Thursday, November 06, 2008

Friday Challenge: Reminder and Update

First, a reminder that the deadline for the 10/31/08 Friday Challenge is midnight Central time, tonight.

Second, I've been asked to provide a little clarification. I've been avoiding that, because I didn't want my vision to contaminate yours, but if you're still stuck, here goes. I am writing this thread of the narrative in the form of dairy diary entries —

I always confuse those two words. It must be a Wisconsin thing.

— the secret diary entries of USAF Major Clayton Thompson, the sole survivor of the Galileo mission to the Jovian system. He's returned to Earth in cryosleep, awakened to discover that he is the sole survivor and his cryo capsule apparently protected him from whatever killed the rest of the crew, and found there's something terribly wrong, as all his "spacemarks" are missing and all his radio channels are filled with nothing but static. So he's taken the lander down to the surface, to try to discover what the heck happened.

Understand, he hasn't dropped into our world from 1959. That's too simple and obvious. He's dropped into our world from a parallel universe in which the latter half of the 20th century unfolded in just exactly the way all the finest sci-fi minds of the late 1950s said it would. (Well, the non-Apocalyptic ones, anyway.) In Thompson's timeline there were permanently manned bases on the Moon by 1980, a first foothold on Mars by 1990, and while no, they did not launch the Galileo is response to uncovering an alien monolith in Tycho crater in 2001, you get the general idea. His lander, the Yeager, has nuclear-electric engines powered by a reactor the size of a trashcan, but all the avionics use vacuum tubes and the autopilot is a clacking, clanking, punchcard-programmed Burroughs electromechanical monstrosity that only through the greatest of forbearance can be called a "computer."

So maybe the first hint he has that something is terribly, unimaginably wrong is that as he brings the Yeager in for a landing at Edwards AFB, he sees there is not a single Studebaker hovercar in the officer's parking lot.

Anyway, I think you get the general idea. The Air Force is going nuts, trying to figure out how this spacecraft the size of an airliner and powered by engines two generations beyond DARPA's wildest wet dreams has ended up in their laps, while Major Thompson is going equally nuts, trying to figure out what really happened. And in this contest, Thompson has two advantages:

1. He knows that the Yeager is only the lander, that the Galileo is still safely hidden in a Lagrange point parking orbit — he's been faking amnesia and hasn't told his interrogators about the Galileo yet — and believes that if he can just find a way to get back up there, he might be able to find a way to go back home.

2. Despite what his interrogators are telling him, he knows they're lying, because in his timeline this whole "parallel universe" theory has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be utter nonsense, by none other than the eminent Nobel Prize-winning physicist Professor Albert Gore.

So the fact that all his conversations with these so-called "Americans" keep coming back around to clueless queries about how the lander's atomic engines work only deepens his suspicions...