Friday, August 13, 2010

Keystone

“That was incredible.” Alex sat in the cockpit of his simulator, blinking in the bright lights of the sim bay. “If that’s where the next generation of wave drives are going, we’ll be able to canvas hundreds more systems per year, at least.”

(Ashalon. He knew this one, amusement-superiority. It was mocking. Your next generation of drives, perhaps.)

Speed was important. Humanity needed to expand out as Earth was basically used up and slightly toxic. They started terraforming just about anything that would take the process, even if it would take a hundred years for good results. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, after all.

The simulation was notably faster than what Alex had trained on previously, the connection and increased data flow to handle the speed left his brain aching, and his Amp implant felt itchy. His trainer, an old pro who’d spent more than a decade on scout runs grinned and reached down to give him a hand up out of the enclosure. “You’re damn right, Pilot Sorenson.”

(That’s not what Ed had called him. He always called him Alex.)


“Are they going to have these ready for my ship?” He was eager to know when he would finally get his assignment. He had spent two years getting ready for this assignment, even spent six months at Navy boot camp for zero-g training. They should have put him on one by now. Three others had left while he’d been stuck doing more training... but if the trade off was the new engines, he’d be happy with that.

“As a matter of fact, it will. Your charge will be ready in just about two months.” Ed looked... Alex wasn’t sure. Sad, tense, hopeful and worried, all at the same time, boiling just below the surface.There was more happening than he was letting on.

(Kason. To be pleased at another’s intuition. About the closest thing to a compliment he’d gotten.)

“That’s great! Is it new? Will I get to name it?” First pilot always got to name a new ship. He felt like a kid in a candy store at the prospect, his mind running over all of the potential names he could assign it before Ed cut him off.

“No, it’s already named.”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense with the new engines. What’s it called?”

Kshalvo. Bridge builder.”

“I don’t recognize that language.”

“It’s Tslao. Your engineer is going to be a Lan, a Shipmaster.”

“I’m getting put on a ship with a fucking dog?” His voice practically cracked, starting to make a scene in the quiet hum of the sim bay. He didn’t have any particular problems with the Tslao, but he didn’t want to be stuck in a ship with one for a year. Ed’s expression cemented into an unhealthy mix of anger and disgust.

(Tan ch. They covered that one in his primer, too. Anger and disgust. It did fit the situation well.)

“Watch your fucking mouth.” He was, for a moment, pretty sure Ed was going to beat him to a pulp right there. Ed’s voice dropped an octave but retained it’s edge as he leaned in to Alex, eyes burning. “You need to see something. Come on.”

The walk to Ed’s office was uncomfortable. He’d overstepped his bounds far more than he thought, if Ed’s posture and the way people got out of his way in the wide hall were any indication. Goodbye future opportunities anywhere. Ed slammed the door shut behind him, pointed at the seat in front if his desk without saying a word. Alex sat silently, hoping that he might be able to salvage something.

Ed just stared at his monitor and dug around for something. When he found it, he swiveled the screen around to Alex. Just a video, time lapse, of a blue and green planet spinning slowly. The original timestamps were in a flowing script he assumed to be Tslao, modern English numerals below it. It ticked forward three minutes every second, must have been taken from a geosynchronous satellite as the landmass below never changed.

He missed it at first. A black speck maybe a few hundred kilometers from it’s western coast. It expanded, a ragged spot and then a gray-black smear spreading across the atmosphere. The playback sped up, each tick an hour forward. The continent dipped into night and then came back around to day, the streak had widened by about double. Alex’s blood ran cold as he watched it envelop most of the planet, finally understanding what he was looking at. “Was that a volcano?”

(She’d not left any words here, just the unmistakable feeling of sorrow.)

“Megacaldera. Ejected more than nine thousand cubic kilometers of debris into the air. There is debate about extending the Volcanic Explosivity Index past eight just for it.” Ed was unimaginably calm about this. The old pilot continued, “That was six years ago, they came to us for help a year later. Scientists figure it’ll take about sixty years for the ash to come down to survivable levels. In the mean time, most cities still have functioning shielding, but they’re still trying to offload the remaining one and a half billion refugees on planet.”

Alex nodded, unable to look away. He knew about keeping ships in the air as well as anyone and most ships wouldn’t be able to deal with that much ash. There were ways around the limitations, but there were a lot of limitations. Small craft would require hundreds of modifications to survive it, and it would eat up most of the cargo space. Maybe some atmosphere capable warships with fully sealed systems... but good luck landing those in a city.

“It’s dead, isn’t it?”

“Basically. We’ve been helping with the offload, giving shelter where possible without making a scene,” he gave Alex a pointed look. “Getting their shipbuilding capability back up has been a nightmare, I’m told. A lot of prefab on the ground with them, then up the elevators to be built.”


The past few minutes had changed his perspective significantly. Shipbuilding was the lifeblood of any star faring race. If you didn’t have ships in good working order, you were just- “The Ehom. Do they know?” He blurted it out suddenly, almost startled at the revelation. The Ehom had a tendency to kill anything that wasn’t Ehom. Humanity and the Tslao were about evenly hated by them, the opportunity to snuff one out would be welcomed with open arms.

(Lanan. Cautious enjoyment of a change of events.)

“We’ve been keeping them busy elsewhere, but they’ll find out sooner or later. That is why we built the Khshalvo. They need new colonies. They need a homeworld. Without the Tslao, the Ehom will eventually overrun us as well.” Ed leaned back in his chair. “Do you understand?”

Yeah, I get-”

Alex would have sat up bolt upright, startled from sleep by the feeding tube slithering back up his throat and out his nose, but he was still pinned to the medi-board. The dreams had all been the same since the attack, snippets of his past with Carbon’s thoughts from when she took a peek in his brain over the top of them.

He had still not discussed that with her, unsure of why she did it, or of the protocols around such a thing. Her demeanor had been warming slowly, which was good since he was immobile and unable to connect to the ship. He could eat by himself now, since the tube had retracted. He focused on moving his arms... Nothing. Still too badly burned.

Dinner was going to be awkward.

4 comments:

  1. I like the layering of thoughts, though it took a while to catch on (maybe because her comments were mixed with his thoughts about them). I'm also not quite sure why, when he makes the derogatory comment about the Shipmaster, he gets shown the time lapse footage. I think (from Ed's reaction) I was expecting a lecture on respecting other races or something like that.

    The developing relationship between Alex and Carbon is fun to watch. I hope we get to see how he went from calling them dogs to respect.

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  2. Hmm. I see where you're coming from there... It made more sense in my head, Alex was being more casually - racist, I guess - and the revelation that the Tslao have one foot in the grave changed his perspective about being 'stuck' with Carbon.

    I'm definitely going to keep this in mind for next week, going back over it with your comments really makes it clear where I could have strengthened the post.

    Glad you like it so far!

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  3. I sure love this series. It's great to see the beginning, how Pilot Sorenson ended up with Carbon and how she is now seeing his initial thoughts about having to work with her. I was confused also a bit about the thoughts, and at first I thought perhaps the whole thing was a simulation (boo!) and then I realized they were sharing thoughts. His casual racism, as you put it, must be some shock for Carbon, or perhaps it is not. Either way he depends on her and well they really depend on one another here, so the conflict created here is brilliant!

    I wonder, really, how she feels about it and I imagine yes dinner *will* be awkward. I'm so glad to see this series going on and I am loving the cultural and personal interplay between Alex and Carbon. Eagerly looking forward to reading more (which I suppose I will be doing shortly!).

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  4. Thank you! I'm having trouble getting everything I want into the stories despite not being able to keep each chapter to 1000 words.

    I feel like to get down into the meat of what's going on with Alex and his initially racist attitude and Carbon dealing with that is going to take another few chapters alone and I haven't even gotten into what else she went looking for while she was in there. She is, shall we say, inquisitive about many things (more so than the average Tslao) and thought that (as we find out in the next chapter) he would not recall the intrusion.

    I think I might end up compiling it into a SSS with everything fleshed out to it's end. I keep having to cut dialog and foreshadowing and all this stuff I love to have around.

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