Thursday, September 30, 2010

Burnout

In matters where logic reigned supreme, Alex did very well. He could plot a thousand light year course, scored fairly high on the three dimensional tactics and had a very thorough methodology planned for testing the graduate thesis he never got to use.

If someone he liked was having a bad day, all of that ability crumbled away. He ceased to be able to plan more than three steps ahead. He meant well, but was inept at best.

There had been a silence long enough to be considered awkward.

“I think it would be better if you worked in a different part of the ship today, Pilot.” Carbon’s voice was clipped, each word carefully chosen and precise, “perhaps you could see about getting a waveride set up.”

With that she shoved him away, eyes cold and lips pressed tight.

“Very well.” He didn’t argue, despite a strong urge to. Fingers grazed the wall, propelling him back towards the door to the passageway. The doors closed behind him, and he floated there for a few moments before shrugging it off and heading for the shower.

Wedged between two walls in a hot mist he pondered turning the AI on to do a jump calculation. Even with most of its logic processors shut off or underclocked - or both - the cooling system would still come on for the control processors alone. All of this nicely structured thinking did not stop Carbon’s rebuff from gnawing fervently on the edges of his mind. Alex had not shrugged it off very well.

He found himself staring into a bowl of oatmeal in the mess, mind flipping between what he’d done wrong and how to keep the cooling system from starting up a bunch of other systems it considered important, like the main reactor. That would give them away in a heartbeat and it was all hard wired. He’d have to go outside and cut parts of the system off, which would prevent it from working.

There was an emergency plan for loss of the AI... This did count as an emergency. Maybe actually doing something would free his mind up for a while, as well. He tossed the untouched bowl into the recycler and floated up to the forward airlock, slid into a space suit and sealed it. The suit cinched itself down, fit to the user. For the first time since he’d woken up in the medical bay, a machine accessed his mind, for now just a simple visual overlay of the on board systems.

The precautions were necessary because he was going back to the bridge. The Ehom had been so kind as to use a radiological round, leaving the bridge covered in enriched radioactive materials. This kind of thing was usually used against larger ships, to deny areas to your enemy and step up casualties.

The boots clicked to the floor, allowing him to walk up to the door to the bridge. It was an airlock style door, radiation levels picking up as he stepped into the space between the two doors and spiking to dangerous levels as the inner door opened.

The lights beyond were out, a flicker of his mind turned the suit’s lights on. If the engine room had been a mess, this was a disaster. Every surface was blackened, all of the kinetic buffers were blown out. A large hole in the ceiling had filled with foam in the wake of the slug, the deck below it warped and torn up.

The pit Alex had sat in, literally a divot in the floor surrounded by electronics, was now a lump of burnt crash foam with a roughly Alex shaped hole where Carbon had torn him out of it. Torn most of him out, anyway. There were some bits left down in the bottom where his feet had been, little bones and burnt flesh peeking out at him as he made his way to the front of the bridge. Lots of dried blood, now that he was close to it. He wasn’t sure where it had all come from. There couldn’t have been that much blood in him.

The deck plate he was looking for was easy enough to find, gloved fingers pushed into the recessed latch and popped it up. The little computer core slid up out of its socket, tiny blue and green lights blinking in the glare of the suit lights. Not particularly powerful compared to the AI, but it had a sealed power supply and no cooling requirements.

Alex yanked it up, half the lights winked out and the few systems in the bridge that still worked shut off. He clomped to the door, sealed the radiation back in and ditched the suit in the forward airlock.


He retrieved the same units from his cabin and the med bay, stacked them up on the little table in the mess and wired them together into a cluster. Some engineer had actually made this easy, the necessary wires tucked into a little slot in the back. More of the little lights came on as they found each other and linked to the data store via wireless.

Tucked away in the recesses of the data store, there was a tiny program that would divvy the duties of calculating a safe waveride up between the computer cores. It wasn’t meant for long distances, mostly just to get you out of harms way and send a distress call on the FTL comm. Just a few light seconds of distance, usually.

Alex was feeling pretty good about getting things done and not thinking about Carbon, which made him think about Carbon. He sighed and rubbed his face, second guessing himself again before forcing his mind back to work. The program didn’t even have an icon, the default system gears and wrench spinning slowly on his tablet as the setup crunched a test run.

He watched the clock as it worked. Minutes ticked over, each one slower than the last eating up the better part of an hour as the display crept towards noon. It bipped, displayed a short waveride, just a fraction of a light year.

Alex grimaced at it and the door to the mess slid open. Carbon was there, face softer than before. Her eyes were bloodshot but intent, voice quiet.

“Did you mean it?”

“Huh?”

“In the engine room this morning. Did you mean it?”

Alex thought about it for a second and shrugged. “I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t mean it.”

She seemed to relax at that and pushed herself into the mess. Carbon threaded her arms around him and gripped him tightly, her head resting on his shoulder. She was far stronger than Alex had expected her to be.

“My father and aunt are the only ones left. I do not want to do this any more.”


“What do you mean?” He hated just saying that, but he didn’t know where she was going. Nonetheless, he laid a hand on her shoulder and gave her a tentative hug back.

“I have not seen them since before the disaster and everyone else I cared for has died. I want to stop, to be allowed to grieve, but my race depends on me now. Not just a ship and its crew. I have been...” she trailed off and sighed. “Unwilling to allow anyone else in. I appreciate you more than you know, Alex.”

6 comments:

  1. The pit Alex had sat in, literally a divot in the floor surrounded by electronics, was now a lump of burnt crash foam with a roughly Alex shaped hole where Carbon had torn him out of it. Torn most of him out, anyway. There were some bits left down in the bottom where his feet had been, little bones and burnt flesh peeking out at him as he made his way to the front of the bridge.

    The whole thought of this made me cringe, in a good way, kind of, um, yeah. Only problem with it is personally I would have a morbid curiosity about pieces of myself, like playing with a nail clipping just cut off. Maybe that's just me, but he felt very detached (pardon the horrible pun) from his limbs.

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  2. The little emo kid hiding in the back of my brain wanted them to be estranged for longer, but the rest of me is very pleased about the return hug.

    Also, the foam thing on the bridge was awesomely disgusting. And I probably would have taken a much closer look than Alex. It didn't bother me (in the context of the story) because I had the feeling Alex was more worried about Carbon, and so was I.

    I'll be back for the nitpicking later.

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  3. @Jonathan: Thank you, that's really kind of what I was going for there. I mean, there has to be a reason he spent seven chapters laid up... As for being detached (Hadn't thought of it that way... I got a good chuckle) he was distracted by a few things at the time.

    @J. A. Platt: I went back and forth about leaving them estranged longer. Part of it is that I am impatient. Doesn't hurt that Carbon is so painfully lonely, and it's her hangup that caused her to reject him, and as Lan she's in charge of their mental well being. The Tslao don't do loneliness very well, either... which I will be addressing next week.

    I'm glad Alex's leftovers turned out so popular. As always, looking forward to some nitpicking!

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  4. And I'm back for the nitpicking.

    and had a very thorough methodology planned for testing the graduate thesis he never got to use. This is unclear. He never got to use the thesis, or he never got the use the methodology?

    There had been a silence long enough to be considered awkward. I really enjoyed this, made me laugh and cringe at the same time.

    Alex had not shrugged it off very well. This could probably be cut, we're seeing this without being told.

    So, the suit accesses his mind, but I thought his interface device had been destroyed.

    Also, a very small zero gravity point... showers don't work. NASA tried for a long time, but the water either forms into blobs or it just accumulates in depressions on the astronaut's body.

    There couldn’t have been that much blood in him. His detached denial feels very realistic.

    second guessing himself again after several mentions of him thinking about Carbon I find myself wanting to know what he's thinking. Does he think there was another way to handle it? That he should have ignored what she said?

    as the display creeping towards noon. Crept?

    Ahem... after that hug I need a hug.

    The technical details were interesting and as always I want to see more of these guys interacting. Good stuff.

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  5. As for his methodology... I'm going to rewrite that.

    The suit has it's own non-implanty access system... Which I'm way ahead of myself in my head. That'll be fixed.

    Ooh! I did research before I included the shower. They totally use showers on the ISS, you just have to vacuum up the water. I omitted the part where Alex vacuumed himself dry.

    Hmm. I'll expand upon his ruminations.

    Crept? FFUUUUUU... fixed.

    There is more interaction in the next chapter... Still need a title, though.

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  6. Heh. That's what I get for reading Packing For Mars and thinking she covered everything about space showers. I know what I'll be researching this afternoon.

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