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SOFT LAUGHTER (standard:science fiction, 6889 words)
Author: Danny RavenAdded: Dec 17 2006Views/Reads: 1698/989Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Alex Franks is forced to land on Cyras. The ship's computer told him that the planet was uninhabited but computers can sometimes get things wrong....seriously wrong.
 



I 

The Helium Converter started playing up several billion miles from home.


He'd been deep in the Karina System for weeks, mapping gold deposits on
a land-search pattern and the increased pull of the planets there had 
begun to affect it. The thrust required when he left the System had 
been the last straw. 

Deep in the ship, the main computer registered the change in the low
humming of the Drive and instantly triggered the alarm in the panel 
above his head. A two-tone whining began. It echoed all over the 
Bridge, breaking the peaceful silence of his meditation. 

When he'd settled down on the circular mat some time ago for a session,
things had been running smoothly and he'd expected them to stay that 
way.    He'd been into meditation for years and it helped keep him 
balanced on these long lonesome voyages. 

Irritated, he tried to tune out the sound but the alarm was insistent.
He cursed softly and descended from the silent plateau he'd reached and 
allowed his mind to identify the noise. 

It was the alarm....probably the damn Stabiliser again. It had given him
trouble before but it was nothing urgent and later would do. Slowly he 
reached up and felt for the Stabiliser square on the panel above his 
head and pressed it. He resumed his position and tried to regain the 
level he'd left. It was a few seconds before he realised the alarm was 
continuing. 

He cursed and reluctantly opened his eyes. The Bridge swam into focus,
lit by the dim glow of the instrument panels. He uncoiled slowly from 
his cross-legged position on the mat and stretched like a cat then 
froze when he saw where the light was flashing. 

It took his nervous system a few seconds to react then the adrenaline
pumped into his bloodstream and his heart started thudding in his 
chest. He scrambled over to the main console to double check but the 
Converter square was flashing there as well. His legs suddenly weak, he 
slumped into the pilot's seat and stared disbelievingly at the panel. 

‘It's not happening,' he thought stupidly. ‘It can't be....well it
is....hey come on, Converters don't malfunction, they never 
malfunction, they just don't. Well this one has. The light's flashing 
in the goddamn square, look – on off, on off, on off. And the alarm's 
going, hear it ? This is for real, for real, so what the hell are you 
gonna do about it ?' 

He bit his lip then reached out a trembling finger and pressed the
Converter square. The alarm died but the red light continued to blink 
on and off. He leaned back in the chair and tried to fight the panic 
rising in his gut. The critical corner of his mind had already 
appraised the situation and was trying to reach him through the jumbled 
fear. 

‘Calm down,' it told him. ‘Calm down. Relax. Relax.' 

He tried to tune in to it. Brush the fear aside. 

‘Breathe deeply,' it commanded. 

He closed his eyes and obeyed. Long slow breaths. In through the nose,
out through the mouth. Repeat. Concentrate on the breathing. In through 
the nose. Hold. Out through the mouth. Pause. Repeat. Relax. 
Concentrate. 

He could feel the immediate panic receding. The hammering in his chest
subsided. He tried to swallow but his mouth was still dry. 

Calmer, he opened his eyes and considered his next move. There was
nothing he could do up here – the problem lay in the Drive section. He 
would have to make a visual inspection. 

On still shaky legs he walked through to the stores cabin and pulled a


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