Thursday, August 19, 2010

Breaking Barriers

No amount of fussing with the medi-board would make it put Alex’s feeding tube back in, despite the fact that it still prevented him from using the of the rest of his body. It may have been some of the best medical equipment ever produced, but it was still dumb as a brick without the main AI turned on.

Dinner had turned out to be mostly embarrassing for him. Carbon either did not mind having to feed him or if she did, didn’t show it at all. He could at least tell she was not particularly enthusiastic about it.

“I can not comprehend how so fractured a society managed to climb into space.”

Alex nodded and chewed on a gristly bit of meat from the beef stew she had brought in to the medical bay while he considered her. The days of her wearing what was basically a space-suit everywhere seemed to be over, the alien currently clad in a black jumpsuit with the flowing script for her name and title stitched in just below her collarbone.

“I hear that a lot.” He had, actually. The species humanity got along with, the Tslao and ktk, had almost entirely homogeneous societies and both of them had trouble wrapping their brains around it. It had been covered several times in school.

She offered up another spoon full of stew, taking his comment as an invitation to continue. “Your dispenser has over twelve hundred kinds of soup available, even on local backup power. Scrolling through the list gave me the feeling of going mad. It seemed to never end and there were so many languages. I had to do research.”

Peas, carrots and a powdery potato. “Really? I had never investigated the soups.” Since he had met Carbon just a few months ago, that was the most she had ever said to him at once. He was surprised that the statement was not directly critical and had been couched with explanations. They had told him that was a positive indicator.

“I will not accept ‘pick something for me’ as an answer from you in the future for your meals.”

Despite his best efforts, he smiled at that. The effort to suppress it just kind of twisted it a bit and made him look very smug.

She did mind that. Her expression darkened, her voice dropped away from the conversational tone she had just been using. “Are you mocking me?”

There went his bit of progress. “No. I was just...” he tried to figure out how to say what he meant through the cultural barrier with a bit of grace. He failed at that, instead choosing to simply barge through it with as detailed an explanation as possible. “I thought the situation was humorous for it’s irony. I had not intended to cause you any trouble when you asked me what I wanted to eat, but in offering what I perceived to be an easy option turned out to be the opposite.”

Her expression softened, voice chastened. “Irony... Yes, I can see that.” Carbon sighed, set the bowl down and rubbed her eyes. He hadn’t noticed how tired she looked until now. “Regret. I have not been very considerate of you, Alex. I confess that sometimes I forget you are in this state.”

Another first. She’d never used an emotion modifier when speaking to him before. “It’s fine. I forget that I’m stuck here every few minutes anyway.” He grinned. Miraculously, the corners of her mouth curled up just a bit as she picked up the stew again.

“The medi-board indicates you should have your upper body back sometime in the next week. Your legs will take longer yet.” Alex had made the mistake of asking to see his injury report, almost his entire body had suffered various levels of burns in addition to the crushing blow his head had taken. His legs had the thinnest layer of crash foam, most of which burnt off when the rail round had slammed into the bridge, spraying burning metal everywhere in the compact room. They had been cooked down to the bone.

He swallowed another bite. “Good. I’m tired of not being able to do anything.”

“I do not know how much you will be able to do. The ship is in good shape with the exception of the bridge and engine room.”

“Are the Ehom still in system?” He already knew the answer. If they had left, everything could be turned back on. They were still running just automated systems: life support, sheilding and the kinetic buffers. Most automatic system would run for months after a ship’s crew was dead.

“Yes. They have held their position and we are moving away slowly. They have made no attempts to check the ship yet.”

“That’s something.”

“Yes.” She fed him another bit of stew and looked away, expression guilty. “I have been meaning to discuss something with you.”

In his experience, good conversations did not start that way. “Go on.”

“After the attack, when I entered the bridge-” she stopped and her eyebrows knit together, some internal tug-of-war going on. “There was so much blood.”

“You didn’t know if I had survived and my Amp had been destroyed. You had to do it.”

“Yes, that is exactly...” she trailed off, her eyes briefly meeting his before darting away. “What do you mean by that?”

“You performed a neural link with me while I was unconscious.” He had plenty of time to suss out possible explanations for why she had done it, and it probably wasn’t because she had been bored.

“You should not be able to remember that.”

“Well, I do. Why did you do it?”

She hesitated, and looked like she was about to bolt from the room for a moment. “I had to know if you still lived.”

The way she put emphasis on it was telling. She had wanted to see if his collection of memories was intact. From learning to read to flying a scoutship, these were what made him unique, according to the Tslao. With his memories gone, he would have been some sort of ghoul to them, and useless on the ship.

“You would have left me to die if I had not?”

“Guilt.” She watched the bowl in her hands intently, the one word carrying everything he needed to know.

“I do not blame you. In the same situation I can’t say I would not have done the same thing.” It might have been a lie. He wasn’t sure, but he knew it was the diplomatic thing to say, effectively letting her save face by saying he’d let her die as well.

She nodded, still looking guilty but more relaxed. “Thank you.”


  1. Oh, I like them. I enjoy the way they're cautiously feeling each other out. The cultural differences you've built into your world are very convincing and consistent.

    There's one spot where her dialog is in the same paragraph as Alex's actions:

    “I can not comprehend how so fractured a society managed to climb into space.” Alex nodded and chewed on a gristly bit of meat from the beef stew she had brought in to the medical bay while he considered her.

    The soup thing had me smiling (but not too smugly). I'm eager to see what happens next.

  2. Fixed. There should have been a space there, I blame Google. Totally.

    Thank you, I always second guess myself when writing different cultures, I just can't tell if what I've done is contrived or not. Which it has to be, to some extent, but if it doesn't come off that way, I'm happy.

    I'm glad you like it so far, I hope to keep producing new chapters that are, well... good.

  3. Have I mentioned yet how much I love love love Pilot Sorenson? I also love Carbon but I think I love to say "Pilot Sorenson". What I like about this is that regardless that they are in a situation where it is necessary at this point for their survival, they still feel a sort of shyness in learning about one another and they are doing so in such a delicate manner, revealing what they know or feel and trying to be kind to each other. I really like that.

    I had almost forgotten about the Ehom, I was hoping Ale and Carbon had gotten away from them but now I'm more worried about them than I was before. This is a good series, Shini, and I am really loving it.

  4. Yeah, I'm not sure why, but saying Pilot Sorenson is kind of pleasant. I still mentally refer to him as that most of the time, too.

    I suppose I kind of like writing the dance of feeling each other out that is going on, something they both recognize they should have done before they were under duress. Though I doubt they would have managed it if one of them wasn't suffering from horrible injuries.

    I keep meaning to write more about the Ehom but I always run over the word limit and trim stuff about them out because it's not necessary... Yet.