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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Convicted in Total Blackout

Starry the Space Hippie Series

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Starry Skyward inhaled deeply the aroma. “Ah, what a wonderful smell.”

Tramal, Starry’s half-alien wife, set a plate down in front of him. “You’re favorite.”

The people in the mess hall scurried around them. They were here to do a show. At least that is what everyone thought. They were also here on a secret mission, to discover why or who was causing this starship to breakdown, usually at a critical point in a mission. It gave the starship Herman a mission success rate of 0.01. Compared to the fleet-wide rate of 0.8, it was pretty lousy.

Captain Glover didn’t appear to have a clue, and invited Starry and Tramal over to help him figure out what was happening.

At the moment, however, the only thing Starry could think of was the plate of grits in front of him. He slurped up a spoon of it. He frowned. “Not as good as my mom’s.”

Tramal smiled. “Nothing is ever as good as your mom’s.”

Starry pointed at Tramal. “Of course, you’re right.”

“Of course.” She ate a spoonful of her own. “Now, do you have a plan as how we can capture this person or persons?”

“Of course! Don’t I always?”

“No.”

Starry smiled. “Well, I probably shouldn’t use absolutes then.”

“Absolutely not.”

“I figure we’ll wait for the next incident to happen, then go from there.”

“Let’s hope it isn’t the final one, then.”

Starry nodded. “For sure. But until something happens, I don’t know anyway to figure it out.”

“It shouldn’t be too long then. According to the captain, we’re coming up to another critical mission point.”

Starry smiled. “Until then, we eat these grits.” He shoveled another spoonful into his mouth.

# # #

It was time for Starry to do his comedy routine. He moseyed onto the stage. He wore his blue jeans, and his blue-jean vest, with a collared shirt, unbuttoned almost halfway down his chest.  He grabbed the microphone. “Peace man! I’m Starry the Space Hippie. How did that happen? I don’t know, man. I just popped out to hippie parents on a space ship. That’s when I knew I was . . .” Starry slid one foot out as he spread his arms. “Cool, baby!”

Amidst the spattering of laughter, the ship lurched, almost knocking Starry off his feet. After regaining his balance, Starry attempted to reassure the audience. “So cool, in fact, that little shakes like the one we just received was a common occurrence. Especially on our hippie space ship. We held it together with seaweed and duct tape.”

Another jolt hit, so strong that it knocked Starry off his feet. Then an announcement rang over the ship intercom: “Stations! Everyone to their stations! This is not a drill!”  The audience ran from the room as if draining down a drain, leaving Starry alone.

Starry hopped off the stage and headed to the door. “I know I wasn’t very funny, but I don’t think I was that bad.” He sought out Tramal—he found her in their room.

She raced up to him and hugged him. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

Starry raised an eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

She stared at him for a moment. “Because the part of the ship where you were close to is gone.”

“Gone? You mean, like vaporized or something?”

“Yes, something like that. They’re not sure exactly what happened. They’re investigating it as we speak.”

Starry thought for a moment. “Sounds like this could be a clue. Do you know what their mission was this time?”

“Yeah, they were having a diplomatic mission, meeting a sensitive race who is thinking of joining our alliance. According to what I just learned from the captain, a rouge ray shot from weapons control and hit their ship. They naturally responded, but we didn’t have any shields up. So . . .”

“Then who authorized the weapons to fire should be in their computer data banks.”

“That’s what they’re trying to determine. However, the captain isn’t hopeful as he says every other instance has been erased beyond recovery. Thus why they wanted us to come.”

“Let’s go see if we can have a look.”

Tramal nodded and they left, walked down a series of halls back to the area where Starry had been performing. They encountered a couple of guards around the door.

One of the guards said, “No one is allowed beyond this door.”

“But,” Starry said, “the captain is expecting us.”

He shook his head. “No exceptions. Captain’s orders.”

“Except for these two, soldier,” a voice said behind them.

Starry turned to see the captain approaching. “Thank you, sir.”

The guards opened the doors and waved Starry, Tramal, and the captain on in. The three went to  the data control location, where several were busy working on evaluating the data. As the captain approached, he asked, “Any progress?”

The soldiers stood at attention and saluted him. One of them said, “No luck, sir. Like all the previous times. No record of who authorized the firing of the ray blast. We’re in the process of attempting to retrieve the data, but it doesn’t look good.”

The captain sighed. “Pretty much as I expected.”

Starry cleared his throat. “Who would have authority to erase data like that?”

The soldier faced Starry. “Aren’t you the comedian guy? Why are you here?”

“Humor me,” Starry said with a slight grin.

The captain nodded. “Go ahead and tell him, soldier.”

“Well, the senior staff would all have the authority to modify such information.”

“So, that narrows it down to . . .” Starry waved his hand in a circular motion.

“The three lieutenants, the second in command, and--” the soldier glanced at the captain.

“Me, of course.” The captain finished the soldier’s sentence. He turned to Starry. “I want to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible. We have a critical mission coming up that several transports are depending on us for an escort through some enemy territory.” He lifted a hand toward the missing bulkhead. “As if this wasn’t bad enough.”

Starry nodded. “I understand, Captain Glover.  I’ll see what I can do. You mind if I have a look at the records in question?”

The captain waved a hand toward the console. “Be my guest.”

“Tramal, would you like to assist?”

“Most certainly, dear.” She sat next to Starry at the terminal as the captain left the area. “What exactly are we looking for?”

“Mostly what was before and after the deleted sections. Any clue will do.”

She lifted a finger. “Ah, I see. Say no more.” They both busied themselves with examining the records.

# # #

Starry groaned and stretched his hands into the air.

Tramal said, “What’s the matter, dear? Too much data for your poor brain to handle?”

He laughed. “No, just activating thinking muscles. I think best when I’m stretching.”

“Hum, did you come up with anything?”

“Possibly. I’ll need to run a test to verify it.”

“What kind of test?”

“A blackout test.”

Tramal’s skin changed to a pinkish hue. “I’ve never heard of such a test. What is it?”

You’ll see, right about . . . now!”

Every light in the whole ship blacked out. Screams could be heard down the hall. Emergency lights kicked in. Faint flickers of light entered the room where they sat. After a few minutes, light levels returned to normal.

The captain stormed in, obviously not very happy. “What is going on here? The records say the blackout originated from this location.”

“Very tricky, captain,” Starry said.

“What are you talking about, man? I’m not here to play games with you. I want you to figure out who is doing this.”

“And the person who is doing this is you, captain.”

“That’s absurd.”

“Not so absurd when you think about it. The records that were erased were very selective, not at all the kind of records a person would delete. That meant the records were being deleted via a virus that was activated whenever a crisis would erupt.”

“Yeah, so what?”

“A crisis just erupted with the blackout. I set a recording tracker to save any info generated from it.”

The captain’s face fell. “Oh.”

Starry pushed a button on the console. “And that virus has your fingerprints all over it, captain.”

The words, “Authorized by Captain Glover” flashed on the screen.

Starry glanced at the soldiers standing around him. “I suggest you take him into custody.”

The soldiers stood there a moment, then one of them said, “Sir, you are under arrest.”

The captain bowed his head and held his arms out. They took him away.

Tramal shook her head. “The only thing I don’t get is what was his motivation?”

Starry fixed his eyes on his wife. “Why, it’s elementary, my dear Tramal. He was planted by the enemy. Their ultimate goal was to give the transports in the next mission to the enemy.”

“How did you know he was from the enemy? He seemed so cooperative.”

“He was cooperative in order to not cast any suspicion toward himself. However, it’s in the logs. Shortly before the deleted records, he’s recorded as saying to the soldier on watch that they should stand down as it concerns reviewing what he had for lunch that day.”

“Which was?”

“Grits.”

Tramal appeared confused. “What’s wrong with that?”

“It wasn’t so much what was wrong with grits as what went with it. A side of communications from an unknown source. I suspected that was enemy communications and I was right.”

Tramal smiled. “I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

Starry held up a finger. “That’s if it is an old analog clock. However, if it is digital, it is either on or off. And this one,” he pointed to himself, “is on!”

Tramal laughed. “I guess so!”

Starry smiled. He’d always wanted to disrupt that old saying. He couldn’t have done it better if he’d planned it.

Starry dusted his hands off. “Case closed!”