keeping it under wraps, it means someone doesn’t want you and me to know.”

“But why would someone keep this a secret? I have the right to know.”

“Exactly, Junior. I will let you know what I come up with. Be careful and don’t share the information with anyone.”

I left his office and returned to my cubicle.

~ ~ ~

The Zetron Colony Council convened in the board room two floors above the main control room, enclosed in a thick bullet-proof glass. One could see the main control room from the board room. It had a massive round-table, with sitting for twenty-four members of the council. In front of every chair was a microphone and a touch screen, on which displays of the meeting and voting took place. The high cathedral ceiling melted into the sides two floors above. Natural lights came in from the high windows.

I sat two seats from Deputy Amollo and across the table from Uncle Damaris. My Dad’s chair stayed empty, like it had been for the last five months. It remained an ominous sign of his unknown location. The fate of the Namsa II spacecraft and the entire crew remained unknown.

Deputy Amollo called the meeting to order and went through the agenda: reports from the different departments and sections, the engineers, the explorers, the food security teams, the power generation team. Each member of the council around the table had responsibility in one specific area. They made comprehensive reports, we discussed options and provided recommendations. The hours went by.

At last, my turn came. I took the report I developed earlier and flick the switches in front of me. The screens went live. Although each person could follow from their small screens, the report was also projected in the large screen. I took them threw the analysis I did, and explained all the signals that had been received so far.

“The bottom line is we don’t know the sources of the signals yet,” I dropped the bombshell.

The room went silent. I could only hear the hum of the computers. Nothing else. The Councilors looked at me for answers.

I continued, “we still don’t know what produced the signals. Our drones have not spotted anything yet. It could be a new type of space vehicle or technology we don’t know. We shall keep monitoring.”

“Keep us updated,” one councilor said. “I don’t want to be in the dark. If it is a force from outer space, we need to be ready to confront it.”

“Certainly, Councillor,” Deputy Amollo said. “All units should be on alert; we shall meet every day from tomorrow until we know what is going on. Thank you Junior. Meeting closed.”

Before I could leave the room, an elated voiced boomed over the intercom. Deputy Amollo requested in the Control Room. I believe we just picked a signal from Namsa II.

We rushed from the board room, down the windy staircase to the main console. Deputy Amollo led, followed by Uncle Damaris and I took up the rear.

“Bring up the signal on the screen,” Deputy Amollo order. “What have we got here?”

“We are receiving a strong signal from a spacecraft. It seems to be one of ours.”

“Do we have drones in the area?”

“Yes. One will be approaching the site in the next five minutes, Sir,”

The five minutes felt like an hour, or two. Deputy Amollo stood on the central control area. He looked pensive. He had a faraway look and did look like he was in deep thought. My Uncle Damaris remained two steps behind Deputy Amollo.

We are there in the next five seconds, four, three, two, one.

The big screen lighted up as the cameras on the drones came to live. The whole room gaped. There was no doubt at all that the spacecraft on the screen was Namsa II.

“Deploy the retrieval system,” Deputy Amollo bellowed.

The retractable arm proceeded to attach to the spacecraft. Slowly, they moved as the drone pulled the spacecraft.

~ ~ ~

It was two weeks later before my Dad, Paramount Chief Rukamansa, was well enough to seat in the Council meeting. He stayed ten days in the hospital ward, recovering from weakness resulting from more than six months of hibernation. After the systems on Namsa II failed and all communications were cut off with the control room, they resorted to internal hibernation and drifting in outer space. The spacecraft was equipped with hibernation capsules that could last one year. It was shear lack that one of the communication equipment suddenly came to live and started transmitting.

It was still unclear what happened to Namsa II. How could the new spacecraft just shut down during the flight? How could such a thing have happened? Was it technical failure? Sabotage? Intentionally done, but by whom? And how? The questions were endless. The answers though were not forthcoming.

At the initial review, my dad reported that the flight was flawless. The new spacecraft functioned smoothly as they tried the new functionalities. They passed through space for two days and sailed further and further away from the mothership Spaceship Z-Alpha. They sent back data to the control room. It was then that something abruptly happened that shut down the system.

The scientists reviewing the data from Namsa II came back with shocking news.

“We are certain a virus was installed into the system prior to the launched. We are trying to ascertain how and who did it,” the chief scientist said.

“So there was a breach in the system,” Deputy Amollo said.

“Yes, Sir. We are working on trying to determine the source.”

“We need to know sooner,” my dad said. “I believe someone deliberately did it to have us killed. It amounts to treason.”

~ ~ ~

My Dad and Deputy Amollo called me into the operation room the one day. The data I analyzed was critical and it showed another dimension. It seemed a group of spaceships were headed towards us. A reconnaissance drone had approached the ships but before it could do much, it was shot down. It seemed an invasion of our planet was in the offing. From another planet.

They also told me that Uncle Damaris had disappeared from his cubicle and one of our PTVs went missing, presumably he took it. I was shocked.

“Why would he do that?” I asked.

“My son, your uncle has betrayed us to the enemies,” my dad said slowly. “We have found evidence that he planted the virus to destroy Namsa II. He had been communicating with the group that is approaching now. It seemed he wanted to take over this colony.”

“How could he do that?”

“My brother Damaris has always wanted to be the Paramount Chief when our father died. He was not happy when he was passed over for the position. He has never forgiven me for that.”

I was baffled. I had shared with him my findings about the data received and the possible finding of Namsa II. How could he do that now?

“He has defected to side with the approaching spaceships,” my dad said. “We have nothing more but to fight back and keep our sovereignty.”

~ ~ ~

I knew that the battle was going to be decisive when I got back to my cubicle. Spaceship Z-Alpha was put on full alert and all staff moved to their battle stations. My Dad against my Uncle, his brother. A family feud turned deadly.

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