Unfiltered—Chapter One

Captain Blake Harris stood to the fore of the starship Odyssey. The young man with short blond hair and blue eyes, who sat beside him at the controls, was his pilot, Simon Carver. At twenty-nine years old, he would have completed all phases of flight training a couple of years ago.

Yet Blake wondered how Simon ever graduated from flight school at all, when he was so inept at flying.

Blake had only met his crew thirty minutes ago, just before takeoff from Earth Command. They were on a delivery mission to Neptune, and the wormhole that leads crafts through to Mars and each planet after it, only opens up every ten minutes; and then for only two minutes at a time. Once a ship passed through the wormhole, they were able to reach each subsequent planet within a few hours of each other.

First, Simon kept missing the wormhole. When he finally was able to locate it, he tried to enter it just as it was closing, so that the Odyssey and her crew were hovering in wait for the following ten minutes, until the wormhole opened up again.

And when it did reopen, Simon was so keen on getting through it this time that he shot forward all too quickly. Had the crew not been strapped in, as was the protocol for going

through the wormhole, they probably would have all landed on the floor of the Odyssey's control deck.

After this, when they were no more than a few minutes away from Mars, Blake had to hurry forward from the captain's seat to hastily steer them away from a collision course with the planet.

Simon was a smart man, but flying was not his forte; nor did he seem to know the

functions of many of the Odyssey's controls. And before taking off, in answer to Blake's

question, Simon had told Blake that the farthest he had ever flown so far, was to Uranus' moon, Desdemona.

Blake now began to wonder how Simon ever made it to and from Desdemona alive. He also questioned the survival tactics used by the crew on that mission, as Blake thought that he and his crew may have to use the same strategies.

Audrey Torres was one year younger than Simon, but much more skilled in her field. She was the Odyssey's monitor, which meant that she could spot obstacles and other dangers in their path on her station's screens.

Audrey had seen Mars coming up ahead and promptly warned Simon. However, when Simon attempted to maneuver the ship away from Mars, he only succeeded in aligning the ship with the planet instead.

As if this were not enough, there was also the issue of their mechanic, Edward McLeary. He was a terrific and experienced mechanic, but he was also paranoid. Their sharp turn away from Mars had made Edward's anxious voice sound through the comm system asking if they

were about to crash. Blake assured him that they were not, and then Edward suggested that Simon was sabotaging the mission.

With Simon's mediocre flying skills, and Edward's paranoia, Blake might have suspected, and with good cause, that they were on a Filter Mission.

Filter Missions, or FMs, had begun three months ago as a way to "filter out" those that were considered undesirable to society...for any, sometimes ridiculous, reasons. Missions that Blake and many others had opposed from day one.

Filter Missions never returned, and were sent instead to the black hole. The supposedly undesirables were labeled as Filters. The rest of the crew, labeled as Holders, were always

prestigious, experienced, responsible people. The only reason that such people were sent on Filter Missions to begin with, was to quell any misgivings. Having respectable people onboard also made the crew less suspicious of possibly being on a Filter Mission.

And there were times a member of an FM crew would figure out the truth about their

mission. But at this point it was already too late, and FM ships that attempted to return were destroyed; so that the crew was filtered anyhow.

Blake's only reassurance that they were not on a Filter Mission, came in the form of sixteen-year-old Kenny Glazer. He had already been convicted of two counts of spacecraft theft, and three counts of armed robbery at his young age. But teenagers caught up in a life of crime often had the choice of serving on a mission, in lieu of juvenile hall or prison, and this was Kenny's case.

The only reason that Blake was relieved to have Kenny onboard was the fact that teenagers were never sent on Filter Missions, no matter how bad their track record may be. It

was believed that they were still young enough to eventually reform.

Kenny may have been Blake's guarantee that they were not on a Filter Mission, but Blake still had to question why Kenny had to be a part of his crew. For between Simon's ignorance at the controls, and Edward's accusations that Simon was attempting to kill them all, Blake also had to keep Kenny in line.

Blake had assigned Kenny to surveying the radars and controlling the cameras that were linked to Audrey's monitor. But he would not stay at his post and, even when he was up there,

Kenny paid no attention to what he was supposed to be doing. He kept letting the camera angles slip so that Audrey could not see what was coming, and he would not keep an eye on the

radar screen. And anytime Blake instructed Kenny to return to his post and pay attention,

Kenny listened, but not without complaining first.

Blake was beginning to think that Audrey, as well as his other two crew members, Glen

Anderson the navigator, and Lisa Takoshi the technician, were the only other rational people

onboard.

He knew that Glen was at any rate; a tall black man in his mid-thirties who was only one year younger than Blake himself, and also Blake's closest friend. They had attended school together, and had been on many previous missions together as well.

"Captain." Came Glen's voice from behind.

Blake turned and reluctantly left his position beside Simon, knowing that to let their pilot do all of the flying himself was a risk to them all.

As the navigator, Glen was seated at the Intergalactic Positioning System. He held the coordinate card in his hand, as he concentrated on the IPS screen.

"Look at this." Glen said. He pointed at a green mark in the lower left corner of the screen. "This is us. And this is the route that we should be taking to reach Neptune." He added as he traced along a white dotted line that was trailing from the green mark. "I put the coordinate card in to get an idea of our route once we were closer to Neptune and …well, watch this."

Glen inserted the coordinate card into the card slot on the side of the monitor. The IPS

beeped and then read: Coordinates not found.

"Not found?" Blake asked. "What does that mean?"

"We must have been given the wrong coordinates, because—"

Suddenly, Audrey shouted something and the ship shook violently. Blake nearly fell over and Glen only kept his seat by grabbing hold of the IPS screen.

"Sorry!" Came Simon's voice from the front. "Meteor shower!"

"I warned you about it!" Audrey said in exasperation.

"I didn't have time to get around it." Simon replied.

If you can't avoid it," Blake told him, "then you should stabilize the ship before going

"through it."

"The ship can be stabilized?" Simon asked. "How?"

Blake gave an inward sigh. All ships were equipped with stabilizers, and operating them was one of the first lessons in flight school.

"Push the yellow button in the center of the panel and pull down the lever below it." Blake said.

"I thought that button was for the acceleration." Simon stated, sounding confused.

"No, that's the green button to the right."

"Oh. I thought that was the autopilot."

From behind him, Blake heard Glen say, "The autopilot would be a better pilot than our human one."

"Autopilot is the blue button." Blake told Simon.

"I thought that was the emergency brake." Simon said.

"No, that's the red lever to your left."

Edward's voice came over the comm. "What happened? Are we under attack? Are we going down?"

"We hit a meteor shower." Blake stated. He turned back to Glen and asked, "Now, what were you saying about our coordinates?"

"We must have been given the wrong ones." Glen responded. "Otherwise the IPS would

locate them; or the coordinate card could be malfunctioning."

The ship gave a sharp tilt to the left. Blake nearly fell over again, and this time, Glen was

unseated.

"Sorry!" Simon called again. "I almost hit Ganymede!"

"Our coordinates may not matter." Glen muttered, picking himself up from off of the floor. "At this rate, we'll never survive the journey alone."

"Ganymede didn't show up on my monitor." Audrey said. "I didn't even know that we were getting close to Jupiter."

This could only mean one thing, but before Blake could voice his opinion, the door to the

control deck opened and Kenny marched through. His black shoulder-length hair and dark green eyes somehow lent a sort of wildness to his appearance, which only complimented his equally

troublesome demeanor. And as Blake had suspected, Kenny's absence at the cameras meant that the images on Audrey's monitors were not focused.

Still, Jupiter was huge and its moons clearly visible. Ganymede especially, as it was the largest moon in the solar system; Simon should have seen it without Audrey's assistance. He had managed to dodge Io and Europa after all.

"What the hell is going on down here?" Kenny demanded. "I nearly hit my head on the

radar upstairs!"

"You're supposed to be up there watching the cameras." Blake told him.

"I'm not going to be much help with your stupid cameras if I'm unconscious!" Kenny argued. "Your pilot doesn't even know how to fly this thing!"

Kenny had a point there.

"Let me fly the craft!" Kenny exclaimed.

"Talk about a suicide mission." Glen mumbled.

"I know how to fly!"

"You know how to hotwire a craft and then fly it."

"I would be a better pilot than the one we've got!" Kenny said forcefully.

"So would a blind monkey." Glen replied.

"You're not flying, Kenny." Blake told him. "We hit a meteor shower; Simon couldn't avoid it."

"What about the second time?" Kenny asked.

Glen answered. "The second time, Jupiter's moon jumped in front of him."

"And I may have seen it ahead of time if you had been watching the cameras." Audrey

said to Kenny.

"Audrey's right. Back to your post, Kenny." Blake said.

Kenny left, keeping up a running monologue as he did so. "Stupid pilot can't even fly.

Ishould be flying."

The door slid up and as Kenny exited, Edward came hurrying in; there was a combined look of fear and distress in his green eyes, and his red hair appeared to practically stand on end.

"Your pilotis trying to kill us all!" He cried.

"No he isn't." Blake said calmly.

"Well he's out to get me anyway!" Edward continued. "I'm below deck with all of the machinery. I could easily fall into one of the rotors or something!"

"Simon's not out to get anyone." Blake said.

"You'll believe me when you find me pinned under the ship's engine!"

Edward went back downstairs and Glen shook his head. "What a crew, huh?"

"What a crew." Blake agreed. "I'm going to contact Earth Command now and have them double-check our coordinates."

He went back to the front of the ship and switched on the converser. "Contact Earth Command."

A robotic response said, "Contact disabled."

"Sir," Simon put in, "I believe that we're too far from Earth for Command to be contacted."

Simon was right. He should have gone into communications instead of flying.

"We'll have to land then." Blake decided. "When we reach Saturn, take us down."

"And try not to crash us." Glen added.

When they landed on Saturn three hours later, they did not crash, yet their landing was anything but smooth.

First, Simon had to swerve to avoid hitting Titan; regardless of the fact that Audrey alerted him to it. Then came the rough maneuvering around two more of Saturn's moons:

Prometheus and Atlas.

Then he forgot to stabilize the ship until they were halfway through Saturn's rings. He

became so intent on doing this, that Simon did not notice how close they were to the planet's

surface. In his proceeding panic, Simon pulled the emergency brake.

The ship gave a lurch that caused Blake to lose his footing, Kenny's angry voice to sound over the comm, and probably had Edward thinking that this was Simon's attempt at homicide.

The Odyssey hit the ground, rebounded slightly, hit the ground again, and then slid to a halt in front of a Saturnian laboratory.

They probably had a contact station in there. If not, the people in the lab would know where the nearest one could be found.

Regardless of any given lab's distance from Earth, contact with the planet was still possible; even from Pluto. The laboratories had the connections and technology that were

necessary for such calls.

"I'm going inside to contact Earth Command." Blake told his crew. "Everyone stay here. I'll be back in a bit."

Glen handed him the coordinate card and Blake disembarked.

Saturn was not yet colonized, though the Galactic Court and the Bureau of Colonization were both working on making Saturn—and Jupiter too—habitable.

They had achieved this with Mars forty-eight years ago, but Jupiter's gaseous clouds and high winds were problematic for colonization efforts. They had managed to contain the large amounts of radiation that had formed on the planet however.

Saturn had a gaseous exterior as well that made colonization on the planet difficult. Both Jupiter and Saturn had enough limited oxygen that allowed those who visited the planet four hours of clear breathing before oxygen inhalers were needed. But to colonize, oxygen would have to be inexhaustible; just as it was on Earth and Mars, and the farther into the solar system one traveled, the less amount of oxygen the following planets contained. Yet every planet held a Command center and a laboratory.

The west wings of the laboratories and Command centers were dedicated to apartments, as the employees lived in the building where he or she worked. Food, clothes, and other necessities were delivered from Earth and Mars, via delivery and cargo crafts—such as the Odyssey. These employees were allowed to return to Earth at will, but usually only did so on weekends and holidays.

Jupiter, Saturn, and the three planets that followed them were also unendurably frigid. But the extremely low temperatures did not affect Blake due to the mission uniform, which neutralized the body temperature of the wearer to tolerate any exceptionally hot or cold climate.

So even though the Odyssey's external thermometer had read Saturn's current

temperature at minus 211 degrees Fahrenheit, Blake felt as comfortable as he did on an Earth day in spring.

He walked into the lobby and approached the desk where a middle-aged woman with dark hair was seated, working on her terminal.

She looked up when Blake reached the desk. "Hello. How can I help you?"

"Are there any contact stations in here?" Blake asked her.

"On the second floor." She answered.

Blake thanked her and took the elevator up to the second floor. The doors slid open and Blake immediately spotted the contact stations; a dozen of them lined up against the wall with half of them already in use. Blake approached the nearest vacant one and walked in. The glass door slid closed behind him and he said, "Contact Earth Command."

"Contact established." Came a robotic reply.

The round face of a man with short brown hair, and a mustache appeared on the screen. Scott Dufrey, the head of Earth Command; just the man that Blake needed to speak to, and the person who had given Blake his mission this morning.

"Captain Harris." He said. "How's the mission going?"

"It isn't." Blake answered. "The Odyssey's IPS won't accept our coordinates. It says that they can't be found. I wanted to double-check them and the card."

Scott nodded. "Alright. Insert the coordinate card."

Blake did so and Scott glanced over at something to his left, before turning back to the screen.

"The coordinates on your card match the ones that I have here, and there's nothing wrong

with the card either." Scott told him. "There may be a problem with the IPS, or maybe I was initially given the wrong coordinates. Have Ms. Takoshi take a look at your IPS and see if she

finds a problem with it. Meanwhile, I'll double-check the coordinates with Mission Control and see if there was a misinterpretation there.

"If your IPS isn't functioning, or if Ms. Takoshi repairs it and the coordinates still don't work, contact me again and we'll see what else can be done. If I was given the wrong coordinates, I can let you know then."

"Alright. Thank you, Mr. Dufrey."

Scott nodded again and then the screen went blank.

Blake turned around, the glass door slid up, and he returned to the first floor. When he

got back to the Odyssey, it was to find Glen and Kenny in a heated argument.

"Your post is up on the third deck!" Glen was saying. "Just stay there!"

"I hate it up there!" Kenny lamented. "It's boring. There's nothing to do!"

"That's because you don't do anything when you are up there."

"I don't have to do anything unless the radars pick up something—which they never do!"

"You're still supposed to be operating the cameras—at all times!"

"I don't want to be the stupid camera operator!"

"Yes, we know. You want to fly."

"That's right! I do!" Kenny shot back. "When do I get a chance to be the pilot?"

"When pigs fly through space." Glen responded.

"Then I want to switch with you!"

"You have no more experience with navigation than you do with flying!"

Blake interrupted. "What's going on?"

"I want a different post!" Kenny exclaimed.

"Well, you're keeping the one you have." Blake answered firmly. "You're not trained to do anything else, and even if you were, there aren't any other vacant positions."

"Can't you give me something else to do?"

"Yes I can." Blake replied. "I want you to fetch Lisa for me."

Kenny's face darkened. "That's not what I meant."

"I know it's not. Now go and get Lisa, please."

Kenny stormed off, muttering incoherently under his breath.

"Couldn't you have called Lisa down through the comm?" Glen asked.

"Yes, but Kenny wanted something else to do." Blake responded.

A moment later, Kenny returned with Lisa behind him.

Glen explained the problem, which he then demonstrated by inserting the coordinate card and receiving the same message.

"And I double-checked the coordinates and the card itself with Earth Command." Blake

told her. "Everything checked out fine."

Lisa turned to Kenny. "The radar for the IPS is working, correct?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

"You guess, or you know?" Glen asked him.

Kenny glared at him and then answered irritably, "It's working! I know it's working!"

"Alright then. I'll have to inspect the entire system." Lisa said. Glen stood and Lisa took the seat at the IPS. She adjusted her glasses, and then removed the front piece of the device.

"Unless I detect a problem right away, a full inspection will take me at least one hour."

Blake spoke through the comm so that Edward could hear him too and said, "Alright

everyone, we have at least one hour before we can take off again. You can leave the ship and walk around if you want to. Don't go too far though, and be back here in an hour."

Simon, Audrey, and Glen disbanded, but Kenny did not.

Blake turned to him. "Is something the matter?"

"I'm waiting for Edward." Kenny responded.

"How come?"

"No reason."

"Kenny!" Glen's voice shouted from the door of the Odyssey. "Get off the ship and leave Edward alone!"

Kenny looked at Blake. "Why don't you remind him that you're the captain?"

Blake asked another question in return. "Why is Glen telling you to leave Edward

alone?"

"I don't know!" Kenny exclaimed, and then he stormed off of the ship.

Edward's nervous voice sounded over the comm. "Is Kenny gone?"

"Yes." Blake answered, albeit confused.

Edward soon came up to the control deck and disembarked.

Blake followed him and sought out Glen. "What's going on between Edward and Kenny?"

Glen sighed. "When you left to go into the lab there, Kenny apparently decided to tell the most anxious person aboard the ship about his criminal past. And he did it on purpose, no

doubt.

"Anyway, Edward came up to the control deck worried about some of the things that

Kenny said to him. He didn't quote anything, but Kenny must have made some threats or something. So Edward no longer thinks that Simon is after him, but now he thinks that Kenny is."

Blake would definitely be having a word with Kenny. His stubbornness, rebellion, and refusal to follow orders were bad enough, but Blake could tolerate these traits. And with a little extra authority, he could even get Kenny to cooperate.

However, Blake would make no allowances for threats or terrorism.

Lisa approached him an hour later and said, "Captain, I've run a full inspection on the IPS and tested all of its features. I didn't locate any problems with it."

"Thank you, Lisa. Maybe it was just a glitch; I'll have Glen retry the coordinate card."

Blake found Glen, and along with Lisa, they went back to the IPS. Glen inserted the card and the screen read once again: Coordinates not found.

Disheartened, yet slightly unsurprised, Blake stepped outside and addressed the other

four crew members.

"The IPS still isn't finding our coordinates, so I'm going to contact Earth Command again. It shouldn't take too long and once this problem is taken care of, I want us to be able to leave right away. So don't stray too far from the ship."

Before leaving, Blake turned to Kenny and said, "Mr. Glazer, a word please."

If Kenny was at all daunted by the way Blake addressed him, he betrayed no sign of it.

"I heard that you told Edward about your past and that's fine; it was your decision."

Blake began. "But I also understand that you said some very frightening things to him—and this I will not tolerate.

"I will not allow my crew members to threaten nor terrify one another. Like it or not, we are on this mission together, and you are the only person on board who has made it a point not to get along with anyone.

"I am going to have to expect more cooperation from you, and you're going to have to comply. And I'm warning you—do not let this happen again."

Blake did not raise his voice; he did not shout nor yell at Kenny. But he kept a stern and forceful tone, and in Kenny's eyes, he saw that the boy realized that he had crossed the line.

Kenny did not apologize for his actions, but neither did he argue Blake's statements.

"Do I make myself clear?" Blake finished.

Even Kenny's reply was respectful. "Yes sir, Captain."

Blake turned back to the laboratory. On the second floor, he went once more to the first

unused station and contacted Earth Command. He expected Scott's face to appear on the screen, but instead it was Scott's secretary, Heather.

"Where's Mr. Dufrey?" Blake asked her.

"Checking the coordinates for your ship, Captain Harris."

"Still? It's been over an hour."

"Mission Control is very busy." Heather replied. "Try back again in ten minutes."

The screen went blank and Blake left the station. He walked around the second floor of

the lab, reading the various bulletins that were posted up. When ten more minutes had passed, he contacted Earth Command again; Heather's face appeared.

"He's still out?" Blake asked.

"Yes, but…hold on a minute. I think he's on his way back."

Heather disappeared and all Blake could see for a moment was the empty chair behind

her desk. He heard distant voices, then the screen flickered, and Scott appeared.

He looked different than he had an hour ago. Scott's face was red and he seemed…Blake could not quite place it. Angry? Anxious? Tired?

"Sorry it took so long." Scott said apologetically. "Mission Control was very busy."

"So Heather told me." Blake replied. "The coordinates still don't work and the IPS is fine."

"Yes. Apparently your coordinate card requires an input code that will override the IPS's

inability to locate the coordinates, and the geniuses in Mission Control forgot to do so. They gave me the code however, so if you'll just insert the coordinate card I can load it on there."

Blake hesitated. Something was not right. Input codes were used for isolated or possibly

dangerous locations. A simple mission to Neptune should not require an input code.

He voiced this opinion to Scott who replied, "Mission Control says that the code is needed because of the unusual location of your destination."

"Unusual location? We're going to Neptune."

"Not anymore. There's been a change of plan."

"You mean we're going somewhere else? Then we're going to need a whole new coordinate card altogether." Blake reasoned. Still, this was odd. He had never heard of a mission changing direction in the middle of a voyage.

"No, you don't." Scott stated. "You can use the same card. Put it through."

Blake did not. He needed to know exactly what was going on. If Scott wanted this mission completed, then he could not end this conversation without first loading the code onto

the coordinate card. If Blake went ahead and gave him the card, Scott could put the code on and

then break the connection.

"The card, Captain Harris." Scott prompted.

"I want some straightforward answers first, Mr. Dufrey." Blake countered. "Why has

our destination suddenly changed, why does it require an input code, and why does the

coordinate card that I already have for Neptune also work for our new destination? And, by the way—what is our new destination?"

Scott hesitated, looking troubled. "Your destination hasn't changed and that's why your coordinate card doesn't need to be replaced. The reason for the code however is classified information."

"You said before that our location has changed and now you say that it hasn't." Blake

pointed out. "Which is it?"

"You're not going to Neptune anymore, but you were never going to Neptune to begin with." Scott replied. "I didn't know this. I only told you what Mission Control told me."

"What about the code, Mr. Dufrey? Why do I need the code?"

"Classified information, Captain Harris."

"I'm the captain!" Blake exclaimed, feeling a combination of angry and confused. "Even classified information is given to the captain when it pertains to their mission."

"The card, Captain Harris." Scott insisted.

"I want answers!"

"I gave you answers!"

"Yes. And now I'm even more confused than I was before!" Blake figured that even

through the station's glass door, nearby people could probably hear him. "I need to know

exactly what's going on!"

"Captain Harris," Scott's voice sounded weary and the expression on his face matched, "I am not authorized to tell you any—"

"—None of this makes any sense." Blake cut in. "And I'm not giving you the coordinate card until it does."

Scott seemed genuinely nervous now. An emotion that was generally non-existent in

him. Yet Blake knew that if he was going to get any useful information from Scott, he would have to keep prodding. He could tell that Scott was cracking.

"What's going on, Mr. Dufrey?" Blake asked once more.

Scott seemed to have gone mute. He said nothing, but sat in silence; his eyes averted

from the screen, and Blake's withering gaze.

Blake let the silence linger and dared not to break it. His last direct inquiry hung in the air and Blake would give Scott the time to process it. Yet when the silence continued to drone on, Blake knew that he had to say something.

"Whatever this mission is," he began, "wherever this mission is supposed to take us, and whatever this secret is that you are so closely guarding, doesn't make any difference to me. If you want this mission carried out, then tell me what's happening. Otherwise, my crew and I will turn around and come right back to Earth."

"You can't do that!" Scott said hastily.

"Of course we can." Blake said mildly. "I most certainly refuse to complete a mission that you refuse to discuss."

"No. I meant…you can't come back to Earth."

Blake got that point the first time. "I will, unless you give me some sort of an explanation."

"No. You can't ever return to Earth."

This made no more sense than anything else in this conversation. Utterly impatient now Blake asked, "And why is that, Mr. Dufrey?"

Scott hesitated for such a long period of time that Blake thought he might never get a

response. Finally, he quietly answered, "Because Captain Harris, you and your crew are on a Filter Mission."