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Marooned | Chapter 1 | Field Trip
Posted By: The Meep
Date: 24 March 2006, 7:51 pm

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Marooned | Chapter 1 | Field Trip

Date (Military): July 12th, 2542, 9:03 PM
Date (Prosperity 3): Fall 69th, 162
Location: Foxfield Observatory, Extreme Outskirts of Ethorn City, Prosperity 3

Phrases to Know:

Playtex- Playtex is a revolutionary new material invented in 2525 by Joseph McCullen. Playtex essentially has the look of Latex but the feel of leather. It has become very popular among civilian clothing products.

D-Shirt- This Playtex shirt is a very popular shirt that came into style in the late 2530s and was marketed by Joseph Ged of Ged Enterprises. It is a zip-up shirt that has the zipper running from the left waist up to the right shoulder.

Console- Computers in 2542 were very small and contained within the screens themselves due to massive leaps forward in nanotechnology. A console is simply a computer screen, 1/100 of an inch thick, with the hardware located in-between the projector and the back. There are ports to attach a mouse and a keyboard, and it also carries a Screen-to-Pupil projector (more commonly known as STOP).

Air Cruiser- An Air Cruiser, by principle, is a futuristic airplane. Constructed of a super-light and see-through material called Feather-Plastic, Air Cruisers look like a space shuttle on Slim Fast. Its fuel is the oxygen in the air so it carries no tanks. Air Cruisers come in all shapes and sizes from a single-passenger mini-Cruiser to a massive 3,000 passenger behemoth only found on Earth, Reach, and Prosperity.

TELSAT- TELSATs (or Telescopic Satellites) are small (about 3 feet wide) and maneuverable telescopes that are in orbit above the poles of planets. They are very accurate and view objects in space in infra-red, visible, radio, micro, gamma, and even slip lights.

EDCR- EDCR stands for Extreme Distance Communication Relay. Ever since we began colonizing other worlds, we needed some method to communicate with relative speed, especially with rebels. The United Nations Deep Space Communication (UNDSC) department set up over a million checkpoint droids placed strategically throughout deep space. These checkpoints send smaller droids into Slipspace to pick up signals from planets or other checkpoints and relay them on to their next destination. Slipspace anomalies often mess up the signals, causing faulty relays. Yet, the UNDSC is incorporating new technology to reduce this.

The yellow and black striped bus pulled into the U-shaped driveway of Foxfield Observatory. While the children piled out of the bus, giggling excitedly, the jolly Santa Claus look-a-like in the observatory's entrance noticed the bus rise a few inches and could hear the hydraulics groaning from the release of weight. The last person off the antique-looking vehicle was a dazzling beautiful woman dressed in a red D-shirt with a red pair of latex looking jogging pants. The whole outfit was topped off with a red and brown-blonde streaked ponytail.
-Remember Shane, your married- he thought glancing down at the gold band on his finger with a somewhat disappointed expression. He looked up, clasped his hands behind his back, and tried to look all the more professional.
After watching the bus lumber away, he saw her herding the kids into a small group. "Remember, stand as close to this spot as you can," she said pointing at an invisible place on the ground. Most of the kids leaned in to see what it was. "Just don't wander off." She turned around to start towards him, but stopped, reached behind her quickly, and grabbed a brown haired girl by the back of her jacket that had just started to wander away.
"Why don't come with me Lizzie." Lizzie looked down somewhat guiltily but held up her hand. The young teacher enfolded it into her own hand and continued walking towards the man in the doorway.
When they got there, the young lady held out her free hand towards the man. "Dr. Shane Cleaver I presume? I'm Sally Pullman."
Dr. Cleaver smiled and took her hand in his and delicately pumped it. "You know my name? My reputation precedes me I see." He chuckled and then shivered, rubbing his naked arms with his hands. "It's pretty cold tonight. Winter's a coming very fast. It must feel a lot colder up here for you though, coming from the middle latitudes and all."
"It is for them." She looked over her shoulder to see the puffy jackets their parents had their kids wear. "I, however," she said holding her hand to her chest, fingers splayed, "used to live right over there in Ethorn City."
"Really? Why'd you move to the Southern Province?"
She looked down and crossed her arms. Lizzie suddenly had a determined look and started pulling on her soft jogging pants. Sally ignored her for the moments. "It reminded my mother to much of my father." She sucked in her breath quickly, obviously trying not to cry. "The Covenant," she said as if it explained it all, because it did.
"I'm sorry Ms. Pullman, I shouldn't have asked."
Her head shot back up with a small smile but dropped right back down again when she remembered the tears. "No, no. It's fine. I think everyone has lost someone anyway." She turned to Lizzie, who was still tugging on her pants, and kneeled down, hiding her face.
"What is it Lizzie?"
The kindergartener looked up at the Doctor and asked with a completely innocent expression "Is that man Santa C'aus?"
Ms. Pullman suppressed a giggle. "No, Lizzie, the good Doctor is not Santa C'aus," she replied with empthasis on Lizzie's verbal slip-up. Sally stood back up and looked at Dr. Cleaver, any hint of her recent break-down gone. "Shall we go in Dr. Cleaver?" She started walking towards the door but turned around before she reached it and smacked her palm onto her hand in mock surprise. "The children! I almost forgot!"
Lizzie had moseyed back to the throng who was now playing marbles… with imaginary marbles. Predictably, several arguments raged over placement of these unseen marbles. Ms. Pullman walked in front of the mob and clapped a short staccato with her hands. The kids immediately stood up, went silent, and repeated the clap.
Ms. Pullman put an exaggerated confused look on her face. She started patting herself down muttering "Now, where did I put those rules…" over and over.
A couple of kids giggled at her embellished performance. "Their up here!" they all yelled in a staggered unison, pointing to their heads. "Their in our memory!"
"Very good, very good. Now, what are they again? I can't seem to remember."
"No NTWM. No noise, no touching, no wandering, and mind your manners," they yelled back.
"That's right; now follow me and Dr. Cleaver." She gave a dramatic pause. "Now, LET'S GO SEE EARTH!" she announced, turning around and throwing her arm forward over her shoulder. Then they all went through the happy-looking doors and found themselves in a hall full of named cubbies. She looked admiringly at Dr. Cleaver, who returned her look with a shrug.
"It was nothing. There's just so little hands-on work to do here."
"Either way, thank you." She raised her voice slightly. "Everybody find their cubby and put your coats, hats, and gloves into your own cubby." She turned back to Dr. Cleaver, "Are all the consoles ready in the main room?"
"Why, of course!" he said, feigning insult. He leaned against the wall and watched the children hurry to put away their cold weather gear. When they finished, he straightened out, and led the way down a white corridor. Ms. Pullman caught up with him, glanced once over her shoulder to do a quick head-count, and then turned back to Dr. Cleaver.
"So… how long have you been here, at Foxfield Observatory?" she asked inquiringly.
"O, I don't know. About seven years. I was at Gordon Planetary Facility immediately after I graduated from Kings Astronomical College on Earth. I stayed there for a bit and then came back home on Prosperity 3 and hopped from observatory to observatory until I ended up here. It's a nice place and all; it's just not really as sophisticated or intelligent as GPF and the pay, well, let's just say this used to be volunteers only. Anyway, enough about me. Why did you become a teacher anyway?"
"Mainly because I couldn't join the military."
"Why not? You seem old enough."
"I have EPSS, Extreme Plasma Sensitivity Syndrome. If I get within 10 feet of any plasma, I get blinding headaches, literally. I spasm, and can't think coherently. I die after 30 seconds of exposure. So, basically, if I go anywhere near the Covenant, with all their fancy plasma gizmos, I'll die without getting shot at. I'd be tactically useless in a battle."
She finished just as they were entering the main telescopic chamber. It was circular and about 50 feet wide. It was raised on the outside edge where various control panels and consoles were littered on tables pointing inward from the wall. There was a lower floor that went around in a ring that circled a massive telescope. Circling the telescope was a table with about 30 consoles on it, each with its own name on it.
When the kids came in after the two adults, they let out a cheer and each ran to his or her respectively named console. They sat down and started yelling and talking all at once. Ms. Pullman waited for about 5 seconds before she repeated the short staccato. The kids all turned around and went silent except for a few who still whispered. These rebels without a cause were quickly shushed by their peers who turned and looked every part the smug teacher's pet. Sally pointed to her eyes and then pointed at the expansive man in the doorway. All the kindergarteners turned and stared him down as best they could, many of them suppressing giggles, giving proof that the young teacher's directions were also small games.
The Doctor coughed nervously and walked over next to the woman. He rubbed his hands together as he looked over the depressed walkway at the seemingly catatonic children. He opened his mouth as if he were going to say something but nothing came out as if he had thought better of it. He closed and reopened it with positive results this time. "I won't give you any long lectures on rules or why you're here today. Your only here for tonight and you better make the most of it. Well then, let's get started. Please open the folder in the top-left of your console; for those of you who know how to read, it's called 'Earth'."
Most of the kids turned back to their consoles and pressed a button in the bottom edge of the screen. The console's STOP scanned the children's eyes and locked onto their movements. A few tentatively turned and raised their hands. In reply, Ms. Pullman held up her left hand and made an L with it. She pointed at it and said "The side that makes the L." The kids turned back to their consoles with a soft chorus of thanks. After waiting for the console to accept their retinas, they looked at the folder on the screen and blinked twice to open it.
"Give it a second to load," Dr. Cleaver announced. He waited for a few seconds and then started giving out instructions. "You should have Earth on your screens now; beautiful isn't it? Anyway, there should be small joysticks in front of the consoles. You will be using these to maneuver your TELSAT so you can look around the Sol system or get a better view of Earth. If you're lucky, you might be able to see a comet or even Saturn."
But the kids weren't even listening to him anymore. Their full attention was now centered on the high definition images in front of them. The students were completely silent as they maneuvered their Earth-based TELSATs to explore new areas of the Sol system.
Ms. Pullman leaned in towards Dr. Cleaver. "This is something new."
"What's something new?"
"Their completely quiet."
"O, I see." After another minute or so, Dr. Cleaver picked up a data receiver off a nearby desk and started gazing at it with a concentrated look on his face.
The youthful teacher looked over his shoulder at the wavy lines that were fluctuating across the screen. "What's that?" she asked.
"An EDCR monitor. Since the TELSATs the children are looking at are going to be based above Reach, Earth, and Gordon, I need to make sure there will be no surprise Slipspace storms."
She nodded knowingly and backed away. She turned, found a chair, and sat down in it. As the Doctor continued to examine his data receiver, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a silver locket attached to a chain. She looked at it and moved her fingers to open it. As they brushed the smooth surface, she suddenly withdrew her hand in a fist. "Now's not the time Sally," she murmured so softly, she couldn't tell if she had thought it or said it.
She slipped the locket into her pocket with a sigh and then leaned back in her chair, letting her red and dirty blonde hair fall out of the ponytail. She sat back up straight again and looked at her class, or at least the portion she could see from her seat. She watched their screens as they looked at the wonders of Sol.
After about 15 minutes, Dr. Cleaver lowered his data receiver and gave out instructions on how to make the switch from Earth TELSATs to Reach TELSATs. The kindergarteners started exploring the system while Dr. Cleaver, satisfied there weren't any EDCR inconsistencies, walked over to a console of his own on a desk near Ms. Pullman. As he walked past her, she followed him with her eyes. He sat down and started entering rapid fire commands into the console.
After a bit, he noticed Ms. Pullman watching him. "I have to reprogram our TELSATs over Prosperity 3 so they'll accept our commands," he explained briefly. With that, he turned back to his console.
Ms. Pullman, who was starting to feel cramped, got up and walked on the lowered walkway circling the youngsters, sometimes commenting on what they were looking at. After she had circled the primary telescope twice, Dr. Cleaver stood up and announced it was time to switch to the Gordon TELSAT system.
Hearing this, Ms. Pullman went back to her seat and continued to survey the kids from a distance. More time passed and her hand strayed to the locket in her pocket. This time when she brought it out, she opened it with a slight hesitation. Inside the inner wall of the locket was the picture of a middle-aged man in full uniform with the double gold band and star of a full Lieutenant. She stared at this for a long time, before she closed it once again and slipped it back into her pocket.
She glanced at her watch: 10:26. She was surprised at how long they had already been here. She stood up and wandered over to Dr. Cleaver. "Are you almost done?"
"As a matter of fact, I am. Would you please go tell them that their screens will turn off momentarily as I switch the EDCR frequency to Prosperity?"
"Sure," she said as she turned around and attracted the attention of the kids. Once they were focused on her, she began to speak. "In just a moment, your consoles are going to shut off. But don't worry; our good friend Dr. Cleaver will turn them back on and you can begin stargazing wherever you want to. That sounds like fun right?"
Multiple "rights" mixed with yawns answered her question. The kids turned back to their consoles to find them already off. After a few seconds, the screens came back on, with a picture of Foxfield Observatory on each of them.
"I see Dr. Cleaver took it upon himself to start off our TELSATs." She looked around at the kids. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go on; try to find a new star system!" All the children turned back to their consoles, each thinking that they would find a new star.
She walked back to Dr. Cleaver who was just turning off his console. He looked up and saw her. "Well done Ms. Pullman. Who knows? One of them might actually discover a new star." He walked over to a wall window overlooking a large field behind the observatory with Ms. Pullman in tow.
"Isn't amazing Sally? Is it OK if I call you Sally?"
"Ya, it's fine."
"Anyway, isn't it amazing? 1,000 years ago, they could barely make out Jupiter's moons with their telescopes," he mused. "500 years ago, astronomers on Earth could've looked directly at us with their telescopes and maybe see a blur from Prosperity. Today, we can use our own land-based telescopes to view storms on Earth that happened over a decade before. Tell me Sally, do you know how far away Earth is from Prosperity?"
"Of course. Somewhere in the area of 11 light years away." She paused for a moment. "When you stop to think about it, I find it hard to believe we came up with two digits, only two digits, to express an unimaginably large expanse of nothingness. We are so small and it's just so big. It kind of helps me understand why we fight among ourselves." She turned sideways and looked Dr. Cleaver right in the eyes. "Tell me Doctor, do you know why we fight? And I mean the instinct, not the frivolous excuses we come up with for it."
He considered his answer for a couple of seconds, finally deciding he'd humor her. "Now that I think of it, I can't say that I know. Sally, why do we fight?"
"Now that you ask, I really don't know for sure." She laughed. "I just think that since we can't fight the nothingness out there, we turn to each other to fight with. And that's what humanity is: one big fight. Even when we're facing extinction, yes, I've heard the rumors; we still manage to pick fights with each other. No wonder the Covenant want to kill us so much."
Dr. Cleaver would never admit it, but this startling spark of insight from one so young disturbed him. He tried to find some reply to this. He finally decided on something, through process of elimination that would most likely be the best answer. So, he opened his mouth wide and said "Wow."
A few awkward seconds passed. "'Wow' what Doctor?"
"'Wow' as in 'Wow, what an amazing insight from one so one.' You know, you would probably make a great theologian."
"I'm atheist."
"O, I see. Anyway, wouldn't you think that God would be helpful at—"
"God? There is no God. We were all formed from stars gone supernova that were created by a massive explosion of matter 14 billion years ago. There is no God. You would've thought if there was a God, he might've helped us by now. He sure was too late for the dozens of billions of people that the Covenant have killed, all in the name of 'their God'. That's not what I believe. I think after death, we just don't exist anymore."
She paused for a moment, letting Dr. Cleaver soak it in. "Our soul doesn't exist. It's simply a mass of emotions intertwined so much, that we had to use our primitive minds to think of an explanation for it. We didn't want to feel alone in the universe, so we thought up God so we could trick ourselves into thinking that there was a divine being out there and that we aren't alone in this huge expanse of nothingness!"
She stopped again, this time to calm herself down. She started off slowly. "That, Dr. Cleaver, is what I think about religion. It's simply a mass of ideas thought up by bald monks with nothing to do except write bibles. I used to be Catholic. I did the whole thing, went to Church, prayed, confessed, everything! But, I wasn't feeling anything. I finally realized I was being pushed into this religion against my will. But I put up with it.
"That however changed after my dad got killed by a 3 foot tall toad wearing shit on his back! That's when I finally realized the plain and stark truth, there is no God."
She laughed. "You know, 1,000 years ago, if I had said that, I'd be burning on a stake right now. Thank—," she stopped, "someone out there for civilization."
Now, Dr. Cleaver was really disturbed. I'm not going to get another nights sleep for the next month after hearing that! He desperately wanted out from this limbo position between politeness and personal instinct.
"HEY! I think I found something!" yelled a young girl with black, waist-long hair. Dr. Cleaver thanked God, if there was one, for this and quickly turned around and lumbered over to the young girl who was excitedly bouncing up and down on her seat. "I found IT! I found IT! That's right Jeremy. I found IT before YOU!" she said, patronizing a dissapointed looking young boy.
Dr. Cleaver and Ms. Pullman arrived there at the same time. They both looked at the screen. Dr. Cleaver's brow furrowed as he looked at the fuzzy abject on the console. Ms. Pullman looked over at Dr. Cleaver. "Is there a sharpness control?"
"Why yes, I think there is." He looked at the screen and opened several menus before finally reaching the "sharpness" gauge. "Huh, wonder who turned it down." After he turned it up to maximum and closed the menus, he gazed at the now clarified picture.
"My God," Ms. Pullman said without thinking. "It's a giant hoola hoop."
"The bigwigs back at Ethorn City will want to see this," Dr. Cleaver announced even as he took a memory cube out of his pants pocket and plugged it into a depression on the back of the console. He downloaded the picture onto the cube before slipping it back into his pocket.
He looked at the screen again still trying to discern what this mystery object was. Ms. Pullman cleared her throat nervously before asking "Is it just me, or is that screen tinted red?"
Dr. Cleaver stood up and said "Well, it shouldn't be." He started to turn around. "Maybe I changed a col—." His voice trailed off as he saw the blinking red light he had hoped would never have to be turned on.

To be continued…

Next Chapter: Escape