A Pencil and a Piece of Paper

By Christopher R. Whalen


The onboard computer was down so he had to do all of the telemetry calculations by hand withpencil and paper.


The pencil in his hand reminded him of the times he spent in his great grandfatherís workshop as a small boy. He could still see a pencil stuck behind his grandfatherís wrinkled ear as his hands manipulated the fine hardwoods they used to buy at the lumber yard.


There were still lumberyards back then.


His grandfatherís right hand would reach up and grab that pencil to scribe a line, perform calculations or to make notes. One day, he asked his grandfather why he simply did not use the robots that were sitting gathering dust in the corner to make the cuts and to do the calculations.


His grandfather stopped what he was doing and sat him down in the sudden quiet of his workshop. He told him that what he was about to say was very, very important and that he wanted him to listen very closely.


ďMy boy, machines are very helpful, and they are great tools, but a man needs to be able to figure things out with a pencil and piece of paper so they are not slaves to those machines.Ē With that, they both got back to work at his grandfatherís workbench.


50 years later, as the captain of a Transporter called The USS Tanner, 100 light years from earth; he sat with a pencil in his hand. He was manually calculating the correct trajectory and propulsion requirements that would send the Tannerís one remaining escape pod back to the earthís solar system.


While his hand was frantically moving his pencil across page after page, he constantly replayed the horrific events of the past week.He could feel the blackness trying to steal his consciousness away and this only increased his urgency to finish this one last act as a father.


The onboard computers handled their journey flawlessly. He was the first of the crew roused from suspended animation. Within 24 hours 49 of the 50 astronauts were awake and moving freely about the Transporter. His five year old son had complications regaining consciousness, and for safety reasons, he was kept sealed in his sleep chamber. He would remain there until his vital signs normalized. These complications, would soon save his life.


Their long journey had taken them to an orbit around Bio Planet 98984757, or Earth II as they had taken to calling it. The atmosphere mirrored the earthís almost perfectly. Their mission was to establish a self-sufficient colony there.

When the crew had fully recovered from the effects of hyper-sleep, he gave the order for the first of the exploratory pods to be released with its five person team aboard. This team was led by his first officer. Six hours later they returned and reported that all tests and readings indicated a perfect earth-like atmosphere. Preparations were made to evacuate the Tanner the next day.


That night he was awakened by his first officer. He was out of his bunk and wandering aimlessly about the room and mumbling. He did not respond to the captain in anyway and he seemed to have suddenly lost all mental and physical control.


He was brought to sick bay and was soon followed by the others who had made the journey to the planetís surface just a few hours before, all suffering from the same sudden mental and physical impairments.They were quarantined and restrained.


The final stage of the loss of their mental capacity was immediately preceded by their claiming that they could smell burnt toast. As they lay there, their eyesight now gone and muscle control completely lost, they would writhe uncontrollably and at the tops of their lungs scream that someone was burning all of the toast. This was the main sign that they were past the point of no return and that death was imminent.


One by one the remaining crew succumbed to this, including his wife and children.All but his youngest child, who had never been removed from his sealed sleep chamber, slowly began to fall prey to whatever had been brought back from the planetís surface. He secured all of them within their sleep chambers and put them back into hyper sleep.That is all he could to make their deaths as painless as possible.


He went to the navigatorís quarters and attempted to plot a return trip home for his only remaining child, but the telemetry computer would not respond.

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