Thursday, August 26, 2010

Laying Groundwork

If you had asked Pilot First Class Alex Carlyle Sorenson what he had expected to be doing in six months, six months ago, the answer you received then would have had exactly one thing right: He would be in a scoutship.

The rest of what he would have told you about the awesome, no... incredible adventure he would be having would be incorrect. The fraternal camaraderie between pilot and engineer, out in the unexplored wild west of space. Out there helping humanity towards its future. All that other manifest destiny bullshit they put in the movies whenever a scoutship was involved. He knew better now, but that kind of thing was what got him interested in being a pilot the first place... so he held on to it.

There is the chance he might have gotten the bit about encountering hostile aliens right as well. The Ehom seemed to roam just about everywhere in the galaxy without rhyme or reason, mining and killing. If there were deeper reasons behind what they did, no one had managed to uncover them yet.

Alex had found himself with a lot of free time since the attack. He knew there was nothing he could do about this. His Amp had been filled with bone fragments and flexed in a direction it’s manufacturer had never intended. Curiously this prevented it from turning on, locking him out of a direct connection to the ship’s systems. On the up side, it had prevented his brain from being filled with bone fragments.

The medi-board had given him back his right arm and even let him sit at an incline now. The skin was tight and unnaturally pale, the muscles weak. The rest of his body was still inaccessible, but he could feed himself and use a tablet now. Doing anything with the tablet was cumbersome, at best. Everything had been designed to be used by someone with a direct interface.

Filling the many hours he did not sleep was a remarkably guilty experience. Carbon would show up a few times a day with food, looking progressively more burnt out as days passed. He would be dead without her, he knew, and the first time the door had slid open and he’d been watching some fluff comedy show that had been packaged into the data stores his chest had constricted with panic. He had thumbed it off immediately, set the tablet screen down a little too hard and tried to look not guilty.

It hadn’t worked, he could see it in her face. That was interesting. He could see it in her face. Nuances he’d never consciously paid attention to didn’t spring out at him, but they were there. Her expression had changed, only for a second. Eyebrows leveling out, eyes squinting almost imperceptibly, ears compressing down further and her antenna lowered. A little sigh, resigned, and her face relaxed again. She knew there was nothing else for him to do yet.

This is what lead him to find out more about Carbon’s people. The data stores were huge - several exabytes of data, mostly for navigation - and there were only sixty pages about the Tslao outside of the translation database. It was the exact sixty pages they’d made him read during his primer course on interacting with them. Not so useful. He would have to take a more direct approach.

“So I was wondering if you could share some more of your culture with me.” He winced after he said it, the words had spilled out much faster than he had intended them to. “I mean, if you do not mind.”

Carbon’s eyebrows quirked up, her chopsticks poised over a bowl of vibrant green... chunks of food. Alex still wasn’t sure what it was, the primer hadn’t covered food beyond the fact that theirs wasn’t poisonous to humans. “I- I do not understand?”

“I know almost nothing about you, your people, what you do. You have done so much for me, and I don’t think I will ever be able to reciprocate that.”

She nodded slowly, “If you are looking to assuage your guilt over your lack of mobility, it is unnecessary. I understood it would take a long time for you to heal when I pulled you from the bridge. I have never seen burns so severe.”

Alex briefly remembered her smeared in his blood and burned bits when he first came to. Lunch was suddenly less appetizing. She kept eating. “It was that at first, yes. I suppose it still is guilt I feel, but on a much deeper level. I have had... some problems with the Tslao before, but not for good reasons.”

“I am aware.” She would be, of course. She had seen it in action.

“I am afraid that I have let others make some very personal decisions for me, and that is something I cannot tolerate in myself.”

Carbon leaned back in her chair and considered that. There was the faintest hint of surprise in her voice. “Very well. Is there anything you wish to know in particular?”

He hadn’t thought that far ahead. “I’m not sure. I’m starting to think the primer they gave me is pretty sketchy.”

“It is,” she had seen that as well, apparently. She unclipped herself from the chair and pushed away from it towards the door. “I will try to find a good place to start while I work. Have you ever sampled our food?”

“No. I am willing to try it, though.” He had heard the requisite horror stories about alien food, but they were always so over the top he couldn’t really believe any of them. Except for the ones about the tkt, but they were just weird and you couldn’t eat their food anyway.

Her hand brushed over the door controls and she rotated out of the room. “Good,” she sounded pleased, “I will see you at dinner.”

He might have caught a flash of an actual smile as the door closed behind her.


  1. Ah, these two continue to be sort of hesitant and adorable. I think she made the same face my boss does when he catches me watching netflix while an animation is rendering.

    I love the mention of manifest destiny. I can see the government selling long missions and crappy conditions to potential pilots that way.

    The first three paragraphs felt a little off from the rest of the chapter. I think I wanted more of a transition between talking about Alex's past, then the Ehom, then his immediate situation.

    The little hesitations and embarrassments between them are really compelling. I'm looking forward to seeing more next week.

  2. On the new scoutships, the conditions are actually pretty nice. Downright spacious. My presumption being that experienced pilots and engineers are worth keeping around, particularity ones that can take a long trip with one other person.

    Yeah, it ended up feeling that way to me. I did have a better transition but it ended up eating another five paragraphs and did nothing but link the two together... and it wasn't very good. Definitely something I'm going to fix when I compile this into a single story.

    There's going to be some more embarrassment next week, probably for everyone. It's liable to spill out into the week after as well.

  3. "it’s" should be "its" in the beginning there.

    As you know, I LOVE Pilot Sorenson. And if you didn't, you know now. The interactions between him and Carbon are indeed adorable and fumbling and I like the idea that perhaps this is the first time or at least a rare time that a human and a Tslao find themselves sharing information so intimately. I daren't hope for intergalactic romance (yet) but I get the feeling this sharing will be for the good of the both of them in upcoming battles against the Ehom.

  4. The it's/its ALWAYS gets me. I should have that nailed down by now...

    I'd become sort of aware of that, yes.

    While Tslao and Humans have aided each other in the past, it's usually just been military aid or some search and rescue. Either way, everyone is safely ensconced on their own ships or only on board for a few days at most.

    As for romance... I'm still up in the air with that for now, though the newest post does kind of indicate what they both think of the, ah, physical aspect at this injunction. But their deepening relationship will be necessary for themselves and possibly the rest of the known universe.