Gravlaw again slips through the vast nothing of space, riding down the thin plume of exhaust towards its destination. Slowing always, stoically carrying its metric tons of cargo towards the planet that awaits it far below.
    The crew remains alert, professional, and gradually the memory of the incident is rubbed slowly away by the passage of time, as the everyday impinges on the past, dulling it until one day flows into the next.


*    *   *  * *** *  *   *    *


    1st Systems Officer Alan Mitchell sighed, then ran the diagnostics check again. Clamped to his worktable was the ship's intracommunications coordinator unit.  The lunch pail sized gray box sat silently, jury rigged into the systems station. Answering the queries sent to it by the diagnostics program. This was the unit responsible for routing all of the various voice communications passed throughout the ship to their correct direction. Earlier that day, It had crapped out, routing all shipwide communications into 3rd Nav Aldean Thomas' tiny living compartment.
On the orders of the 1st Officer, it had been changed out and replaced with a spare. Now it was being tested to determine what had gone wrong.

     The diagnostics system breeped. The testing program had finished. Wearily, Alan checked the readout.  For the twentieth time, everything came up clean. Perfect working order. He grimaced at the box. He almost wished a problem would show. At least then he'd know what to fix. As far as he or the computer could tell, the Coordinator was as fit as a fiddle, yet it had failed. And there had to be a reason. Technically, it was suitable to be put back into service,  but Alan wouldn't trust it until he was sure it would perform as advertised.  He crossed the tight workshop, and picked up his toolbox, pulling to break the magnetic seal it had on the table.  The only thing to do new was to tear the thing down and take a look insideˇ

     He sat down, fished around the toolbox until he found the torqueless screw driver.  He began taking the tiny screws out one by one, being careful not to lose the tiny metal nubs.
 Just as he set the thick metal cover of the unit on the table, the overhead lights flickered. He looked up, briefly.  The bar bulb above him dimmed slightly, then returned to full strength.

   He shrugged then sighed. Another thing to look into.  He took a few cursory glances into the Coordinator. Peering into the tangled mess of the circuit boards and power feeds discouraged him.  He was only cleared to work on software problems. If he went screwing around inside the unit trying to fix it, and severely unfixed it in the process, he'd catch a load of trouble. He'd have to convince Velmer or Cid to work on it.

    He hoped he could get Cid. Katherine would only complain at having to someone else's work, especially when there wasn't any apparent problem. Alan rolled his eyes.  He'd have to set the thing on fire and throw it into engineering if he wanted her help with it.

    He wondered if Cid was on duty right now.  He checked the in built time display on the wall.  The panel was lighted, but instead of the time, there was only

    Alan vented an exasperated growl. Another problem. What was going on? Had the ship's warranty just expired or something? Ah well, it was probabally an easy fix.  Let's see, what should he do?

    He paused.  The clocks were  practically as simple as you could possibly get,  just a straight feed from the internal clock in the central comput-
    Alan stopped.
    Oh my god. He dashed out the door of the workroom, down the hall, and into his nearby berthing.  He looked at the wall clock.

 It was blank also.  Alan stopped breathing. He stood still a moment, trying to get a grasp on the situation.   It was possible that the main comp had just fried or died.  The other shipboard systems would operate on their own for a time, but without  the huge number crunching and regulatory ability of the Main, they'd be gummed up and buried under calcuations, crashing within minutes, creating a cascade which could cripple the ship.

    Within minutes. What was he doing in his berthing? Alan dashed back into the hall, painfully bashing his knee into a pneumatic door that didn't open fast enough. He burst back into the Systems station and shoved the naked Coordinator unit out of the way.  He booted the Main Diganostic program.  His hand shook as he designated the main computer as the analytic target.

    Next thing, he slammed his palm down on the emergency "Panic button." A piercing siren sounded, followed by the illumination of dim red lights. Gravlaw assumed general quarters. A few seconds later, a voice came over the intercomm.

    "This is 1st officer Swanson! What the devil's going on?"

    "Sir! The main Comp is down! Tell all aboard to shut down all unnescecary systems that they can get to! I'm trying to get a handle on the problem."

    "Will do, systems. Do you require anything? "

    "Negative, bridge. But please stand by."

    Gravlaw, like countless other ships, had a total running complement of over three hundered independant computers. The cost of individual processors for each of there would be astronomical, so instead the ships contain a single, huge processor, in which all the calulations for the entire ship are performed.   The Main  was now out of action, leaving the individual computers to fend for themselves using cheap, internal miniprocessors. These would soon be overwehelmed, and the processing lag would be measured in minutes.  Finally, they'd simply overload and crash.
    The results of the diagnostic inquiry came in. The first thing Alan noted,  was that the Main was still functioning. Barely.  It was down to 11% of peak efficiency. Alan wondered why, but decided he'd better find out later. The important thing was, that it still worked. There was some hope yetˇ
    In the mean time, there was only one thing to do. He had to get into the main computer and see what was going on.  He hurridly slipped into his chair at the systems desk, and feverishly began typing, disabling the first of the security codes which would grant him access to the computer's main systems.

     He was just entering the last of the codes when he heard someone pounding down the hall. He turned in time to see Ericka Whitworth, the second systems officer,  burst into the room.

 "I'm sorry.." she huffed "I got hereˇ. as fast asˇI could. What's going on?"

 "The main just went down.  Everything's going to hell. I've got the software covered from here, why
don't you run down to the main comp and see if you can do anything there."

 She nodded.

"I'll get right on it."  And bolted out the door again.

<View from the perspective of 1st systems Alan Mitchell.>
<View from the perspective of 2nd systems Ericka Whitworth>
<View from the security booth>