Literary Challenges : The Library Computer
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Join Date: Dec 2007
The Isolinear Chip
05-18-2011, 05:53 AM
It was my very first command.. back on the USS Jonas Grumby... now that was a ship. Every time we took it past warp 7, the bulkheads started creaking. The Jonas was old and tired, but it was new to me then. The whole idea of being
in command, all on my own.. it was frightening honestly. After all the training, and checking out.. serving as First officer to someone else. It's not the same you know. The first time you're out there, and everyone is looking to you for the answers.
It must have been about two weeks out, on our first tour, when we received the distress call. A colony out on the outer rim. It was an automated message.. you know the type "please send help, any Starfleet vessel, please respond immediately." We were doing the standard colony patrol run in those days.. the Jonas Grumby was honestly little more than a freighter. An old Miranda Class ship that had been rebuilt from scrap so many times, well like I said, it wasn't a top-of-the-line ship.
We travelled to the colony as fast as we could, hailing them all along the way. No response. By the time we received their distress call, it had been repeating for several days. You know that feeling of dread when you know you're probably too late? Yeah, we were all feeling that.
Well when we got there, we scanned the area.. no alien ships, no weapons signatures, and inconclusive life signs on the planet below. From orbit, there's only so much you can tell, especially with the marginal sensors on the Jonas. We could scan for atmospheric gasses, radiation, etc, but you couldn't tell if people were dead or dying, and if they were dying, whether they were dying from some kind of virus, or weapons fire. We had to go down there. I mean, you HAVE to try and help, right?
We took every precaution. Shuttles, Environment Suits, Double DeCon procedure, both leaving the ship and coming back.
When we got there.. it was like a ghost town. It was one of those borderline M-Class planets.. you know "M for We'll Manage". It was a dry planet, a bit like a desert town, at least that's what the area around the colony was like. Everything was silent, and still. The streets were deserted, the vehicles parked.. honestly it seemed like everyone had just stayed home one day, like they'd all called in sick.
That's where we found them.. in their homes. They'd been dead, maybe a week. The warm, dry air, and the relative lack of microbes meant that there wasn't really much decomposition. Each of them, huddled in their beds, bundled up in blankets like they were trying to ward off a chill.
It took us nearly a month of the most dreadful work to process, identify, and bury all the bodies. Four thousand colonists.. men, women, children.. Farmers, ranchers, teachers... and yet, a medic on the very first team, a kid really, not 6 months out of the academy, and she determines what killed them all in less than 15 minutes.
Four thousand lives snuffed out in the span of a few days, by a drug-resistant strain of Andorian Flu that hitched a ride in a damned cargo container. The colony was equipped with medical replicators, protein resequencers, everything they could possibly need to combat the disease. Worst of all, the damned virus in question had a cure on file for the last 60 years in the Starfleet Medical database.
We sat in orbit for another week.. waiting for Starfleet to decide how we should proceed. It took a toll on the crew.. and a toll on me too, and the mood on the ship was just awful. That's when the ship's Quartermaster asked me what we should do with the cargo that was meant for the colonists. The Chief Science Officer, a Denobulan named Hajen, was within earshot when the QM called me, and so the two of us went down to the cargobay to talk to him and scope out the situation.
And as we stood there, looking at the pallets of cargo, and Hajen was looking over the manifest as the QM and I started arguing over what to re-direct, what to move to Ship's stores or recycle, what to pass on to other colonies, and what to just dump.. and all of a sudden Hajen threw the padd on the floor, and he walked over and began pulling apart the pallets and boxes, all the time mumbling "8931" until he came up with this one cargo container. You don't usually see a Denobulan get angry, but Hajen was like a man possessed. He popped that container open, and dumped the contents out onto the floor, rummaging around in the pile of various wire harnesses, tricorder cases, medkits, and so on, and he pulled out this little box of green Isolinear chips, And then he just stood there.. staring at the damned box.
There had been a fire at the colony's Medical Center about a year before, and their only medical database uplink terminal had been damaged in the fire. They'd ordered a replacement and three backup units as well, so they'd never have that happen again. The replacement units had arrived 6 months earlier, but for whatever reason, the terminals shipped with a bug in their coding. It wasn't anything major really.. it just kept the uplink from accessing about 0.1% of the Starfleet medical database.
And this isolinear chip right here.. one of the very ones that Hajen pulled out of the cargo container, contains the damned software update that would have fixed the problem. And the only reason we had them in our shipment, is because an Andorian dock worker, nursing a mild case of the flu, accidentally left the pack of Isolinear chips out of the last cargo shipment to come to the colony before ours.
Every time we leave starbase, after fresh crew rotations.. I do the standard "Welcome aboard" pep-talk speech for all the crew, new and old. And every time I give that speech, I take this Isolinear chip with me. And I tell the new recruits the story, of how an honest mistake can cost thousands of lives. And then I tell them this:
Space travel is a dirty, difficult business. One tiny mistake, even an honest mistake, can indeed cost lives. Each of us, at one time or another, will do something, forget something, take too long to decide what to do, hesitate, miss a shot, screw up a number, and every once in a while, press the wrong button. God knows there's plenty of buttons to press on a Starship. Even a Vulcan mathematics expert can't anticipate all the angles. I don't care who you are, or how good you are, perfection is simply impossible. While I expect my crew to do their very best, I insist that they have the ability to acknowledge when they make a mistake, and to do their very best to amend that mistake as soon as it's noticed, and try and find ways to avoid, or prevent that sort of mistake in the future. You can let a mistake defeat you, or let it challenge you to do better.
That Andorian dock worker.. he went on to develop the triple-scan cargo tracking system that all Federation Starbases use now, and he helped change the way that software updates are distributed through the various Federation Medical, Science, and even Astro-Navigation databases. It's all automated with triple redundancies now, and happens in the blink of an eye. No more waiting 2 months for a box of isolinear chips.