Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back to Work

Alex swore he would never take putting his own clothes on for granted again, at least for a few weeks. The previously soft cotton t-shirt Carbon had retrieved from his cabin was now rough and abrasive against freshly regrown skin, but it was a small price to pay now that he had his entire upper body back. His lower half was still covered in opaque nanite gel and a privacy shroud, but it was still a small victory.

The light gray shirt bore the one of the Civil Pilot Program logos, a scout ship over a star burst ringed with the program name. It had carried a bit more pride in the past, before he had realized he’d been chosen because someone had lied about his skill set and even that only came about because billions had died on Schon, the Tslao homeworld.

It had given him some pause. He knew the two were not connected at all, but some deep seated part of him wanted to blame the disaster on his desire to become a pilot. Entirely irrational, but it gnawed at him when awake and haunted him in his dreams.

At least now he could immerse himself in work without having to hope the feeble kickstand on his tablet wouldn’t collapse when he touched its screen, sending it spinning away, out of his reach.

As a scoutship pilot, Alex was trained to do two things better than just about anyone. Flying at superluminal velocities was the flashy one. Everybody wanted to go fast and scoutships went god damned fast. This is part of how they sold the program despite its astronomical costs.

The second was that he interpreted sensor data, which was actually a huge part of flying with FTL drives for humans. It was considered bad form to slam your ship into a celestial body at several times c and knowing what your sensors were telling you was paramount to not doing that. They would even revoke your license posthumously, if they figured out it was pilot error.

But right now, instead of having terabytes of data streaming into his Amp and spread out before him like the universe itself was in his optical nerves, Alex was poring over enhanced pictures of the local system pulled from the passive sensors. Unlike his working relationship with Carbon, this was more bad than good.

“So, I was looking at the sensor logs for the past few weeks.” Alex shoveled a fork full of Phad Thai into his mouth, his selection for the food exchange this week.

“You do not sound pleased.” Carbon either liked it or had much better control over her facial expressions while eating than he did.

“I’m not. The Ehom are moving away, but they’re just going to the other side of the system. They appear to be mining a planet over there, they were probably doing a material trade when we arrived.”

The Ehom only talked to each other. There had been plenty of spying and attempts at retrieving data after combat. All that had been confirmed was that they did not appear to attempt communication with anyone who was not Ehom and the only history they kept was related to mining and trading. They appeared to be highly xenophobic, so much so they wouldn’t mine a planet with anything beyond microbial life.

Carbon nodded at that. “I was afraid they would not move off. This somehow seems worse.”

“They will likely remain here for years, and never be more than a few minutes away.” This severely limited their options. If they wanted to do anything akin to leaving, they’d need to turn on several systems and that would tip the Ehom off.

Carbon stared into her tray and twirled her fork in the wide noodles idly. “I can run the diagnostics on the one engine without turning the main reactor on. Once that is done you should be able to jump out with ease in less than one minute.”

“Nope.” He tapped the back of his head, “my Amp is shot. No Amp, no quick jumps. We’ll have to fire up the AI to run a safe route based on the navigation maps and that will take at least an hour.”

“Where are they in relation to the local star?”

“Thought of that, too. The star will provide us with cover in about six years, about five years after we starve to death in the dark.”

Carbon blanched, picked at her food like she did when she was thinking. “Could we shut down several compartments and use the power saved to operate the AI at a fraction of it’s normal speed?”

He nodded, lost in thought for a moment. “That might work. I’m not sure about the heat dissipation, but I will look into it.”

“Good.” She went back to eating, clearly pleased at a possible solution. “How are your legs doing?”

“Better. The damage to the bone is completely repaired and it’s started to regrow the muscle and skin. Should be up and about next week.” Alex poked at the dessert item, a baked pudding he couldn’t pronounce without seeing the name. “As up as zero g allows, anyway.”

“That is good as well. I will need help resealing the drive plate soon. Speaking of that, I have my doubts about how long the single repaired drive will be able to safely propel us.”

“Is it at least twenty four light years?”

“I was going to suggest under thirty, just to be safe. That seems like it is very specific for a reason.”

“It is. I found a Thackeray’s Globule just a bit over twenty three and a half light years from here and SAPRAM readings in it fluctuate wildly. It would be impossible for a pursuer to tell where we went in it and the Ehom will not dispatch their entire fleet to leave a mine unguarded.”

She smiled, perhaps with a touch of pride. “Very nice, Alex. That sounds like it will do very well.”


  1. I am really enjoying the slow build this story is taking.

  2. Excellent, the cultural exchange continues. But really, how could anyone not like phad thai?

    So, a few comments. The previously soft cotton t-shirt... in the context of the sentence it sounds like his shirt got rough (instead of his skin getting sensitive).

    The phrasing is a little strange here, It had carried a bit more pride in the past, before he had realized he’d been chosen because someone had lied about his skill set and even that only came about because billions had died on Schon, the Tslao homeworld. Maybe, 'He'd been proud of it before he realized he'd been chosen...', or something like that.

    This, That seems like it is very specific for a reason. reads like a comment on her estimate of thirty light years instead of a comment on Alex's question.

    I like the problems Alex runs into because of the broken Amp and that instead of feeling overwhelmed he's still thinking. Nice touch that Carbon is proud of him.

    I also wonder if his irrational thought about being responsible for the disaster on her home planet will come up if she gets in his mind again.

  3. @Jonathan: Thank you!

    @J. A. Platt: I don't know how anyone could not like phad thai unless they're allergic to peanuts.

    Comments noted. Ten years ago I'd have bristled at constructive criticism of any kind. Now I get all warm and fuzzy about it. A little odd, perhaps, but a pleasant change.

    As for his irrational thoughts... Well, Carbon will be poking around in there again at some point, I'm sure.

  4. Oh good. I was afraid I was being a little too constructive yesterday. I really enjoy your series and I'm always excited to see the new installments.

  5. Nope, I'd say it was very reasonable. As long as there's an explanation of what didn't work for you attached, I'm happy with it. Thank you! I'm glad you like reading this. I'm never sure how well I do at anything...