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Monday, September 19, 2011

Aboard the Waratah - an unexpected discovery

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The bulkheads dimmed, though they continued to glow, and the lift was silent for several minutes before Amy at last said,

“Well, that was interesting.” She peered overhead and then ran her fingers along the bulkheads. “No obvious evidence of speakers, so they must be built into the bulkheads themselves.”

“Odd sort of welcome for a science ship,” Grayson commented.

“Mmm. Sounded like the kind of welcome you’d get on a pleasure planet.”

“I suppose you’ve spent a lot of time on pleasure planets, then?”

The comm crackled with static and then, through the hissing, came Taz’s voice. “
Yo, you two there? Just had a strange encounter with a Welcome Programme…

Grayson glanced at Amy. “November?”

Great month,” Taz replied. “It has Thanksgiving. What’s not to like? But no, this was Welcome Programme Tango Two. Took a real shine to Benji-boy.

Hah,” said Benji. “Damn thing would have dragged me to the medical bay if it’d had arms.

“What’s the point of having two Welcome Programmes?” Grayson said. “Why not just turn the same one on simultaneously in two places?”

Amy bit the inside of her cheek. “Taz, what did yours say? Was it specific to your destination?” She thought a moment. “Benji, you said something about medical?”

Super polite,” Taz said. “Welcome to the ship, sorry no one greeted you, when you get to the engine room you’ll be welcomed by Chief Roberts. And then there was the thing with Benji.

That thing was not happy about me,” Benji said. “Polite as you like, but it really wanted me to get to medical. Think it thought I was about to drop down dead. Wouldn’t be the first time someone’s thought that.

“The ship must have run medical passes on us when we came aboard,” Amy said. “I guess. And I guess there’s multiple Welcome Programmes for different destinations?” She lifted her hand to run her fingers through her hair and bumped against her helmet. Grimacing, she let it drop back to her side. “You’re not ill, are you, Benji?”

Fit enough, thanks for asking.

She shrugged. “I dunno, I guess we can keep going. I’m surprised the programmes triggered at all, to be honest.” She caught Grayson’s raised eyebrows as she turned to fiddle with the panel and said, “Look, I don’t know everything. There was a lot of data lost in the ’21 Riots, and there’s only so much you can recover from half-destroyed ships.” Poking at the innards of the panel, she added, “That’s why this is such an exciting find. Welcome Programmes are only the beginning.”

The lift came to a smooth halt, the blue light around them brightening as the Welcome Programme came back online.

Welcome to the Waratah bridge,” said the Welcome Programme. “You are advised to refrain from touching instrument panels without permission and to abide at all times by any instructions given by any member of the crew. Please ensure you are not actively blocking any member of the crew at any time. Thank you, and please enjoy your stay.

The glow from the bulkheads faded away entirely and the doors hissed apart. The man who had been propped against the other side fell inwards, his torso angling across Amy’s boots. Amy screamed and leaped backwards into the lift, slamming hard against Grayson as he lunged forward. The body rolled to the right until the door frame forced it to stop, leaving the corpse posed in an unpleasant twisted angle.

Amy and Grayson stood at the back of the lift and stared down at the unexpected discovery. At last Grayson said,

“I don’t think that’s what the Welcome Programme had in mind when he said ‘enjoy your stay’.” He leaned forward as far as he could without stepping towards the body. “I see skin. If this guy’s been dead for two hundred years, shouldn’t he be dust by now? Ashes? Atoms, floating in the proverbial wind?”

Amy smacked his arm. “A little respect,” she said. “Snark isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

Grayson edged nearer and crouched down beside the man, gingerly lifting the hand draped across the left lapel. “Well, the Welcome Programme got one thing right.” He glanced up. “Can’t say we weren’t greeted by Captain Alexander.” Sitting back on his heels, he fixed Amy with an intent look. “You want to explain why there’s a dead person on a ship that’s supposed to be abandoned?”

Grayson? Doc?

Grayson tapped his comm. “Go ahead, Taz.”

Yeah, so I got a funny story to tell you about abandoned ships. Give you a hint — punch line’s got three dead guys and a really antsy salvage man.

“I don’t like this,” Grayson said to Amy, and then, “We’ve got one too, Taz. Tell Benji to keep breathing until we figure out what’s going on.”

Roger that, Skipper. We’ll have a look around and see what we can find.

Amy stepped over the corpse and onto the bridge. “There’s more in here.”


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