Saturday, February 21, 2015

Captain Anslo Garrick - Gamma Hydra Mission Scene

The following is a first-draft sketch written to help me get into the head and life of the Captain Anslo Paul Garrick character.  Bear in mind as you read this that you're looking at a rough draft with no revision.  It's also not a complete story, just a snippet of the Captain's life prior to the start of a novel I'm planning to write about him.  I share it to give you some idea what the ASL universe will look like when it's realized.

Gamma Hydra V

"Computer, begin recording.  Captain Garrick's journal, day twelve of command.  I've been given my first assignment.  The admiral tells me it's gonna be a cake walk.  We go to Gamma Hydra V, send down an away team, gather some rock, soil, water, and air samples, and come back up.  The Prospect isn't the first ship to visit the place, and the others found nothing to account for the death of the planet's population.  Judging from the artifacts and records that remain, the experts say it looks like there was an invasion.  No idea who or what invaded, but they seem to have killed or captured the entire population of the planet within a few hours.  We've never seen anything like it.  The Alliance wants the samples to make sure that it really was an invasion and not some kind of plague.  They found a lot of interesting tech down there that they want to salvage, and they want to make sure it's a safe place for civilians.  Never mind that four previous missions came and went without a problem."

The Prospect's comm system beeped to get his attention.  "Incoming message from the bridge."

Garrick turned to face the comm panel.  "Accept message.  Garrick here."

"Captain, this is Commander Morris."

Garrick smiled.  "After twenty years, you've earned the right to call me Paul."

Morris relaxed a bit.  "We're in orbit over the planet.  I'll need your away team selections."

"Sending now."  Garrick press the send button on his computer panel.

Morris smiled like a cat who'd caught a big, juicy canary.  "You're serious about this?"

"Damned right.  You're my best friend.  If I can't trust you to go down there and supervise some rock collecting, you don't deserve to be my second-in-command."  Garrick smiled.

If the smile on Morris' face could have been any wider, it might have formed a circle around his head.  "Yes, sir."

"I know your previous commander liked to get his hands dirty, and he liked having someone he could trust back here running things while he was away.  I'm not him."

"No, Paul, you sure aren't.  Three and a half years on this ship and I've left it exactly three times.  And two of those were on Earth."

"Have fun down there, Carl.  Just be careful.  Good first officers are hard to find."

Garrick checked to make sure his uniform was clean, and made his way to the bridge.  The communications officer saluted as he entered.

"Landing party status, Lieutenant?"  

The comms officer nodded slightly.  "The party is in a shuttle and making its way down to the surface.  They report minimal winds and cloud cover.  They should touch down in about 90 seconds."

"Good.  Tell them to break out the hazard suits and rebreathers.  Let's not take unnecessary risks."

The comms officer delivered the message.  The tab in Paul's hand vibrated.  A text message from Morris:  "Are you serious?  You know the atmosphere's breathable, right?"

He sent a message back:  "If something happened to you before the wedding, Rachel would kill me."

"That's six months away."

"I don't care.  Follow the orders, Commander."

"Aye, sir."

Garrick imagined Carl cursing him under his breath.  It was his first real mission off the ship and he'd be spending it in a hazardous environment suit... on a world where no Alliance citizen had ever been injured or died. "Yeah, he probably hates me," Garrick thought to himself.

After the shuttle landed on the planet, the viewscreen showed four point-of-view displays from the landing party's head-mounted cameras.  This video was overlayed with sensor readings from the environmental suit headgear and their handheld devices.  The sensor data showed nothing out of the ordinary.  No radiation, no airborne toxins, and minimal bacteria.

Commander Morris's voice came through the comm system.  "Captain Garrick, Morris here.  Are you sure we need these hazard suits?  They're slowing us down and the sensors aren't picking up anything harmful."

Garrick sighed.  "Rick, humor me here. Stay in suits a while longer.  I'll let you out if the sensors keep showing nothing."

"Aye sir," Morris said.  "Everyone fan out and grab some soil samples.  Get one from the city over there, another from the forest to the east, one from here, and I'll grab one from the lake over to the west."

The others acknowledged the order and the landing party spread out.  Garrick watched their progress, occasionally asking questions about things he saw.  Several minutes later, Morris reached the shore of the lake and took out his sample kit.

"Pretty place," Garrick told Morris.

"Yeah," Morris said.  "I could imagine taking a little boat out there and going fishing."

Garrick looked at the sensor data. "You might even catch something.  I see life signs in the water."

"It's mostly small stuff.  Although I am picking up something a little larger just off the shore."  Morris stepped forward toward the water.  Suddenly, the camera angle jerked upward and the screen filled with the image of murky water."

"Garrick to landing party, converge on Commander Morris' position on the double!  Paul, are you OK?"

Paul didn't respond.  Garrick's heart raced as he watched the landing party views making their way toward his friend.  He could see Paul on his back in the hazard suit.  He didn't appear to be moving.  It seemed like an eternity before the others reached Paul.  Paul's display still showed the murky water but also his declining life signs.

"Get the Commander back to the shuttle and aboard the Prospect as fast as you can.  Garrick to MedBay, Commander Morris has been injured on the planet's surface.  It looks like he took a bite to the leg from some kind of alien creature.  His life signs are dropping fast."

Dr. Porter acknowledged the message and took a team to the shuttle bay.  Garrick went also.

Morris looked pale and slightly blue when the medical team pulled him from the shuttle and rushed him toward MedBay.  Garrick followed behind, giving the doctors room to do what had to be done while staying as close to his friend as he could.

"How is he, Doc?"  

"I'm not gonna lie, Captain.  It doesn't look good.  There's some kind of toxin running through his system.  I haven't seen anything like it.  We'll see if we can run his blood through a purifier and try to get the toxin out of him."

"Do whatever you can."

"I will," Porter said, and returned to his patient.

Garrick knew there was nothing more for him to do here, so he returned to the bridge and ordered the landing party back to the planet's surface to complete the mission.  He watched the viewscreen but couldn't focus on the activity.

The comm system chimed. "Captain Garrick, Dr. Porter here."

"How's Commander Morris."

"I'm sorry, Captain.  We couldn't save him."

"Understood, Garrick out.  Lieutenant Hernandez, you have the bridge.  I'll be in my quarters."

Garrick tried to keep a blank expression on his face as he made his way to his quarters.  Thoughts of Paul flooded his mind as he passed through the corridors.  He saw the day they met in grade school, the time he pushed Paul to ask Rachel to dance in middle school, and dozens of other little memories from the past forty years.  When the door to his quarters slid shut behind him, the tears came.  They were a trickle at first, and then a flood.

* * *

Garrick opened the comm channel to Martha, Rick's mother and only surviving relative.  Martha's face filled the screen, and she smiled.

"Paul, it's so good to see you!  How are--"

Paul saw her face as she registered the expression on his.  Her smile vanished.  Her brow knitted together and her lower lip protruded slightly.

"Martha, it's Rick.  He's gone.  I'm so sorry.  I--" The tears came again before he could finish the sentence.  He wanted to tell her that he felt responsible, that he was trying to do Rick a little favor before his tour of duty ended, but it had all gone wrong without warning.  He let the tears flow for a few seconds, then took a deep breath and calmed himself as best he could.

"How did it happen?"

"He'd been telling me he wanted to get off the ship.  They gave us a mission that was supposed to be a cake walk.  He just had to go down to a planet, grab soil, air, and water samples, and come back. It's a planet the Alliance has visited a half-dozen times without incident.  I even made him wear a hazard suit, which he was mad at me for.  I thought it couldn't be any safer.  He was scanning some kind of underwater creature when it bit him and poisoned him.  The entire medical team worked on him, and did all they could, but we lost him.  They say the poison in that creature mixed with some kind of bacteria in the water and made things worse."

Martha wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.  "That's it, then.  The end."

"Yeah, that's what happened."

"No," Martha said, the tears flowing again.  "I mean it's the end of the Morris family line.  Rick was supposed to carry it on.  He and Rachel were planning to have children as soon as possible after the wedding.  I was really looking forward to grandchildren."

"I know, and I'm so sorry.  If I had it to do over again..."  He hung his head.

"It's OK, Paul.  I know you did your best for Rick.  He'd been telling me for months how much he hated serving under Captain Martin.  Martin never let him off the ship, he said. You gave him that chance."

"I did, but I feel terrible about it."

"Don't.  You didn't kill him, Paul.  Remember that.  I need to go.  I've got to tell Rachel."

"OK.  Please tell her I'm so sorry.  If I'd thought there was any chance he'd have been injured down there, I'd never have sent him."

"I know, Paul. I know.  Goodbye."  The comm connection closed, and the display went back to showing a dashboard display of the ship's status.

Paul took out a washcloth and dampened it in the sink.  He cleaned his face, checking the mirror to make sure he'd gotten everything.  He didn't think the crew should see him cry.

"You really screwed up, Paul," he said to the image in the mirror.  "First mission, and you kill your best friend... and ended his family line.  Some friend you are.  Some captain...  What the hell was Admiral Boxleitner thinking when she put us in charge of the Prospect?"

He took a deep breath, put down the washcloth, and stepped out into the corridor.

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