Friday, December 24, 2010

One Step Closer

A modern waverider drive was actually comprised of three parts: the reactor, the engine and the drive array. This was usually lost on people who did not work with them, who were safely ensconced in the assumption that they were wildly complex chunks of technology that made ships go quite fast.

The reactor provided huge amounts of raw, high energy plasma. The engine took that plasma and tweaked it to the precise specifications required by each part of the drive array. The array was where the action really took place. The refined plasma was converted to energy on site, allowing the array to make gravity go all funny, propelling the ship at faster than light speeds.

The waverider drive in the Khshalvo was state of the art Tslao technology. Before the attack, the engine casings were monolithic slabs of oily blue alloy with a hand-hammered finish and extensive decorative engraving. Despite the enormous cost of fitting engines for a scoutship - around a billion total for Human waverider drives - they lacked the caring details applied to the Tslao drives.

Now they were shadows of their former selves, one burnt and gutted for repairs, the other in a thousand pieces waiting to be made whole again.

“This is simple.” They floated next to the parts engine and Carbon handed him a bright red composite brick, its sides slick, two faces covered in a fine mesh. “You reach into the fracture array and find these filament cartridges. They should be solid red, no cracks of any color.”

Alex turned it over in his hands, “solid red, got it.” Bold Tsla text was printed across the sides and a stylized arrow showed flow direction.

“If it is intact, you knock the dust out of it and put it into the good pile.” She gestured to a small stack of unused cartridges tucked away in the fixable engine. “They are quite durable, you should not be able to damage them with your hands alone.”

He nodded along as she spoke. “That’s not bad. How many do we need?”

“We require seventy more of them. There are several hundred in the array, it should be quite easy.”

“Is that all? Better get to work then...”

“Yes. I suspect it will take some time, we should break in three hours.”

“Sounds good to me.” Alex jammed his arm into an access port in the fracture array as she nodded with a warm smile and disappeared around the other side of the engine.

Easy was a relative term. Alex found one easily enough, fingers unable to find any purchase on it. He dug his fingernails in to the slippery composite to try to pull them free to no avail. He had burned maybe twenty minutes and was just about to go looking for a tool to use when he scraped a knuckle open on the latch on top of one of the other sockets. Things moved much more quickly after that.

Alex learned two things that morning. One was that the fracture array produced the black dust that Carbon had told him wasn’t dangerous and it produced it in copious amounts. The second being that Carbon measured time using the Tslao system.

The Tslao used base ten for almost everything. Their day was twenty hours long, split into ten hours of night and day... though their home planet rotated once every twenty seven hours and sixteen minutes by Human measure.

Carbon’s three hours was closer to four hours to him. It made the prospect of the fourteen hour work day she suggested much more daunting. Not that they had much choice right now. At least the filament cartridges were coming out at a reasonable pace and were mostly salvageable.

It was difficult work, for reasons he hadn’t expected. He was always at the wrong angle, arm craned around the wrong direction to get to a latch. His hand would get caught on something he couldn’t see and and he would wrench it or just have bad leverage to wriggle a cartridge free. Little things piled up into a litany of injuries running up his arms, muscles sore from his fingers into his back.

Putting the cartridges back in was much harder though very systematic. Go to one access port, ensure every socket has a cartridge, double check the latches and then seal up the port. Carbon gave him a dead blow hammer to seat them and a weird torque wrench to get the ports closed. Each port he closed felt like progress.

By the end of their fourteen Tslao hour shift - nineteen Human hours - Alex was reasonably sure his arms would fall off sometime in the night and he was going to develop a disease from the dust. For the moment, that didn’t matter. They had finished it. The diagnostics suite was testing every aspect of the engine, thought that was several hours away from completion. If it came back clear, all they had to do was bolt the access panels down and it would be ready to use.

Alex sprawled out over the couch as best he could in zero g, trying to decided if he wanted to eat or just go to sleep when Carbon came in to the mess. She didn’t look nearly as tired as he felt as she planted herself next to him, ankle hooked under the couch. She produced an antibacterial wipe and started to clean the dust from his face.

He waved her off, the motion feeble. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I do not have to, but I would like to.” She smiled and her cerulean eyes met his with a touch of mischief as she wiped his neck clean.

Alex rolled his eyes with a grin as she started to clean his hands. “Alright, I won’t stop you. I don’t think I could right now, anyway.”

She made an affirmative noise and she absolutely looked like she was getting away with something. Alex wasn’t sure if there was some cultural meaning here or if she was just being nice... and he wasn’t going to complain. After the long day, it felt good to be tended to. “You look tired, Alex. Do you want to go to bed?”

“After today? There is nothing I’d like more.”

1 comment:

  1. The chapter felt very technical without being boring. I was afraid when you opened the chapter up the way you did that I was going to get a full course on the engines.

    Good deal though. Speaking of "though" you have an extra t at the end of one:
    "The diagnostics suite was testing every aspect of the engine, thought that was several hours away from completion."