Thursday, October 21, 2010

Beneath the Surface

Alex slept better than he had in some time that night, despite the fact that there was nothing working in his cabin. The computer core he had re-purposed to crunch a waveride had run everything in it, from lights to the life support module.

So, he left the door open and slept just fine in the gentle red glow of the corridor. Carbon had fussed over that, said it wasn’t safe, but the ship's documentation indicated otherwise: as long as the passageway had life support running, the ship would produce enough oxygen for two people. He would be fine.

The door controls on the head said that it was unoccupied. He knocked anyway, got no response and set about his morning routine. Shower and shave, vacuum himself dry, dress. The standard issue clothing for him included two pair of black cargo shorts which he'd never taken out of the drawer before today. He opted for those knowing that he was going to be doing manual labor on a cold engine - that is to say, one that was fully powered down and discharged.

He tossed a gray CPP t-shirt on over that and what were effectively running shoes. He'd never seen Carbon wearing anything other than her encounter suit or jumpsuit, but she apparently hadn't been issued the same vacuum-packed brick of clothing designed for humans that he had. That made sense. Their upper body was basically the same, but they had those weird, thin digitigrade legs.

Carbon was already in the mess. She stuck a spoon loaded with pink-orange breakfast mash into her mouth, glanced up at him and choked on it, eyes wide with surprise and antenna whipped up over the top of her head. It did a good job at making her appear taller, if only for an instant.

“Are you alright?” Alex paused there in the doorway, startled at her reaction.

“Yes.” She coughed, face squeezed tight as she tried to get food out of her trachea.

“Okay, good.” He edged around her to the dispenser and dialed in his usual morning oatmeal.

“I have determined-” Carbon’s voice tightened as she spoke before cutting herself off to cough again and sneeze. Her eyes rolled and she got an exasperated look about her before she continued, “There is a part I need you to free.”

The dispenser dinged, he retrieved his oatmeal and sat, bowl clicking down against the table. “Sounds good, what do I do?”

“I will show you when we get there,” she paused and fought another sneeze. “Your height should give you better leverage on it.”

He shrugged and nodded, setting into his oatmeal. It was as bland as always, mildly sweetened and fibrous. They were both done in a few minutes, Carbon leading the way to the engine they were scavenging for parts, up near the top where she had been working the previous day.

“This part, with the tubes?” She leaned into the engine and tapped a very solid looking box about the size of a pillow with a half-dozen stout tubes leading in and out of it. There were a dozen of the boxes in a neat row running down the mounting plate. “It is a plasma lock. I need you to pry the c-clips off the fittings and unhook the tubing.”

“Sounds easy enough. Anything else I need to know?”

“They require some force, you will need this.” She pulled a pry-bar about as long as she was tall out of the mess of engine parts and pressed it into his hands. With that, she pushed up and disappeared over the top of the engine.

It was easy enough to get the pry-bar into place, the c-clips were notched to take the bar, and they did require a large amount of force. Alex found quickly that if you let off the pressure on the pry-bar, the clip would slip back down and any work would be gone in an instant.

The first one came off after almost an hour of pushing, re-setting the bar to better angles and generally flailing around. It came off with some force, ejected from the engine and ricocheting off the wall and back into the engine. Alex lost where it went, but it didn’t matter.

The next clip only took a half hour, but the work was mindless. He had plenty of time to think and found his mind wandering to the memory Carbon had shown him. Part of it was that her father seemed unimaginably tall, which made sense considering she had been a child at the time. It still threw him off.

The bigger part was the little details. Things he was starting to notice now that he wasn’t experiencing the memory for the first time. They - Carbon and her father - had the same coloration, the deep blue-black with pale blue striping at the shoulders. Alex had inadvertently seen Carbon's coloration and patterns when he had regained consciousness after the Ehom attack. The stripes continued down her back and sides, over her hips and legs. Alex assumed it to be a leftover from their evolution, when camouflage would have been useful.

The thing that had bothered him the most had been the vehicles parked on the rise behind them. A glossy black sedan, the wheels stretched out in front of and behind the cabin in a configuration that was common enough on human vehicles that it looked familiar. The sides bulged out, the creases in the body work glowed. Armored and shielded.

The second one was more of the same, just larger. There was a dome atop it, and a slender barrel mounted behind that tracked the sky slowly in the few seconds she had looked at it. Anti-air laser, he was sure of that. Whoever her father was, he was probably a lot more important than just a mineral commodity trader.

The fifth clip popped off after just a few minutes of work, he was now able to finesse them a bit to get the bar into a better position. The final clip was almost easy, despite having to jam the pry-bar to his shoulder and pushing off the wall, effectively standing up to pull it free. His shoulders hurt from the bar, and his legs were starting to ache already. At least he was done with this.

Alex was about to go looking for Carbon before he realized she was already there. Sort of. She was down at the forward end of the engine by the floor, partially hidden and watching him work. The look in her eyes surprised him as they made contact, hungry in a way that made him decidedly uncomfortable before they flickered over to something more composed.

“It’s done, just need to get the tubes off.”

“So it is.” Carbon pushed off the floor towards him, stopping herself with a hand on his shoulder before reaching into the engine and wriggling the tubing free of their fittings. She produced a screw driver from one of the many pockets on her jumpsuit, quickly freeing the plasma lock from its mounting plate, flipping it over and unscrewing a tiny panel on the back and extracting a glittery chip no bigger than his thumbnail from it.

She held it up in the light and smiled, “perfect.”

Alex's brow furrowed. All that, for a sliver of material. "So what is it?"

"High temperature resistant programmable control chip." She said it like he should have known what it was.

"Of course. What next?"

She looked at him with a faint touch of mischief in her eye. "My reserve of these was destroyed," Carbon patted him on the shoulder and tilted her head at the remaining plasma locks. "Do the rest of them."


  1. The very last line has me slightly confuzzled, did she show him what she need to get and then tell him to get it, or were there more hoses/clamps that he needed to take off, because i thought he was done with that.

    Otherwise another good chapter.

  2. Curses. Way up at like 1/3rd of the way through I mention there is a whole row of those things. Should have done it later or reminded the reader about them.

    Thank you!

  3. Things are taking an interesting turn here. I almost hope nothing changes because I like their relationship so much now. But a story with no change isn't much of a story.

    Now that you have me questioning things I'll get to the notes.

    it was in the documentation. the documentation for what? The ship? The computer core?

    vacuum himself dry Ha! I love that you added that bit about zero g showers.

    one that has been fully powered down and discharged tense shift here

    he opted for ship standard black cargo shorts and a gray CPP t-shirt. This confused me a little. First, I'll admit I couldn't remember what he used to wear before he got hurt. Then, when it's described as 'standard' Carbon's reaction seems strange. Wouldn't she have seen him like this before?

    But I do love that he made her choke. Either he's got nice legs or he's so pale he blinded her.

    crossed his arms and waited for it to finish.
    could probably be cut unless you want to imply he isn't facing her and then I'd make it more explicit.

    the parts engine are they salvaging the engine for parts?

    There was a row of them running down the side of the mounting plate. I got confused about the number of boxes he needed to tackle too. This sentence could be talking about the tubes, not the boxes.

    and they did require no small amount of force. I know he's saying it took a lot of force, but with a negative in the phrase I had to read it twice to get it.

    The bigger part were the little details he was starting to notice now that he wasn’t surprised. the flow is strange here, could be two sentences. Maybe 'The bigger part was the little details. The things he hadn't noticed when he was experiencing the memory.'

    He father Her

    had been wearing a sleeveless shirt, though Alex had inadvertently seen the rest of her coloration when he had regained consciousness after the attack. this sentence is a little confusing where it talks about both father and daughter. Maybe, '...had been wearing a sleeveless shirt, but Alex knew the marks continued. He had inadvertently seen them on Carbon when he had regained consciousness after the attack.'

    I like the details about her family Alex is learning through this. Very interesting.

    hungry in a way that made him consider hiding I'm not sure what to make of this. It's not necessarily a bad ambiguity, but I'm not sure if she wants to eat him or... well.

    extracting a glittery chip What is this? What's it for? Should I know already?

    Did I mention that I love her spit-take (during which I for some reason picture her antennae whipping around)? And Alex's relative cluelessness was pretty great too. I also like the idea that he can remember so much of what she showed him. Interesting if that works both ways.

  4. Alright, I updated the story here because I was starting to feel that some parts were fundamentally broken... Everyone seems to have had problems with a lot of the same things.

    Expanded on a lot of things. Alex's clothes, the engine room stuff, Tslao anatomy... Left Carbon's hunger ambiguous, though hopefully refined his reaction to it a little.

    Her antennae now do stuff during her spit-take as well! As far as remembering memories, it's sort of like watching a movie in your head. The better you pay attention, the more you remember. More of that will come up before too long, I'm sure...