THE CHALLENGERS 1:
This story had a great start. I got as far as I did and realized that I didn't really like my characters that much or some of the initial set up. I also realized that I had a better idea. That idea became Flight of the Starbird.
The Challengers 1: The Mission
Van Turner, 1987 (writing as V. Allen Turner)
Began: Nov. 7, 1987
In the 100 years that followed World War III, 2025 to 2130, life on Earth, except for the scavengers, was non-existent. The nearly 375,000 people that survived the holocaust escaped with the cat-like Scetzas to a colony called Exodus.
In 2135 the human race, with the Scetzas, returned to Earth to begin reconstruction. The feat took all of 300 years and by 2480 Earth had been “re-built” to twentieth century standards. The war had nearly killed Earth technology. But by 2600, Earth had hit a new era of science. Photon energy had been discovered. And solar conversion for photon power in 2610 was possibly the savior of Earth.
Commerce with the Scetzas brought in the credit monetary system for Earth. All other money has been forgotten after the war. Interstellar travel had been discovered and put into every day use by 2700. The largest breakthrough in travel was the Alpha type star ship. It was a freighter with four ion engines, solar collectors, photon converters and storage units; pulsar lasers with trilithide focusing crystals and the latest in Scetza micro-technology.
It had room and supplies for up to four crew members. The first of these was called Alpha and made its maiden voyage in 2829. The second was called Starbird and made its first and “last?” flight in 2830. It crash landed on what is now the property of one Mr. Troy Star.
Time: November 1, 2987
Place: San Francisco, CA
“This is some piece of land you got here, Mr. Star,” said Billy Owens, the prior owner of the ten acre, hilly, heavily treed property. “Nice doin’ business with you. Good bye.”
The grey-haired old man drove off in his ’65 Supercraft. (Mustang) Troy Star, the new owner who’d paid in cash, suddenly had the feeling he’d been gypped. The tall, brown-haired man of 45 turned his brown eyes to his companion.
“I wonder how many kilometers he’s put on that heap,” said Joe Nimits. Like Troy, he was tall and 45. But he was blonde and blue-eyed.
They had gone to school and college together. And by some miracle, they had gotten jobs at the same agency: Colony Freighter Service, division of United Colony Starship spacelines. (The army) Only Troy had been a pilot and Joe a maintenance technician. In other words, a repair man.
“I don’t know, Joe,” said Troy. “What say we take a tour of my new place?”
“You mean you bought this without looking at it?”
“I looked at it from the air. It looked alright. Come on.”
Joe paused to think. He had an odd feeling he was going to regret it but, “Okay.”
They walked down the long gravel driveway and turned left at the two story house he’d bought for himself. They were walking away from the house that Joe considered beautiful but too large fro one person.
Troy and Joe walked for ten minutes when Troy spotted the object that would change his and three other people’s lives.
“What’s that?” Troy asked Joe.
“Looks like some kind of storage unit.”
“Let’s take a closer look.”
They could see the large sheet of metal that seemed to be half buried.
“It’s a ship!” exclaimed Troy.
On closer inspection, the sheet turned out to be the right wing of an enormous starship.
“I wonder how long it’s been here,” said Joe.
Due to the height and width of the hill and the angle at which the syringe-shaped ship was to it, all they’d been able to see was the wing. Now they could see the hexagonal body.
The broad wing extended from the body toward the rear. One wing, the left, was missing. A huge hole, jagged and charred, was all that remained.
“How old do you think it is, Joe?”
“I honestly have no idea. Over a hundred years for certain, though.”
The ship’s three forward wrap-around view ports were shattered. There were three generators on the back, toward the wing – between them actually – and evidence of two others missing. Behind the generators was a tall cylinder, similar to a submarine coning tower. Atop the cylinder was a double-barreled laser cannon.
Troy and Joe had walked round to the right side of ship. The rest of the ship was resting peacefully on its scarred belly, like some dinosaur.
“Oh, shit!” exclaimed Troy.
“What is it?” asked Joe, eyebrows raised.
“The door’s still intact.”
“That’s okay,” laughed Joe. We can get in through the viewports.”
“Oh,” said Troy who hadn’t noticed the shattered viewports. “One question. How do we get up there?”
Joe cupped his hands to make a stirrup and squatted.
“Are you sure you can - ?” Troy started.
“Up!” Joe interrupted.
By some miracle, Joe lifted Troy. Not so unusual. They were both young. Forty-five is young to people who live to be 150, some older. The average was 145.Troy pulled Joe up after him. They then dropped into the cockpit of the ship.
The smell was that of something dead.
“Oh my god!” cried Joe suddenly, pointing to the floor. There were two skeletons lying one across the other, neither very well intact. He managed to push the bulkhead door open and stumble into the short corridor that lead to the back of the ship.
Troy followed him.
“You alright, Joe?” he asked.
“Yeah, fine, but . . . those skeletons . . .” he broke off, unable to explain.
“It’s alright, Joe. They’re dead. They can’t hurt you.”
“I know, but knowing somebody got killed in this ship scares me.”
“Nothing to be afraid of, Joe. Come on. I want to know more about this ship.”
They went back into the cockpit.
Leaves covered the floor, seats, computers, and remains of the prior owners of the ship. Cobwebs also ran helter-skelter all over the ship. And everything was wet, old, decaying with age. Rust spots showed all over the ship.
“If the hull is this bad, and the interior,” Troy began, “I wonder how bad the circuitry is.”
“You’re not thinking of fixing this thing up, are you?” asked Joe, incredulously.
“Why not?” He bent and picked up the skull off one of the skeletons. “What do you think?” He motioned the skull to nod yes.
“Could you tell him that?”
It nodded no.
“I forget. You can’t speak.”
He tossed the skull out the window.
“You’re sick!” Joe shouted, grinning. Then something caught his eye. “What’s this?” He bent and picked it up.
Troy took it from him. “It’s a pin.”
“You have a marvelous way of stating the obvious,” Joe said sarcastically.
Troy spat on the pin and began to wipe it off.
“That spit sounded derogatory,” said Joe.
“You know, for someone who was scared stiff of a skeleton just a minute ago, you’re in a jovial mood now,” said Troy thoughtfully. “But you shouldn’t be.”
“This is the pin of a Colonial Army captain. This says his name was Tyler.”
“Listen, you were kidding about refitting this ship, weren’t you?”
“No, this ship could be repaired.”
Troy spotted something in the rust-covered wall of the cabin. He spat on his hand and cleared a spot. There was a word underneath the rust.
The word was “Starbird.”
“You see that?” Joe shouted. “Do you see that?”
“No reason to get excited, Joe,” said Troy calmly.
“No reason to get excited! This is a military ship, Troy!”
“You should have known that from the pin. And was is the proper verb. If I remember correctly from the history course part of flight training, this ship’s 157 years old.”
“Practically ancient,” said Joe.
Troy cleared away the leaves in front of the vinyl covered pilot’s chair and lay down underneath the desk-like console. He pulled a large panel off the console and peered inside.
“Would you believe most of this is in good condition?”
“It’s also solar powered, so be careful,” Joe warned.
“The collectors are manually operated on an old bird like this,” Troy’s voice came hollowly from the console. “Surely it’d be – “
There was a shower of sparks from the underside of the console. Troy screamed. A shower of sparks erupted from his right leg. He screamed again, struggling to get out from under the console.
Joe dragged him out. Troy’s pants below the knee were on fire.
“Put it out, Joe!” Troy slapped at the fire. “Ow, shit!”
Joe snatched off his jacket and wrapped it around Troy’s leg. He patted the jacket until the fire was out. Troy let his head hit the metal floor of the Starbird.
“Ohh,” he sighed.
“I told you, didn’t I?” Joe said, unwrapping his jacket.
“Yes,” said Troy from the floor. “Now,” he reached into his right front pocket and pulled out a small oblong object made of metal. “I want you to,” pressing the button on the flat side of the object, “cut my pants,” a light sprang from the object, bright, blue and hot, “and repair my leg.” The object was a laser knife.
Joe took the knife and cut down from the knee to the cuff of Troy’s pants. He then cut off the main cut at the knee to expose Troy’s leg.
“You been shaving your legs, Troy?” Joe asked at the sight of the smooth, well-shaped leg.
“Ha, ha, ha,” said Troy sarcastically from the floor.
The fact of the matter was he had lost both his legs below the knee less than three weeks prior to this.
“This is it, Joe!” said Troy, decisively. “I went to school for twenty years, college for eight, had this job for thirteen. Thirteen years down the fucking tubes.”
“So you’re definitely gonna fix this thing up” Joe asked, knowing he’d hit a raw nerve about Troy’s leg. “You realize you could buy a fleet of ships with your commission. That’s if you haven’t spent it all.”
“No, I haven’t spent it all. I only spent a quarter on this land. Which reminds me, the military didn’t collect the Starbird because, for one thing, it crashed on private property; and for another, they didn’t think it was worth it.2830 was in the middle of a war with the Ichtarian Overlords if I remember correctly. The pilot and copilot and the Starbird herself were considered victims of the war.”
“You remember correctly,” Joe confirmed.
“Now that I’ve bought this land, the ship is mine.”
Joe suddenly remembered having thought he was going to regret going with Troy to tour his land. Now he knew why.
“You gonna repair my leg or not?” Troy asked, raising his head a little, then letting it rest again.
“I need tools, Troy,” said Joe.
Troy reached in his jacket pocket and brought out a small silver box made of metal.
“You need a sedative?” Joe asked, not wanting to hurt Troy.
“Of course,” Troy sighed. “I hate this. This is why I was given a medical discharge. You know, I could have lost my life trying to save my passengers and cargo.”
Joe had fixed the hypo. “Where do I stick it?”
“I’d give you an answer but I’m liable to get a raw deal,” Troy grinned.
“Shove it, Troy.”
“That’s my line, Joe.”
“It’s going in your ass, Troy.”
“In my arm or up yours, Joe.”
“Enough of the niceties. In your arm. Roll up your sleeve.”
Troy rolled up the sleeve of his blue, white and grey rugby striped shirt. Joe injected the sedative in his arm, just below the elbow. Troy felt the effects instantly and fell asleep.
Joe, using the hardly screwdriver-sized tools, opened Troy’s leg panel that was there just for such emergencies. Inside was an amazing assembly of microchips and circuits. Several of the delicate micro generators were burnt out.
“Where are the spare parts, Troy?” Joe asked.
Of course, Troy didn’t answer. He was out cold and he was dreaming. Troy dreamt of the near fatal crash that cost him his legs, his cargo and his career.
The ship was on schedule as always when Troy was in charge. Well, almost always. There had been no complaint from the passengers, no asteroid fields, no danger whatsoever. But some drunk kid in a Speedster Mark IV broadsided the hug freighter toward the rear underside, taking out four engines and six of the eight generators when entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Troy had managed to crash land the ship on its belly, flat. But it had slid sideways and rolled over, injuring several hundred of the several thousand passengers and destroying the cargo completely. But somehow, on impact, Troy wound up under one of the huge doors of the bridge bulkhead, ruining his legs.
They – the doctors – had been able to replace them with cybernetic legs. A little Scetza technology in that one. But he and most of his passengers were alive. The ship was refitted before he was out of the hospital.
Now that he was out, he retired from the service on a medical discharge and bought the land on which he had found the Starbird.
Troy awoke to find himself on the cold metal floor of the Starbird.
“Fixed?” he asked Joe, who had cleaned up the leaves and skeletons in the three hours Troy had been out.
“Try it,” he said.
Troy got up slowly. He stood straight, as is at attention, then ran in place and finished his test with five jumping jacks.
“Fit as a fiddle!” he grinned. “A fine job, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you, Captain, sir,” Joe saluted and flipped him off in the same motion.
Troy glanced at his watch: “4:30!” he exclaimed. “I was out for three hours? What are you, nuts?”
“Probably.” He paused. “What do you think we should do with the skeletons?”
“Turn ‘em over to the ‘proper authorities’ I guess.”
“As soon as I get this monster to a private hangar and tell Sandy what we’re up to.” Sandy Berkley was Troy’s girlfriend, engaged-to-be-wife.
“I’ll tell Vanessa,” said Joe. “She can handle any legal technicalities.” Vanessa Hamilton was Joe’s lawyer girlfriend, hopefully-to-be-engaged.
They had gone to school and college together and managed to stick together. Troy and Sandy had lived together before the crash. But now he had this house that had been meant for a rich man, his wife, their two kids, a maid and a butler. Joe and Vanessa didn’t want to live together until they were engaged, scheduled for March 2986.
Troy dusted off his blue jeans and denim jacket and started for the door, then stopped. Joe got up, dusted off his jeans and parachute material jacket, now scorched.
“How did you get out of the service?” Troy asked.
Joe walked around him and out of the cabin into the corridor. He looked back into short trapezoidal cabin with its hexagonal canopy, to configure with the corridor. The wrap-around view ports were at an angle to the floor, they got lower toward the nose.
The navigations consoles were separate, pilot and copilot, with chairs for each. A small angled console, similar to that of a car, separated the trapezoidal helm controls.
“Antique,” he said at last.
“Well?” Troy asked.
Joe left the ship. Troy followed.
“I managed to get an honorable discharge for arresting the guy that blind-sided your ship.”
“Is that all?”
knew the guy, Troy. He was going to jail for five years because this was his
third time. The boy’s not but 25. He’s not even out of school and it’s the moon
prison colony for him.”
“Now let’s get back to the house. I want to show you around the place.”
“Fine,” said Joe flatly, thinking how cold Troy sounded when he didn’t care. Was it the crash?
They arrived back at the house about ten til five. Troy produced the small, flat plastic key that opened the door. It was about an inch and a half long and was mostly transparent except for the half inch black finger grip.
Troy inserted the thin, rectangle of transparent plastic through which incredibly small microcircuits could be seen into a small rectangular hole in the metal door facing him. He then pressed the top of two buttons below the keyhole.
The door slid open to the right with a faint humming noise. The door let onto a long, open hall at the end of which was a spiral staircase. Joe followed Troy into the hall.
“Is this the grand tour?” Joe asked.
“Yes,” answered Troy, grinning. “And to begin our tour, immediately to our left is the dining room.”
They went into the dining room. It was a well lit, largish room with a larger round table and four chairs around it. On the walls were dozens of painting and holographs.
“And this is the utility room,” said Troy, opening a door a the far side of the dark paneled dining room.
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