Trick or Treat
The star cruiser Liberty is the largest spacecraft ever constructed and flown from space dock. It is even larger than the Yosemite; an interplanetary craft which was used for exploration of Saturn. That ship had a crew of 40. The Liberty boasts a crew of 110. It was designed with dual warp drive engines and had a maximum speed of 12 times the speed of light.
At the end of February, the ship launched from space dock for a shakedown mission to the star Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light years away. The voyage would take 6 months. The ship reached its destination, however on arrival the navigational computers malfunctioned which caused it to pass Proxima Centauri. As the crew worked on the computers to find the problem, the ship entered a gradual, uncontrolled turn. This turn was being caused by a dark dwarf star; a star which does not give off light, but still has gravitational influences. Passing too close to the star sent them hurtling into deep space at an incredible speed. Presently they are lost.
In an attempt to keep the ship from traveling deeper into space, the crew placed all efforts on slowing the ship. They were able to increase the dampener’s ability to reduce the ships speed to sub light. Now all efforts are on diagnosing and correcting the problem with the navigation computers… The situation placed the entire crew under a heavy workload. One person experiencing the increased workload was Cadet Lieutenant, Susan Hunter, daughter of Mission Commander, Dr. Lance Hunter. She and her twin brother were home schooled by Dr. Hunter while on earth. Once he was selected for this mission, he was able to convince NASA to commission Susan, and her twin brother David, as Cadet Trainees. At 16, they are only two years younger than the minimum age for commission.
Susan was very dedicated and had been doing over 110 percent of her workload. On this day in space she had been at it for just over 15 hours, with only 6 hours sleep the night before. She was working in Science Services under the Chief Science Officer, Michael Richardson. Her hard work had not gone unnoticed by Lieutenant Richardson; nor did her fatigue.
“Susan,” said Michael, “I think that’s good for today. You’d better go back to your cabin and crash for the night.”
Susan looked back at her computer and rubbed her eyes. As much as she wanted to finish what she was working on, she felt he was right.
“Okay, Michael” she said, standing up and stretching.
“And this time I don’t want you to report back before 1100 hours.”
Susan opened her mouth to speak, however before she could, Michael cut her off.
“That’s an order Lieutenant; and no work from your cabin computer either. Go and relax. Get some sleep.”
Susan agreed she would not work until her next duty hours. Michael went back to making entries on his tablet.
Making her way back to her cabin she noticed that the ship seemed very empty. The last few weeks were quite busy and had personnel hustling everywhere. The ships systems had not been designed for such a high speed. And the dampers were not capable of slowing them down without modifications. Now, the ship was finally at sub light speed and things were much calmer. At 2330 hours everyone, except essential personnel, were in their cabins, probably asleep. She passed by the door to Life Sciences Officer Rosabel San Carlos and noticed light coming from under the door. Rosabel was a friend and just one cabin over from hers. She thought about pushing the call button; however she dismissed the thought, considering the late hour.
Science Officer Michael Richardson decided he too should get some sleep. Michael considered that Susan always gave 100 percent in her work. This dedication was admirable. However it did not apply to him. After all, he knew when to quit. Ever since the dark dwarf encounter, he and Susan both were putting in 15 hour days.
It was late when Susan arrived at her quarters. Susan hadn’t had supper. In fact she was so tired she didn’t want to eat. She turned on the video screen and set it too some easy music. The video screen’s music program displayed a camera shot from the nose of the ship. The red night lights were on to simulate night time conditions. The rest of the ship was asleep except for the command deck which only had Lieutenants West and Steinsson on duty. The ship was on automated navigation, so their duties were minimal. Susan decided to give them a call.
“Hey lieutenant, is anything happening?” Susan asked.
“Not really: only an occasional meteor passing by. Can’t sleep?”
“I haven’t tried yet. Thought I might watch a movie. I just wanted to see if you guys needed anything.”
“No, were fine. You really need to get some sleep. I wouldn’t bother with a movie, unless it’s one of the retro movies you like so much. That might put you to sleep.”
“Very funny; maybe your right, I should just go to bed.”
“Would it help if I sang you an Icelandic lullaby?”
“Well, I guess it might put me to sleep if you sing it in Icelandic.”
“Good night Susan” Erik laughed.
Susan looked over at the computer and then closed her eyes to dismiss the idea of work. She was not one to disobey orders. She knew she was tired. Her eyes were burning.
She decided to take a shower, hoping that would help her sleep. The thought was inviting. A nice hot shower was what she needed. Susan’s cabin was comfortable with small room with a shower and sink off the living area. A changing room with storage is across the living area, opposite the shower.
Susan picked up the remote and turned off the music.
Susan glanced at the mirror. Boy, do I look rough, she thought. She got out of her uniform and turned on the sonic shower.
Sonic showers were a water saver. It sent out sonic waves to clear and refresh, however, there was also a fine water mist. As they operated, they made a low pulsating hum and an occasional clicking noise. Susan had often wondered with how much this ship cost to build, couldn’t they figure out a way to make the shower quiet. As she stepped in she sighed. The water felt so good. She thought she could go to sleep standing up.
At that moment she thought she heard a noise. She listened; nothing. She went back to finishing her shower, but her mind was on the sound. Then she thought she heard voices. It was only brief words and it sounded like it was inside her cabin.
I did lock the door. I know I did she thought. She shut off the water and listened. Again nothing! She reached for the towel, and then heard the voice again. The words were undiscernible, but certainly it was a voice. She dried off and wrapped the towel around her. Her nervousness had her fumbling with the snaps on the towel. With hesitation she looked into the living area. Her eyes found the door. The lock light was lit indicating the door was secure.
Maybe whoever it is came in and locked it behind them, she thought. She looked over the rest of the room, but saw nothing. Maybe it’s the video screen. Maybe I left it on. She tried to look in that direction; however it was clear to her she would need to leave the shower room. As it was, she needed to cross the living area to get to the changing room. What a stupid design she thought.
She mustered up the courage and stepped into the living area. The video screen was off. As she walked swiftly to the changing room, she looked at the observation window. She had a feeling that she might be seen crossing the room in a towel. Then she remembered that they were in space. Who could see me? The thought relaxed her. Then she thought who could come into my cabin and hurt me; there are no strangers onboard.
She put her night clothes on and returned to the living area. Getting a drink she sat down at the table for a moment and looked out at the stars. There was also a nebula visible that looked very beautiful and peaceful.
As she sat for a moment, she thought she heard the voice again. She listened. Then she heard what sounded like an old style doorbell. She thought about the sound. As far as she knew there were no instruments on the ship that used a sound like a door bell. She listened to see if she could hear the doorbell again. This time she heard the voice clearly. It was that of a young girl! The words were clear and distinctive;
“Trick or Treat!” The voice seemed mournful sounding.
Her heart started to race. Then she calmed herself.
“It must be someone pulling a joke on me” she thought.
Susan decided to go to bed. As she stood up, she noticed something outside the ship.
“What the…” she exclaimed as she jumped back. It looked like a young girl!
In jumping back, she stumbled over the chair and fell to the floor. She looked up at the window, but saw nothing. She scrambled to her feet and peered out the window in a variety of angles. Suddenly she heard the doorbell again followed by the voice calling;
“Trick or Treat!” It was the same young girl voice.
She contemplated the situation. No one could be alive outside the ship without a space suit. She wanted to call someone, but her fear of ridicule held her back like two hands on her shoulders.
I must just be over tired she thought. I’ll just close the window and go to bed. The windows on the ship were electrochromatic glass which darkened in both directions when a current is applied. By switching the window off, the glass turns dark becoming non transparent. She reached for the switch, not wanting to look out the window. However, curiosity got the best of her. She glanced up at the window.
There was the young girl, the palms of her hands on the glass, and her face inches from the window. Susan rapidly threw off the switch for the window and it went dark. Her palms were sweating and her breathing was rapid. She was scared to death.
She ran out into the hallway. She had to find someone to tell. Maybe Rosabel was still awake. Susan ran down to her door and pressed the call button. It seemed like an eternity before Rosabel answered the door.
Before Rosabel could say a word, Susan started in.
I’m sorry to bother you this late; I have, ah, I mean…”
Slow down,” Rosabel said, “What’s the matter?” From the uncharacteristic stammering and her eyes wide she could tell there was some sort of trouble.
“I know this is going to sound weird’ she started, trying to compose herself, “There is someone… or something outside my window!”
Rosabel didn’t answer right away. Her mind was busy procession the information, and she was trying to determine a rational response.
“You mean you saw something in space.” she said, trying not to sound skeptical.
“In space, yes; something, I don’t know. Just come with me and I’ll show you.” Susan was already starting down the corridor.
Susan opened the cabin door and entered cautiously. Rosabel followed, her eyes gazing across towards the dark observation window.
“Let me open the window and see if she’s still there.” Susan’s voice was shaky.
“She?” Rosabel asked. Susan nodded affirmative.
“A young girl” said Susan.
Rosabel could see that Susan’s hands were shaking.
“I’ll open it for you” Rosabel offered. It wasn’t so much a need to accomplish the physical task as it was to give Susan emotional strength. She reached over and threw the switch. The window returned to transparent. Nothing was there.
In a way Susan was both relieved and disappointed. She was glad the girl was gone for the sake of her fear, but she also thought that no one would believe her now. Rosabel wanted to ask if she was sure of what she saw, or maybe she was just very tired. However she hesitated. It was tough being 16 on a ship with men and women who have trained their whole lives for this important mission. It would be easy to feel inferior. Deep space flight has many psychological effects. Then Rosabel noticed something on the glass. There were marks on the glass. She rubbed at the marks however they were on the outside. They were a pair of palm prints the size of a small frame person.
Then, as they stood there in silence, they both heard the voice. It was that of a young girl.
“Trick or Treat. Won’t you please let me in?”
Rosabel was baffled. Where was the sound coming from? She reached for the vidcom.
“Lieutenant Richardson here” answered Michael, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Michael, this is Rosabel. Can you come to Susan’s cabin? We need some scientific advice.”
“I’m on my way.” His response was a mixture of tired and frustrated.
Michael was good that way, but knowing how tired Susan was today, he hoped it wasn’t something bad.
Rosabel pulled up a chair and sat down.
“Let’s sit down and wait for a second opinion” said Rosabel.
“Don’t you think it will be better if we meet him in the hallway?” asked Susan.
“I wouldn’t worry. He knows where your cabin is. We can wait here. We have some hard facts. Science will fill it in and give us the whole picture. As they waited they heard the voice again.
“Trick or treat; won’t you please let me in?”
In astonishment, Rosabel watched as the young girl floated into view. Susan suppressed the desire to run, and watched her. She appeared to be about 12 or 13 years old, in earth years, with shoulder length dark hair in pig tails and dark eyes. She was wearing a utility space uniform with boots and a jacket with strange looking emblem. Both her hands and head lacked protection from the environment of space.
At this point Michael arrived. He saw Rosabel and Susan at the table and then the young girl floating in space just outside the observation window.
This is just not possible, he thought. No creature can live in space without life support or protection.
The three of them watched as the girl floated just outside the window. Every few moments the voice of the girl could be heard repeating “trick or treat”.
“Amazing!” Michael exclaimed. “That’s all she says?”
“Every so often she asked if she can come in too;” Susan replied, “She seems very polite.”
Susan was thankful that Rosabel and Michael were also seeing the same thing that she was. Also to Susan the more people watching with her, the safer she felt. She also found herself drawn to the girl.
“How can she be alive in space without any life support system?” Susan asked. Michael had been considering that very question. Then a thought occurred to him.
“She’s not alive” answered Michael.
“You mean she’s dead?” Susan asked in a horrified tone.
“Trick or treat” the voice said once again.
Michael started to look around the room.
“No, she’s not dead either; well not exactly.”
Susan was confused. She thought “Well she’s not alive but she’s not exactly dead. Maybe she’s a ghost!”
“We have to be hearing that voice from somewhere” he said as he searched for the source of the voice.
Susan and Rosabel were puzzled by Michael’s comment.
“She looks sad” said Susan. Then the girl spoke again;
“Trick or treat! Won’t you please let me in?” The pleading was starting to tear at Susan.
“Got it!” Michael had found that the sound is coming from the video screen.
“That’s how we are hearing her?” Rosabel asked.
“But I turned the video screen off. I’d swear I did” said Susan.
“You were listening to music, right?” said Michael.
“Yes, but I shut it off when I went to take a shower. And when I got out of the shower the screen was dark.”
“I’m sure it was, however the screen goes dark after a while automatically. You probably just turned the sound down instead of turning it off.”
“Yes” Michael answered. “You see, when we hear her voice, her mouth doesn’t move. So her voice must be transmitted to us in some other manner. That would be completely practical since there is no air in space, there is no way for her to send voice waves to us.”
“But, wouldn’t that be the way a spirit might speak to us?” Susan questioned.
“I suppose, but she’s not a spirit.”
“Ok, she’s not alive, she’s not dead, and she’s not a spirit. So what is she?” Susan asked in a frustrated voice.
Michael looked at Susan with a smile.
“She’s not a she. She’s an it.” Michael turned his attention back to the monitor. “Problem is the electrical system of the monitor is only one way. I don’t know how to let here hear us.
“I can hear you.” It was the girl’s voice.
Michael spun around and stared at the girl.
“Do you understand me?”
Michael thought for a moment. He turned to Rosabel.
“Call Dr. Robbins and have her meet us in the engineering lab. Also have David meet us there too.”
Rosabel headed over to contact Kori Robbins, ship’s engineering assistant and Susan’s brother, David. Susan was still watching the girl when her face lit up.
“She’s a robot!”
“Good girl. Actually she is probably an android. Her behavior makes me think she is very low on power.”
“Is that why her voice is so human?”
“Yes. We need to get her on board and find out more about her.
“They’re on their way” Rosabel said confirming contact.
Michael faced the girl through the window.
“I need you to go towards the rear of the ship.” Michael pointed. “You will see a door there. That will be the way in. Wait for it to open”
Without a word, the young girl turned towards the rear of the ship and disappeared out of sight.
“Ok, let’s go greet out visitor” said Michael.
The air lock that Michael directed her to was in the engineering bay, next to the lab. Everyone met in the engineering lab. David and Kori still looked half asleep. Still they had questions.
“All in good time” Michael told them. “First we need to bring someone on board.”
Michael’s words tended to shock the sleep from the two new participants.
“Through the airlock? While in Flight?” exclaimed Kori.
Michael directed Kori to operate the lock. Through the window of the inner door, everyone could see the young girl. David and Kori both looked on with wide eyes. The young girl entered the lock and Kori closed the outer door and slowly applied gravity and air.
Once equalized, she ran a scan of the airlock. Susan looked at Michael with curiosity as she had not seen the scan before. Michael recognized her curious look.
“The scan will look for any foreign contaminants or any other potential hazards” Michael said to the group. It will also analyze any object or living organism in an attempt to verify the fact that it is in fact a life form, or , in this case, a machine. The door will not open if a danger to the ship is determined.”
Everyone looked back at the young girl and waited. Susan was especially anxious. The young girl was looking around in apparent curiosity. As they waited Michael called the bridge.
Bridge, this is Richardson. We have retrieved an object which is believed to be an android. Once it has cleared the scan, I need permission to bring it aboard.”
“Acknowledged, Lieutenant West is on his way to you.”
“Why is Lieutenant West coming?” asked Susan.
“Lieutenant West is Acting Captain, so naturally West needs to be here” Michael replied.
The scan returned a green status and a computerized voice verified the scan.
“Scan Complete; no apparent danger. Welcome aboard.”
Welcome aboard Kori thought. That’s a strange way to clear an android.
“Everyone ready?” Michael asked the group. Everyone nodded.
“Go ahead, Kori.”
Kori pressed the inner door lock control and it opened with a swishing noise of the air in final equalization. The young girl walked in and looked around.
“Trick or treat!” she announced.
“Welcome. I am Lieutenant Michael Richardson and you are onboard the Earth Star Cruiser Liberty. Do you have a name?”
The young girl quietly looked around.
“May I see your ship?”
“In a little while; right now we need to find out who you are and where you are from.”
The young girl gave no answer and continued to look around. She started to walk passed everyone. She seemed to be drawn by the lights on the various instrument panels. Susan walked over and bent down to look into her eyes.
“My name is Susan. What do others call you?” she said in a gentle voice. The young girl looked back into her eyes.
“I am… “The young girl hesitated; she appeared to be thinking. “I am Marse… I am Maris, a, con… I was called Marissa.”
“Hello Marissa, Pleased to meet you.”
“We need to get her onto this table” Kori said to Michael in a hushed tone. “I need to find out what kind of programming is driving her. It sounds like something is conflicting with her programming.”
At that moment, West entered the room. Marissa turned to face him and lost all expression. She started to speak to him.
“Mission incomplete; sufficient data gathered for uplink; uplink code pound, G-I-S repository metadata…” her voice sounded like a computer.
West immediately drew his sidearm and fired directly into the chest of Marissa! Everyone was stunned. The impact of the projectile took Marissa off the floor and threw her back about ten feet. Sparks were visible and smoke could be seen coming from the hole in her chest.
“What the hell was that all about?” Michael’s voice was raised in anger.
“She is a weapon. She was issuing coding to detonate” he replied.
“How do you…” Kori started.
“I have a background in covet explosive devices” Logan interrupted with an insensitive tone.
“She came through the airlock with a green indication” Rosabel pointed out.
“Yes, however the airlock scanner would not pick up the chemicals in the nanotubes which can yield a high level exposition.
Michael wondered how West could know about the chemicals involved. Never the less he decided to remain silent
Susan was kneeling over the robot body, tears filling her eyes. David knelt next to her.
“Miss Hunter, it’s just a machine.” West said with frustration in his voice.
Susan looked up at West. His words bit hard, and fired up the feelings of loss even more.
“She seemed human. I can care can’t I?”
Rosabel stooped down and took Susan by the shoulders, standing her up.
As the others were looking at the young girl, Michael was looking at the scan report on his tablet. He had not read it completely before.
“Strange,” he said, “the report indicates she is both machine and human!”
Michael looked back at West, who remained aloof about what had happened. He started to leave, and then paused and turned back to face Michael.
It may have had human components, none the less it was a threat. It would be a good idea to eject it back into space and use the ships guns to obliterate it.” West then left.
Susan’s tears could be felt by all…
“I’ll take her back to her quarters” said Rosabel.
David had been looking at the robots exposed circuitry.
“Are you going to follow Wests’ orders?” he asked.
“West didn’t give an order. He expressed a suggestion.
“If it’s alright, I’d like to study it” David said. Doctor Robbins can help me.”
Michael looked over at Kori, who smiled and nodded affirmatively.
“I guess it would be fine. You can also clean up in here as well.”
As Michael turned to leave, Susan stopped him with a hand on his arm and whispered “Thank-you.” Then Rosabel took Susan to her cabin.
Kori helped David lift Marissa to the table. As David started to clean up, Kori examined the android. As she turned the androids head, she felt an air flow. It felt like breathing.
“David, come her for a minute.”
David walked over to Kori.
“What do you make of this?” she asked him. Kori placed a chrome instrument under the androids nose. It fogged up from her exhaling.
“She’s alive!” David said in an excited whisper.
Kori nodded. As she conducted a cursory inspection of Marissa, she theorized that Marissa has a self-contained life support system which allowed her to exist in space. That system was damaged by the shot she had received. However Marissa reverted to a natural breathing system when life support failed.
“We need to get her to medical right away. Call Dr. Matrix and have her meet us there.”
David turned to make the call, but Kori put her hand on his arm.
“Let’s not alert the bridge right away, shall we?”