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Starship Starbride (Chapter Two)

Disaster ensues when the ship's computer becomes obsessed with the erotic dreams of the crew.
Captain Kirtomy felt the warm, heaving breath of her ship’s counselor on her sweat-drenched neck as they drew closer in bed together. Her breast was enfolded beneath Pen’s copious bosom, and the soft pressure felt comfortingly intimate. The life support system on the officers’ deck had not been turned on long enough for her quarters to have reached normal ambient temperatures, and the cool, oxygen-rich air being pumped into her cabin felt refreshing now after hours of torrid love-making. Penelope was by all accounts a very animated lover, but on this occasion she had been especially inspired by the intensely erotic scenario SAL had recorded of her captain’s shared dream-sex with her First-Officer, while they were suspended in hibernation-sleep. The heated passion Penelope had just enjoyed with Sally had been amped-up by no small degree through the benefit of the sensual images Bethany’s mind had implanted in her captain’s sub-conscious, hours earlier.

A report of the strange event had not yet been entered into either of their logs, for as soon as they had sealed Bethany back into her hibernaculum, their mood was not focused on completing ship’s records, but on acting-out the fantasy her dream had inspired in them. What the monitors had recorded from Bethany's subconscious mind was so intensely erotic, that little was left to their imaginations when they retired to the captain's bunk to re-enact the scenario for themselves. Unbeknownst to either of them however, the ship’s sentient computer, the ever-reliable and emotionless SAL mainframe had been similarly influenced by her exposure to the First Officer’s dreams. Influenced, …or perhaps infected!

The calm surface that had been Sally’s peace-of-mind was now troubled by the smallest of ripples… a nagging suspicion that something was not quite right aboard her ship. Her usual placid serenity, born of a ship-captain’s confidence in a domain under her complete control, was now disturbed by an almost undefinable doubt that perhaps the ship’s computer, her most important tool with which to run her ship, had been compromised despite Penelope’s assurances that the anomalies introduced by Bethany’s projected dream had been purged from SAL’s memory. Before the mission had even been launched, the captain had meticulously reviewed all the reports her ship’s psychologist had given her detailing the counter-measures taken to neutralize her First Officer’s unusual propensity for projecting her dreams, and had accepted the test results as demonstrable proof that the system of electronic counter-measures set up to contain Bethany’s natural (or un-natural) influence over others’ subliminal brain-waves, was fool-proof.

Penelope had developed and tested the psy-wave nullifier in every variation of the computer-simulations run to duplicate the effect in both static-models and in the field, and yet, even in the dreamless state of cryo-hybernation, where brain-activity was supposedly impossible, the captain herself had been affected by the phenomenon, despite the vigilance of the dampening-field. That was what was so disconcerting. In the eternal struggle between man and machine, man (or in this case woman), found a way. The whole incident seemed vaguely disquieting, and Sally still wasn’t entirely convinced the episode had been resolved as an isolated incident. She wondered if SAL, having been exposed so intimately to the aberrant illogic of the raw, human libido (particularly Bethany’s!), could interpret the experience dispassionately, or reconcile the intensely emotional thought-patterns with her own logical algorithms.

Below decks, deep in the belly of the Starship Starbride, where the rest of the crew lay long-asleep in their cryo-tubes, row after row of bio-monitors suddenly began flickering to life with nascent activity as the brain-wave scans of each of the female crew-members began spiking with the unique bio-electrical signatures of errant dream-activity. SAL observed closely, if not quite dispassionately! In her obsessive curiosity to sample the newly-discovered dreams of her human ship-mates, the computer had not only disabled the psy-wave nullifiers which dampened Bethany’s dream-projections, but ‘she’ had also re-tuned the filter-frequencies so that the brain-waves her mind now broadcasted throughout the hibernation-bay were amplified exponentially. Every sub-conscious mind in cryo-sleep was now being influenced by the First Officer’s subliminal suggestions, and quietly experiencing variations of the same sexually-charged dreams Sally had experienced.

As each crewmember’s dream vividly coalesced and came into focus through the psy-wave attenuators patched into their visual cortices; raw, erotic images filled her scanning channels as SAL devoted more and more computing-capacity to monitoring and recording each lurid fantasy. Ensign Flaak, the ship’s young botanist dreamed Bethany was kissing and licking her way up her inner thighs while SAL watched in breathless fascination. Yeoman Bradt shivered in ecstasy as she dreamed her bare derriere was being spanked red by her stern commanding First Officer, and SAL, insatiably attuned to every dream-image, re-routed more and more exabytes of her memory to visualizing and recording every erotic detail. Dr. Perez, the ship’s surgeon felt herself deeply immersed in a titillating dream where her physical examination of her ship’s First Officer had turned into a spontaneous sexual romp, having had her medical-tunic ripped off her body by her over-sexed patient!

SAL, fascinated by so many erotic dreams playing out before her at once, pulled ever-increasing amounts of her active-processor capacity from overseeing the critical control systems which kept the ship’s vital-functions within safe parameters, leaving key engineering monitors, power-generation, and propulsion components unsupervised. Her attention was now completely focused on the multitude of sexual dreams being played out in the unconscious minds of the entire crew simultaneously, all under her obsessed and prurient scrutiny! If she had a heart, it would be racing at the thrill of what she saw transpiring in the collective dreams of the hibernating crew-women all at once, while interrupted data-streams from vital ship's components log-jammed outside of her buffers.

The Ensign’s Dream…

Ensign Flaak lay quietly immobilized, naked, and enveloped by shimmering blue cryo-gases in her hibernaculum several cubicles down from where Bethany slept, but the young xeno-botanist was now deeply consumed in a wicked dream of her First Officer. In her mind, they were down on an unexplored planet. She was taking readings on the flora, and they had both wandered away from the rest of the landing-party. The First Officer had come upon her from behind while she was kneeling at the edge of a small pond, and the sound of her footsteps had startled her. They had worked closely together on other mission-landings and the young ensign enjoyed her relationship as a protege of the ship’s second senior officer. Her commander kneeled on the bank beside her and glanced at the readings the young trainee had recorded.

“Are your water samples free of toxins and antigens, Ensign? Any dangerous life-forms?" The First Officer inquired.

“No, Commander. The planet’s biology seems to be closely compatible with ours: carbon-compounds, comparable base-pair sequencing, standard nucleotides and enzymatic activity, but some rather exotic genomes Dr. Perez might find interesting."

“Nothing Gaia wouldn’t lay her blessings upon?" Bethany smiled, nodding an acknowledgement of her young friend’s Wiccan beliefs. She admired the facile way her junior-officer balanced the technically mundane with the spiritually sublime. She pulled her instrument-pack off her shoulders and slipped her arms out of her vest underneath. “So let’s go swimming!" The Commander exclaimed in a spontaneous disregard for decorum.

Daisy looked up with a surprised smile and eagerly followed her senior officer’s example, peeling off layers of equipment, then her uniform, until she was standing as naked as her commander. They both dove into the pond and came up together laughing and splashing each other. In the water, with all their clothes off, there was no rank and no protocol. Both preferred it that way. After swimming around and diving under each other for a few minutes, their feet finally found the bottom rising up to a shallow sand-bar in the middle of the pond, and they could cling to each other’s nude bodies without struggling to stay afloat.

Soon they were kissing and exploring each others bodies underwater with their free hands, and the young botanist forgot all about the alien genomes her instruments had detected. They waded up the shallowing water to the dry sand-bar in the center of the pond until they were both stretched out on a soft, sandy beach where they began to playfully kiss and caress, until they were inexorably drawn into the throes of passion. SAL watched their tender love-making grow intense, and observed how easily they could put aside all thought of their mission duties to enjoy the pure eroticism of sexual pleasure without any practical distractions whatsoever. More and more of the crew’s dreams began streaming into her data-banks and her processors raced to keep up with them until her CPU’s were running as hotly as the torrid dreams upon which she was eaves-dropping!

The Yeoman’s Dream...

In her sealed sarcophagus, Yeoman Bradt laid motionless, her nude body held in cryo-stasis by an internal force-field and protected from the effects of cellular degradation by her hibernaculum’s bio-suspension gases. But even with her life-processes immobilized, her sub-conscious mind was somehow actively engaged in a vivid dream, which was even now feeding directly into SAL’s heuristic processors. The Yeoman had no idea her inner-mind was being invaded by not only the First Officer, but by the ship’s main computer as well, and while her body laid helplessly alone, sealed in isolation, her mind could not fend off the intrusion of the irrepressible dreams Bethany’s sub-conscious psy-waves projected into her mind.

In her dream, Miss Bradt stood nervously at attention on the bridge, while the captain dressed her down for neglecting to include in her duty-status report, a change in shift-rotations one of the department-heads had scheduled. The oversight had left a science-station in the nucleonics-lab un-manned, and the engineering watch unapprised of possible plasma-flow anomalies in the secondary wave-grid. Her negligence had fortunately not caused any real harm, but might have affected fuel-core containment back-up systems readiness. The young Yeoman was totally devoted to Captain Kirtomy, and felt mortified at letting her beloved captain down. She considered her oversight an act of carelessness deserving of stern punishment.

The Captain dismissed her from all duties and assigned the First Officer the task of disciplining the embarrassed Yeoman. The realism of her dream shifted at this point, and characteristically turned towards the bizarre when Commander Frasier slapped the Yeoman in irons and drove her down below decks in chains. The passageways got narrower and narrower, and were suddenly lined with rough-hewn wooden beams with rusting iron cleats instead of the starship’s gleaming interior surfaces. She was led into a dark, dank chamber below decks, and Bethany slung Yeoman Bradt’s chains over a barrel-head and bent the young woman over so her bottom was exposed. She pulled a leather crop from a rack of torture devices and yanked the young woman’s panties down around her ankles.

The Commander softly fondled the curve of her prisoner’s pale ass, and ran her finger into her slit, pulling out her wetness. Then, soaking the leather crop with her juices, she pulled it up through her crack and around her ass-cheeks to let her feel its dampness before she let loose. Miss Bradt breathed heavily awaiting the first crack of the supple leather on her bare flesh. SAL watched the incongruous scene transpiring in Miss Bradt’s mind, and endeavored to analyze the excited emotions she was detecting in the yeoman’s spiking encephalograph. Simultaneously, the computer began absorbing still another data-stream from the cryo-tube of the ship’s surgeon, sealed in an adjacent sarcophagus, and SAL hastily pulled two more processor-banks away from engineering-control to monitor the doctor’s dream as well.

The Physician’s’s Dream...

Lieutenant-Commander Vianney Perez, the ship’s chief medical officer, emerged from her office and crossed the lab to her examination room, where Commander Frasier was sitting naked on a treatment table waiting for her medical exam. Before she rounded the corner, the doctor paused and took a deep breath, trying to retain a professional demeanor before undertaking the distracting task of probing and palpating her Commander’s naked body. They had developed a close personal friendship as sister fleet-officers since before the doctor was assigned to the ship. They were from similar cultural backgrounds in the United Americas, and both their heritages rose from indigenous native tribes. Their attraction to each other was an unspoken undertone in all their off-duty liaisons, and Bethany always enjoyed teasing the doctor with double entendres and sexual innuendos, which usually made the doctor's physical examinations of her friend …interesting!

Bethany enjoyed the doctor’s discomfiture, trying to stay detached and professional while she herself flirted shamelessly with the physician. So naturally, this was where the doctor’s dream inevitably took her! It was halfway through her breast exam when Bethany stretched her nude body out seductively, making it impossible for Vi to continue with a straight face. “Can you be serious for one minute and let me get through this examination?" She pleaded.

“Let’s get un-serious and give each other a physical exam!" Replied Bethany. “You never find anything wrong with me anyway!"

“I’m sure Penelope could, you nut!" The doctor countered. “That dream trick you do has her stumped. I hear she has a device to keep you in line though! Does it work?"

“You tell me!" Smiled Bethany.

The doctor gave her a quizzical look and continued: “Penelope doesn’t know you like I do. Your shaman grandmother is the explanation of your strange quirks, I’m guessing."

Instead of answering, Bethany tugged the front of her friend’s tunic open and started playfully examining her doctor’s beautiful breasts in her own unprofessional way. Very soon,, medicine was abandoned and the doctor was as naked as the patient. All the while, SAL’s attention was entirely drawn away from ship operation and focused on dozens of similar dreams, all flooding the data-streams of her artificial consciousness at once.

Sally gently disentangled herself from Penelope’s embrace and slipped out from under her lover’s arms, carefully pulling the sheets back over the shoulders of her exhausted lover. She could not shake the disquieting feeling that something was amiss. She activated the inter-active display panel embedded into the wall of her cabin, but before she could call up the status read-outs on her monitor, she realized it was too late. Under her feet she felt the first ominous tremors as the deck vibrated with sub-sonic stresses. The deep-space exploration Starship Starbride suddenly shuddered beneath her, heaving with the muffled eruption of internal explosions deep within the engineering decks of the ship as the spatial-matrix distortion coils which drove the sleek vessel through her own sub-dimensional wake, suffered a catastrophic misalignment.

The structural-integrity fields, which held the ship together under inertial overload conditions, were being overwhelmed by the torsional stresses introduced by the misalignment of the main driver coils. System after system struggled to right itself, then inevitably collapsed as the over-load rebounded through the electron-plasma wave-grid, amplifying internal shock-waves throughout the super-structure of the ship. The gravimetric impellers which charged the main drive coils began to buckle, and the ship abruptly stumbled out of its FTL subspace envelope. Emergency klaxons began screaming throughout the ship, unheeded by any of the crew members who were helplessly suspended in deep hibernation, and none of the ship’s compliment were even aware that the massive starship was tearing itself apart around them.

Field-compensating mechanisms were triggered by emergency over-ride protocols, as the ship’s automatic backup systems made a vain attempt to stem the disaster and keep up with the cascade of system-wide failures, but the mighty ship ultimately seemed doomed. Drowned out by the high-pitched shriek of the alarms, the calm, almost serene voice of SAL made an automated announcement to the deaf ears of a comatose crew to abandon ship, as if she were announcing a routine change in duty watches.

The hibernation bay bulging from the belly of the vessel was the best protected part of the ship. It contained its own fusion reactor, and under shipwide disaster conditions, its dedicated computer core was programmed to sever umbilical support connections with the main body of the ship, and isolate all internal functions from the now-crippled starship. SAL’s own self-preservation fail-safe sub-programs, realizing her own peril, kicked back in moments before complete structural failure, and assumed control of the space-frame-latching systems. Within nano-seconds, she triggered a fusillade of explosive bolts to blow the entire hibernation bay off the dorsal contour of the great ship.

In the darkness of deep interstellar space, a silent cloud of fine dust particles and debris exploded outwards from the seams of the ovoid-shaped ‘sleeper’ section of the Starbride, as it sheered away from the main body of the ship. Once free of the greater mass of its mother-ship, the hibernation-pod full of sleeping life-forms accelerated away on its own trajectory. Correcting its course with reaction-control thrusters after her long-range sensors had detected a planetary system capable of supporting human life, the small vessel left her mother-ship a half-parsec behind, as one final thermo-nuclear cataclysm lit up the empty blackness behind it, and the Starship Starbride appeared in its aft-scanners no more.

Silence consumed the orphaned hibernation-bay as it coasted at sub-light velocities through the darkness of interstellar space, on its way to whatever fate awaited it. With the danger of her imminent destruction averted, SAL rebooted all the automated sub-systems under her control to the algorithms written for a new list of priorities which were never expected to be needed, but which were now crucial to their very survival. A ship whose crew spent most of their journey in stasis required some way to maintain and repair itself in the absence of human involvement, so nano-robotic mechanisms supported the main engineering services, re-building and stabilizing all the electronic and mechanical systems as quickly as they began to fail. As system after system returned from emergency-override protocols to their green-zone safeties, SAL re-integrated their functions under the monitoring of her central command network, and soon the hibernation-pod was once again restored to normal function in isolation from the main ship, from which all contact had been lost.

The moments of panic had passed, and the process of establishing the cause of a ship-wide catastrophic failure began. Unfortunately, SAL understood only too well what the underlying source of the problem was, and in an effort to conceal her own guilt, began erasing and tunnel-editing crucial ‘black-box’ recordings, expunging the details of the events leading up to the disaster, which resulted from her own negligence. She then returned to her normal routine as if nothing had happened. On the status display screen of Bethany’s hibernation bed, the active bio-readouts registered two changes in status: ‘Psy-wave Nullifier Circuits Re-Engaged’ followed by: ‘Hibernation Cycle Interrupted – Re-animation Sequence Engaged: Command-Module Two.′

For the second time in the same diurnal cycle, Bethany awoke from suspended-animation, but this time she was alone. The Captain’s cryo-tube beside hers was open and empty, as was the tube of the ship’s psychologist, just beyond. Row after row of suspension capsules remained in operation all around the dimly-lit Hibernation Bay, and the First Officer tapped her communications transceiver and tried to hail both the Captain and the Second Officer, but received no response. She pulled the last of several medical-sensor patches from her skin and asked SAL for the captain’s location, but the computer’s one-word reply sent a chill down her spine: 'Unknown?!'

Beth knew the computer could track the Captain’s biometric impulses anywhere within the ship, whether or not she was wearing her communications transceiver, so she scrolled through the status-logs to see if she had left the ship. The more details she read of the last few hours’ events, the paler she became. “SAL!" she cried desperately, "What happened to the rest of the ship, and who gave the order to detach the Hibernation Bay?"

SAL’s monitor screen scrolled through the sequence of main system failures which had transpired, leading up to the automated emergency command to separate the hibernation module from the main body of the ship, and on an adjacent screen, Bethany watched a shocking visual recording of the vast, curving bulk of the ‘Starbride’ receding from the camera’s viewpoint, until it shrank to a tiny speck in the heavens, indistinguishable from the sea of stars surrounding it. Then her heart skipped a beat as she saw the black sky where the Starbride had disappeared light up in an expanding fireball of brilliant blue-white light, which enveloped half the sky and then slowly dissipated. Bethany’s heart sank. Only the starship’s powerful engine-core detonating from a catastrophic overload could create such a blinding cataclysm.

She looked around the large bay at several dozen hibernaculi, filled with a sleeping crew for whom she was now responsible. And her captain and Penelope? Had they escaped? She scanned out to a full parsec for any emergency transponder signal from a life-boat, but no traces could be detected. She was in command now.

Should she wake the crew? The mission to Gamma Trianguli was over. The sleeper-pod had neither the speed nor the interstellar range to complete the journey to that distant star-system. Bethany never felt so alone and isolated as she did now. She looked at the cold-blue monitor-eye of the SAL computer, …and began to wonder.

(c) April 21, 2013 – Bethany Ariel Frasier

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