The Journey Beyond

Amongst tumultuous applause, the Vostromo defied gravity and left earth. It went on a voyage of discovery. The manned flight to outer space intended to achieve an objective. Their goal was to find beings that are at a technological level at par with humans. Maybe a bit less or a bit more. None knew of the exact.  It was the first interstellar human spaceflight that took off in 2080. The debated project passed several technological and economic challenges besides years of research. The ship and the crew were well tempered to face possible hazards. Finally, they set off to travel through interstellar space, indefinitely if not a millennia now.  The flight manoeuvred in the vacuum of space, amidst stars and planets, with five Astronaut Corps onboard.  "Let’s  make sure our mission is a success." "Right! It’ll be a major breakthrough in the field of astrodynamics and xenology. We will create history." "Absolutely! Provided everything goes well in space." "Let's keep our hopes high and messages for the extraterrestrials handy." ***  “Why do they have to pry into our domain?”   “Habit, what else! They are not programmed to mind their own business.” “Fools! They want to trace us just to boast of a great discovery. Let’s teach them a good lesson. That will compel the organisations to abort their future plans for such research programs.”  “I will hack into their network and reprogram the system. We can then control and re-route the shuttle. Azmuth, what do you suggest?”  Chiss, the head of AI, asked for the chief’s opinion.   “Let us bring an end to the constant invasions that pose a threat to our existence. Kreia, Dejah and Zorg will assist you. Exterminate their mission but make sure they return safely. Our message needs to reach the earth.” Seated inside the Oumuamua, their interstellar spaceship, Azmuth watched the movements inside the Vostromo.  “Give them a good dose of our alien potion. They deserve it.”  *** Pasadena, we have a problem. Do you copy? We have a problem.”  “Das ist furchtbar! Gott steh uns.” “No space dust; no collision. What could’ve possibly happened then? ” “We shifted from the trajectory. I think there’s something wrong with the DNS.” “I was following the navigation data. How was I to know this was a wrong turn? While the crew was busy checking the cause, a sonic boom reverberated in the spacecraft. They removed their snoopy caps assuming a glitch in the signals. But that didn’t work. The strident sound persisted. And then it stopped as suddenly as it started. The effect though, was impactful. They complained of dizziness and tinnitus.  “What the hell was that?”  Bertrand glanced at the others. Before they could gather themselves, the lights inside the spacecraft flickered.  “I’ll go and have a look.” Jackson proceeded to check the anomaly. These SSLAs shouldn’t be flickering? What’s happening in here?  Before he could check, everything went dark. Pitch dark. Communications and telemetry to Earth were lost within nanoseconds.  The Vostromo that was sent under a SETI research program was facing doom. Was it? Or was it made to?  The flashlights came in handy.  Rays of hope in the gloomy situation they were in.  The mission was commanded by Russell, the Control Module pilot; Bertrand, the Space Module pilot; Mission Commander, Serena; Jackson, the System Engineer, along with Müller, Fred and Alan, as the backup crews.  “Feels like we are inside a huge obsidian. See, we just got lucky.” Chuckled Bertrand. His voice echoed through the microphone. “Guys, I sense trouble. This isn’t usual. Russell, you’re the expert. What went wrong, buddy?” Russell nodded. “Nope. I saw nothin’ like this before. This ain’t no typical technical snag. No warnings; no one spotted anything unusual. It’s kinda strange.”  “Grúselig!” Müller muttered. “We can’t stay stuck like this. There must be a way to get our systems working.” “Dude, this isn’t a crew error. We got lost in space. Isn’t that exciting?” Fred tried to lighten the situation. “Take it easy. We’ll find the root. Shit happens; on earth and in space. Keep calm and work on, is the motto.”   “Unless communication gets restored, it’ll be hard to find our way back.” Russell looked at everyone. “Sorry, guys! I’m just being real. May the lord have mercy on us!” Serena had no intention of giving up so early. “Guys, let’s get to work. We’ve been trained to respond to such situations. So, find it; fix it. We’ve folks waiting for us down there.  No way I’m giving up.”  Everyone pulled up their sleeves (not literally, though) and got to work. A team of experienced astronauts who decided to make it through the rough waters. Err...the dangerous paths of outer space. *** Azmuth moved closer to the screen. “What an irony! They have no inkling that they are under the control of the very same species they have been searching for, for ages.”  His crew responded to the humour. The neo-spacians were not bereft of sentiments that were once restricted to homo sapiens and few other species.   Azmuth studied the human faces closely. “Show me what they are thinking.”  A large displair flashed. On it appeared a series of words and phrases. He read each decoded thought attentively.   “Fear gripped their brains, but hope forced them to try. Human traits.”  Zorg looked at Chiss. “I am installing a microbe in their flight. It will detect the keyword- Alien from brain frequencies and cripple those specific ones.” Kreia joined in. “Those earthlings create viruses and are on constant war for selfish reasons. At least this one won’t contaminate any medium or spread by any means. Innocent lives will not suffer. Anyway, we will monitor the movements. So each time it detects the keyword, we will receive notifications through our system.  “Excellent!” Azmuth was proud of his crew. “Our tools are far more advanced than theirs. Moreover, their knowledge about our existence is still vague. They venture into outer space, hoping to find us. Yet, many of them doubt our existence and abilities. What a confused race! Dejah joined the discussion. “They think we look like the ones they design. Ridiculous! They are clueless about our sophisticated physical attributes. The sapiens assume things, believe in them and then make the world see things their way. If only we could control earth’s temperature, perhaps we could have co-existed happily.”  Azmuth laughed. “You are right, Dejah! For decades, they have been trying to sniff out signals and inviting us to respond to theirs. Silly sapiens. They have no idea of our technical progression.” “Just because we didn’t respond, they think we are unable to decode their message. How silly of them! They have been transmitting friendly messages thinking it will trigger us to reciprocate.” Chiss spoke sarcastically.  Azmuth called for everyone’s attention. “We need to be careful. Though we are steps ahead of them, it is not wise to underrate their ability. Look at their ship. Quite an impressive beast that is. Let us be alert till this ends.” *** Inside the Vostromo, the lights returned to normal but were short on voltage. Moments later, there were several unusual readings:  Fuel tank 1 was showing empty and tank the pressure of tank 2 was falling.  The computer on the spacecraft had been reset. The Cosmic Composition around the spacecraft detected odd objects. The heaters were out of power. “These might be false readings due to an instrumentation problem. Moreover, we lost connection with the station. So let’s not panic. We are on a mission. In case it doesn’t go as planned, we need to get back to earth alive.”  Russell reasoned out.  Müller was restless. “We are stagnant in one location. Even the clocks have stopped. The station should’ve tracked us by now. Did the antennas fail in some way? Can’t we do anything?” “There’s something mysterious about the Cosmic Composition around our ship. Did you guys notice?”  Serena drew everyone’s attention.  Constellations, stars, planets... everything was visible. A deceptive illusion. “Possibly, all of us are hallucinating in space,” remarked Alan.   Bertrand was getting impatient. “We are outfitted with the vital technology essential to deep space exploration. We have the atomic clock and an advanced laser system for impeccable communication and navigation. Yet, we moved from the axis.” He turned towards Russell, “You work on orbit determination and optical navigation. So how did we move from the trajectory? “As I informed before, I was controlling the reaction wheels as per the transmitted data. How was I to know this was a wrong turn? We received no alert.  It’s the space station that estimates our position and sends signals accordingly. It’s a DNS failure. Otherwise, the station would’ve stabilized the ship’s axis in the right direction. They would’ve taken the corrective measures by now. But the entire system is down. This is absurd!” “You are right, Russell.” Serena acknowledged. “It is absurd, indeed! This is like a puzzle, and we need to find the missing piece. Let’s make random guesses. We can then cross-check and tick it off from our checklist.” *** Zorg looked at the displair and announced, “Get ready, intruders. You are about to experience a terrible space-shiver. ”   The temperature inside the Vostromo was reducing slowly but surely. The TCS responsible for keeping the spacecraft's component systems within acceptable temperature stopped working. The crew experienced limited power and a chilly and wet cabin.  “They can neither control nor connect with their station. Systems that can create heat have been shut down. We will set it back to normal once they had enough.”  Zorg assured things don’t go out of control.  Chiss shared the updates. “Chief! The Cosmic Composition I created around their spaceship is confusing them. They think they have lost their way and are stagnated somewhere in the galaxy. The sapiens are working on their radio transmitter. They assumed it’s a system malfunction.”      “We had to take this step. Good going. Once they realize how terrible it can get, they won’t dare to venture into outer space again. The SETI scientists will think several times before putting the lives of the astronauts at risk.” *** “Gosh, why is it getting so cold in here? Aren’t these supposed to protect us from extreme temperatures?” “The insulation and the heaters are not working. This is bizarre. I’m feeling nauseated.”  Müller complained. “I don’t want to die in space. Herr, erbarme dich!” Serena was hopeful. “I think what I’m guessing might be the reason behind these odd happenings.” “And what is that?” “We lost contact with the base, yet our system is functioning...well, malfunctioning. Whatever! Do you think we are anywhere close to our mission?” “I can’t think now. My brain is about to freeze.” Fred removed his suit. “Piece of garbage. They sent us to die here. Holy Mother of God,  please help us.”  He turned to Russell.  “If only you didn’t take that wrong turn...” “C’mon, man! How many times do I need to repeat myself? I followed the data transmitted by the DNS.  I moved as per the pre-determined axis. How was I to know this was a wrong turn?  Don’t play this blame game with me. I am equally worried.” Bertrand has been listening quietly. “I think Serena’s words make sense. Strange things are happening. Maybe we entered a restricted zone, unknowingly. A mysterious space of space.” “Perhaps we were made to.” Russell tried to find logic behind the shift from the course. “Our signals got intercepted. They detected us much before we spotted the issue. And that diverted us from our track. Yes, that’s exactly what happened. I’m sure.” Jackson was experiencing breathlessness, yet he managed to utter, “Eureka!”  “You mean, they found us before we could find them? Then why aren’t they sending signals?  Is it that our technology isn’t advanced enough to decode their messages? Perhaps their signals have weak frequencies, or are too complex to match ours. Arrgh! Whatever it is, I just want the pressure to go back to normal.”   “If this continues for another 30 seconds, we will all die from lack of oxygen. Leave alone the cold.”  Fred grabbed his suit. “I’d rather die wearing my uniform. Don’t wanna be here like the other unidentifiable space debris.” *** “Confused numpties. That’s what they are. Calling themselves an intellectual race. They have more discussions than discoveries, yet they dare to prod us.” Azmuth and his crew were drawing pleasure from the chaos that unfolded inside the Vostromo.  Kreia pointed at Serena’s profile. “She is a smart one. Guessing the possibilities instead of cribbing. Thankfully, they are not in a state to contemplate much, or one can never trust what these sapiens might come up with.” “I am restoring the temperatures now. Let them regain their senses till I implement the thrust. Something like ‘Earthquake’ in their words. Well, this will be a combination of lava explosion and a quake.” Chiss was enjoying the show.  “If they are smart enough, they will never return to space, at least for a few decades.” “I’m sure they will air the news about this experience to gain a lot of attention and praise. Their safe return will be celebrated worldwide. But this time, unknowingly, they will be carrying a microbe. Our tool to bring the deadly brains down.” Chiss, Dejah, Kreia and Zorg uttered in unison, “Let the show begin.” *** A violent tremor scared the astronauts out of their wits. The shuddering could actually kill the crew and destroy the Vostromo. They tried to get back to their seats but in vain. They got scattered inside the spaceship. “Everyone,  try to get back to your seats. The shock absorbers might keep us safe.”  “What in the world is happening now? Seems like someone is constantly hammering our spacecraft with a heavy object.” “Buckle up, everyone. Whoever it is, they are not done with us yet. They seem to be annoyed for some reason.” “Or, we are being attacked by a large group of asteroids and meteoroids. Maybe this is a space conspiracy. The unknown inhabitants and the space objects ganged up to destroy our ship and kill us.”   “Stop saying such crazy things, will you?” Serena scolded Müller. “Sit tight and keep praying. Let’s stay strong and get through this together.” The quaver stabilized after some time, but the corps were still under its effect. Dizzy and injured by the thrust, they stayed put in their seats. “What a terrible space quake!”  “I felt as if we were caught in a whirlwind. Phew! God knows what else is in store.” “You know what I think, guys.” Bertrand spoke after regaining his state. “I don’t know who or what exactly is out there, but I think they are trying to tell us something.” “And what exactly is that?” “Stay away from us.” “Serena, if what you said is correct, then do you think they are controlling our system? They see us as a threat and are trying to damage our ship. Possibly they are technologically far more advanced than us. Something beyond our imagination. Hence, we are unable to fix our system despite being the experts in our domain.” “I don’t know what to think. Let’s just pray for our safe landing back to where we belong. Enough of this space probe.”  She took out her family and stared at it with grave expressions. One by each, each of them brought out the photos of their loved ones. They shared a common emotion, but someone out there was reading each of their feelings. Without their knowledge.  *** “Call it off, now!” Azmuth ordered his squad. He looked different. Perhaps he was feeling different.  “Restore their signals and steer them towards the earth.” “Yes, chief!”  “Wait. Remove that microbe. Unlike them, we follow the path of harmony. Initiating destruction will put us on par with the humans. We surely don’t want that.  Right?” “Right, chief!”  His squad replied with pride in their voice. “Those earthlings breed and co-live. They call it ‘family.’ It is an interesting concept and an important thing for them. If we bring down one, the rest connected to them suffers.  It is something like the domino effect. They termed it ‘emotion.’ It is sort of a chemical reaction, and functions like nuclear fission reactions.”     Kreia looked curious. “Emotion seems to be an interesting subject. I’ll research about it later.”  “Chief, we got the design of their spacecraft. Zorg and Dejah will recheck the specifications. We will study it minutely and update you once done.”  Assured Chiss.  “Alright, team! Congratulations! We deserve a refreshing break. It’s been a tough hour. Time to rest and recharge ourselves. Send them off safely and get back to your pods. We have work to do.” “Thanks, chief!”  The squad dispersed only to meet again at a later minute. *** Meanwhile, the distressed astronaut corps of the Vostromo heaved a sigh of relief.  “Bazinga! We are back on track! Our systems are working.” “Ich bin erleichtert.” Müller was the happiest one, for his engagement was scheduled next week. “Commander, do you copy? This is Pasadena. Do you copy?” “Pasadena, Commander here. We can hear you. Loud and clear.” “Why is the ship earth bound? We need to reset the signals.” “Never mind, chief. We are homeward bound. See you soon.”  "Bon Voyage to us!" Glossary: AI - Alien Intelligence Das ist furchtbar! Gott steh uns-  This is terrible! God save us. Herr, erbarme dich!- Lord, have mercy Ich bin erleichtert - I’m relieved. Vostromo- imaginary spacecraft  SETI- search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a term for scientific searches for intelligent extraterrestrial life. Oumuamua- an interstellar object. Used here as an alien spaceship. Neo Spacians- referred to aliens Displair - a 3D interactive display technology  TCS- Thermal control system Authors note: Some names and instances might sound familiar, but this is purely a work of fiction.     Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!