Ten Meters Back

By Natasha Blade

The Lighthouse had been stationed in the asteroid belt for nine years, but with her annual updates, she was expected to stay in operation for at least four more years. Jay was newly stationed to the asteroid belt, but he knew about computers and quite honestly, he was horrified at the state of the Lighthouse’s computers.

“I’m not saying ‘She needs an update’, Captain. I’m saying it looks like she’s never HAD an update. There is no logical way that she is still functioning!”

Captain Zee frowned. “The Lighthouse has had the annual update, on time, ever since she was stationed. And she is clearly working.”

“She shouldn’t be!” Jay took a breath, trying to reign himself in. “it’s just… I’ve barley dived into anything and the programming alone shouldn’t be able to run half an escape pod.”

“Well.” The captain made an unimpressed gesture with his hands. “Since the Lighthouse has been doing fine, when you have a list of specific things that can be done to improve her, come back and we’ll discuss what‘s to be done.”

Jay had a list of things already. Unfortunately, it started with docking the station and gutting her computers. “Uh. Yes sir.” As soon as he had proof that the way she was running was wrong and bad for her, he would be back.

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Looking for problems in The lighthouse’s programming was less like trying to get lost in a small house and more like landing on a swamp planet and being surprised to find swamps. There just shouldn’t be this many problems with a functional computer. Jay checked the records, and they claimed that that The Lighthouse had received the proper updates, but he couldn’t find any proof of it.

“I need proof that running like this is bad for the station. Okay.” He look at the line of programming. “This is clearly wrong. How would this affect messages.” Well. That should actually be simple to figure out.

Jay pulled up SFCWO and sent a message to the computer engineers on the next asteroid station. It might take them a bit to double check everything, so Jay pulled up the original specs of The Lighthouse computers to go over.

Lighthouse Computer Engineering Division:

Have you ever experienced any inconsistencies in messaging

from The Lighthouse? Personal messages or otherwise?

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

The closest thing we have ever had is you asking about strange messages.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

Um. There was a while last year, when no personal messages would come through to one of our low-level basemen.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

Does that count?

Lighthouse Computer Engineering Division:

That might be helpful. Can you send the details?

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

Scratch that. Hansen says that happened because of a break-up. He sent her a lot of messages afterword and she never responded, but he didn’t understand the message she was trying to get across (message? Get it???) and he complained to us about his PM not working.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

Do you need more details?

Lighthouse Computer Engineering Division:

No thank you.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

Just let us know if we can help you with anything else! We’re always here!

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

It had been only forty-eight hours and Jay had found over three hundred areas where the Lighthouse was not performing like she had been built to. His personal computer had found over nine thousand obvious discrepancies.

Jay hit his head on the work table. “HOW IS THIS STATION EVEN RUNNING?!?!?!? Nine thousand—THERE ARE OVER NINE THOUSAND WAYS THINGS SHOULD BE GOING WRONG BUT THEY’RE NOT

Dee leaned around her station. “Are you alright, Jay?”

He turned to look at her. “There is literally no way in this reality that this spacestation should be functional in any capacity.”

Dee looked down at her readout. “My part seems to be working. How’s yours going?”

Jay sat up. “See. That’s the other scary thing. I am apparently the only one that sees that as a problem.”

“I think the biggest problem here is that this is the third time you’ve screamed on-duty and no-one has written you up about it.”

Jay frowned. He thought he had been alone that last few times he had vented his frustration.

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

So, we’ve been discussing your question and Heather thinks that there’s something that fits your qualifications.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

It doesn’t, so don’t get your hopes up. We have a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. She just thinks it might help you.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

So. Here it is.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

The Lighthouse and Highwaves have been sending each other messages back and forth since Highwaves was positioned.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

See? Not really anything at all.

Heather only thinks it might fit your qualifications since no one can read the messages.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

But the explanation is really simple

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

The Lighthouse and Highwaves are in love and are sending each other love messages.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

Sorry we couldn’t be any help.

Jay couldn’t speak for two whole minutes. The Lighthouse and Highwaves were just… sending each other messages? That couldn’t be right. He just had to find the messages, maybe decipher them, and he’d have his first real piece of proof! He ran to the cafeteria to pick up some caf. He fully intended on not sleeping until he found the messages that the two space stations were sending each other.

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

It took Jay three days of shirking all his other work before he found evidence that The Lighthouse was sending messages to Highwaves on her own. It took him a week of not shirking his duties before he found the actual messages.

“This. This isn’t even bianary.” Jay could understand why no one knew what the spaceships were saying to each other. He asked the other engineers to look at it.

Dee looked at it. Aaae looked at it. Gea looked at it. X looked at it. Kay even looked at it… Eventually everyone in the ship took a try at trying to translate the messages. The Highwaves crew was just a little smug about it.

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Lighthouse Computer Engineering Division:

I have some friends from my computer class days that I think

might be able to help translate.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

The stations are just sending love notes to each other! Leave them be!

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

And it’s rude to read other people’s love notes!

Lighthouse Computer Engineering Division:

First, computers can’t fall in love, and second, does that mean

you don’t want to know what they’re saying to each other?

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

OF COURSE WE WANT TO KNOW! WE LIVE IN THE COLD HEART OF SPACE! ANY NEW GOSSIP IS WELCOME!

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

And we love and support their relationship.

Highwaves Computer Engineering Division:

Unlike you.

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Apparently Jay was the only sane person on this side of the asteroid belt. In the process of everyone putting in their to two cents worth at translating, everyone had heard Highwaves’ crews story behind the messages. And everyone thought it was an amazingly tragic love story.

Lighthouse and Highwaves Support Group:

It was love at first sight! The messages started as soon as Highwaves was stationed! And then he replied immediately! Not even a minute goes by without them replying back!

Lighthouse and Highwaves Support Group:

Lighthouse was alone in space for so long. She had given up all hope that another spacecraft would stay with her. Then Highwaves arrived! Another spacestation! They both shared in the job of keeping other ships away from the dangerous asteroid field! No ship could stay but the two spacestaions had each other!

Lighthouse and Highwaves Support Group:

The question is why are all their messages coded?? Is it a forbidden love?

Lighthouse and Highwaves Support Group:

They are trading each others memories so they can eventually become one spacestation!

Jay turned off his group notification. Even if there was any truth to the spacestations “falling in love” it would just be proof that The Lighthouse wasn’t working properly. Jay dropped his head to his desk. Everyone was too committed. There was no way the captain, even if he agreed with Jay, would do anything about it. Both crews would mutiny if he tried anything that messed with the “forbidden love” of the two spacestarions.

It didn’t matter! Jay sat up. “I am an engineer! I will do what is necessary to take care of this spacestation!” He paused to make sure that Dee wasn’t around to listen in to his pep talk. “If it takes crushing the hopes and gossip source of two spacestations then I will do it!”

He hunched back over his computer and continued his work.

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

It took two weeks before any of Jays contacts got back to him. Three of them deferred him to other people and two of them gave him research papers to read. A week later and Jay finally had some useful help in writing a decryption program.

Every crew member from both spacestations had bets as to what the first message was about. Jay hadn’t meant to lay down a bet, but apparently “I don’t think it’s a love note, if that’s what you’re asking” was close enough to what three other people had betted on to count.

The day that the decryption was completeted, someone had set up a live stream so the two crews could all be present. That didn’t stop Lighthouse crewmembers crowding into his work space so they could be the closest.

It was hard to not get caught up in the excitement.

The decryptor beeped and both spaceships silenced.

Jay opened the document. It took him a moment to comprehend what he was reading. Then he put his head onto his desk and laughed.

Captain Zee leaned over and started reading.

Lighthouse:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Highwaves:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Lighthouse:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Highwaves:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Lighthouse:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Highwaves:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Lighthouse:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Highwaves:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

The Captain trailed off and the silence seemed to intensify, even with Jay unable to stop his breathless laughter.

“That’s…” Captain Zee started scrolling through the thousands of messages. “That’s all there is.” The Captain didn’t seem to believe what he was reading, which just made Jay laugh harder.

“Four years worth of, of warnings.”

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

The two spacestations didn’t get much done in the next thirty-six hours. Everyone had to read the translations themselves and try to figure out if the messages were actually encrypted messages, to hide lovenotes. Captain Zee and Captain Hannon met together and talked with DQMA and eventually figured out what they thought the problem was.

“Each station thinks that the other one is just a ship, and is sending out a warning. It’s as simple as that. Fixing it should be as easy as moving out of detection range. The stations are already just within the edges of each others sensors. Ten more meters should do it.”

Captain Hannon nodded. “That seems perfectly reasonable. You can just move The Lighthouse back and this problem will be solved.”

Captain Zee looked at him, incredulous. “That’s not happening. Highwaves was stationed second. It should be the one to move. It will be the one to move.”

“Your ship was the one who started this. You can move.”

“Hannon-“

“It’s only ten meters.”

“Then move back ten meters.”

“No.”

“Um,” Jay raised his hand, hoping that he would be noticed.

“Your crew knew about the communications longer and didn’t report anything. That makes it your responsibility to move back.”

“Maybe your crew is just incompetent.”

“This is just ridiculous! As senior—”

“We’re the same rank, Zee!”

“I’ve been stationed here longer!”

“Then take responsibility!”

“I am responsibly telling you to move back ten meters!”
“CAPTAIN ZEE. BOTH SPACESTATIONS SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DETECT THAT THE OTHER WAS ALSO A SPACESTATION, NOT A SHIP. I THINK THIS PROVES MY POINT ABOUT THE COMPUTERS NEEDING WORK.”

“There was no need to raise your voice, ensign.”

Captain Hannon hid a smile and Captain Zee glared ferociously at him. “We can discuss this later, Hannon.”

Captain Hannon shrugged. “If you want. Highwaves isn’t going anywhere.”

Captain Zee ended the meeting.

“What is so important that you felt the need to intrude on our meeting?”
Jay had to bite his tongue to stop himself from reminding the Captain that he had been present for the entire meeting. “Captain. The Lighthouse should have been able to tell that Highwaves was another spacestaion. And Highwaves should have been able to tell that The Lighthouse was one too.” Jay paused to see if the Captain wanted to interrupt. “You said to come back when I had proof that the computers condition was a liability. The fact that neither spacestation knew that, or told us when their warnings went unheeded, is dangerous. I think maybe they both should be inspected by a professional computer linguist. Sir.”

The captain gave him a flat look. “That’s not real proof. It’s probably just a glitch. I want something more convincing.”

Jay opened his mouth. Then closed it. It was plenty convincing! Or it would be for someone who didn’t think his ship had fallen in love or felt the need to argue like a child over moving back ten meters. “Yes Sir,” he sighed. “I’ll come back when I can prove my… theory.”

“Good. You are dismissed.”

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Lighthouse Crew:

You’re the idiots that thought that they were in love!

Highwaves Crew:

Like you didn’t agree!

Highwaves Crew:

And for all your “superiority” you don’t have the nerve to move back TEN meters.

Lighthouse Crew:

*Seniority*!!

Highwaves Crew:

TEN. METERS.

Jay turned off his notifications again and went back to finding a way The Lighthouse wasn’t functioning properly.

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

After two weeks of the two crews arguing and getting more upset that neither would move back the necessary ten meters, Jay was ready to ask to be transferred.

“I can’t believe that we were ever even friends! Did you see what Hemadal said about us!”

“No. And I don’t care.” Jay put on a large pair of headphones that he had bought just to let people know he was ignoring them.

As Dee ranted behind him, Jay pulled up the transfer request for the fourth time. Giving exact reasons as to why he wanted to be moved without making someone sound crazy might be a bit difficult, but that wasn’t the hardest part. Jay didn’t mind working on a ship that shouldn’t be running, it terrified him, make no mistake about that. But he knew that every spaceship had its quirks. The older they were, the more they were. And figuring how The Lighthouse was running was likely to be the most interesting job he would ever have. And if Jay had wanted to be safe, he wouldn’t have gotten a job in space.

He just hadn’t counted his captain being so incredibly petty as to spend two weeks arguing like a three-year-old.

Jay closed the transfer document and pulled up his messaging account. If Captain Zee was going to be petty, Jay could be petty right back.

Mott Lunestan,

The spacestations Lighthouse and Highwaves have made the mistake of thinking that the other is a ship that needs to be warned away from the asteroid belt. Moving the spacestations ten meters apart would be enough to take the stations out of each others ranges.

The problem is that each station refuses to be the one to move.

You still owe me for the flashlight incident.

Sincerely,

Jay Lunestan

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Two days later The Lighthouse and Highwaves had an unannounced and very unexpected visit from General Mott.

As soon as his ship was sighted, the crews scrambled to be prepared to welcome their General, everyone in a tizzy about why the General was arriving unannounced. Captains Zee and Hannon were both asked to come aboard the Generals personal ship. Everyone panicked, most of them as quietly and subtly as they knew how to, but they were worried about why the General wanted to see the Captains.

The meeting was short. Extremely short. Jay heard at least three people complain about not having enough time to complete their panic induced stress jobs. Captain Zee arrived back with a sour look on his face. He went straight to the control room and gave the orders to move the Lighthouse back five meters. The crew hesitated, but then thought of the Generals unexpected visit. They moved The Lighthouse back without complaint.

“El, check positions to see if Highwaves moved back their five meters.”

Captain Zee looked extremely smug when the answer came back in the positive.

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

It was a daily job to check the distances, making sure that Highwaves didn’t try to sneak forward. Jay rolled his eyes every time he heard the daily report that the other spacestation was in still in position.

“The General himself told them to move back,” Jay mumbled to himself. “There’s no way they would move back into position.”

Dee sniffed. “They’re just incorrigible enough that they might. It’s exactly something that someone from Highwaves would do.”

Jay decided to ignore her in favor of looking at the notification his computer had sent him.

Highwaves:

Unidentified spacecraft: you are in a dangerous asteroid belt. Move to safety.

Jays jaw dropped. “He wouldn’t have!” He pulled up SFCWO, hoping to reach Captain Zee before—

A shipwide announcement rang out.

Lighthouse spacestation. You have moved toward the forbidden space. Move back or be reported.

Jay glanced at Dee, very curious to know what she thought of the development. She raised her nose into the air, turned to her station and pretended to do her work.

The End??????????

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More Stories by Natasha Blade

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