Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Getaway

The ship’s AI borrowed a lot from its pilot. It needed the pilot to know how and where to fly, how to react to the changing universe around it. Deep in Carbon’s brain, it was trying to figure out what that other ship behind it was doing. It was close, too close to safely use the waverider drive.

Carbon had served on a warship. She understood space combat well, and she knew what it looked like when something was coming around with guns hot for a strafing run. The AI knew that now, too.

She had been urging the scoutship forward, sublight engines pushing them along at an achingly slow pace along the planned waveride up until now. But the ship behind them was the enemy and so the safeties switched off and plasma poured through the engine, heating the single drive array to full power.

Behind them, spacetime flexed and the Ehom scow managed to loose a single round before its decks pancaked on each other. The resultant wedge of metal and biological components creased and folded, reactor contents boiling away in space.

This had taken a little more than a second. Long enough for Alex to think that he should probably be strapped in. The engine sounded different, its normal thrum almost sick as he scrambled for his console, cinching the harness down tight.

The display there let him know enough. They were accelerating rapidly and maybe he had cut it a little too close to the star. With a pilot, the AI should be able to correct any deviations quickly enough to keep them on course. They would be out of system in less than a minute and at the globule in less than ten.

Alex was still anxious. A few ships had broken off from the Ehom fleet and were coming around, lining up with their current trajectory - but that’s why he had cut so close to the star. They could pick up a little speed and change course at the same time. It wasn’t perfect, but it would help evade the Ehom.

They were at almost four c when they neared the star, the single engine performance unreasonably sluggish. That would change. Alex caught himself holding his breath with a death grip on the console as his eyes darted between the sensors and their speed and course.

As planned, the Kshlavo dipped further into the star’s gravity well, changing their course and picking up speed rapidly. They skirted the corona, shields protesting but holding. The ship shot away from the star, departing the system seconds later and still accelerating.

The Ehom seemed to have stopped caring, or at least hadn’t pursued them. Good. The engine sounded particularly unhappy now, the previously sick thrum replaced with a slowly rising wail as they cracked 250 c. That probably wasn’t good.

Alex unbuckled himself and went back to Carbon. She looked like most new pilots did on their first waveride, her body twitching randomly and eyes darting around without really seeing. She had a decidedly more panicked air about her, though.

“Alex?” Breathless, a little confused. Definitely worried. “Are you there? Did I see you?”

“I’m here. You’re doing fine. Ehom gave up pursuit.” He settled next to her acceleration chair, careful to not touch her. Input wasn’t sorted out very well for the first few drives, normal contact could be mistaken for sensor data. This could be inconsequential, or it could be very bad. He wasn’t taking chances.

“I am aware. I can see so much.”

“It’s a little overwhelming at first.”

“Yes. It says we should arrive in a few minutes.” She sat there, twitching and breathing slowly.

“About that... the engine sounds a little bit off.”

“Does it?” Her head tilted to the side like she was considering what to have for lunch, then her eyebrows went up. “Oh. It does. It is not going to last much longer.”

“Should we slow down a little?”

“No. The failure will occur at any speed, we will make the best time we can till then.”

“It won’t kill us, right?”

“It will not.”

“Good, that’d be a waste.”

She didn’t say anything. That wasn’t too surprising, he’d lost several conversations when he had been a new pilot. Aside from the ever-increasing wail coming through the door, he actually felt pretty relieved. They’d shaken off the Ehom, were still making good headway and the distress message had sent as planned.

The ship’s alarm went off shortly thereafter, a hollow whump from main engineering a moment later and then the room got very warm. For the first time in forever, gravity tugged Alex to the floor.

Carbon groaned and pulled her AI off her shoulders, the interface sockets folding closed as she tossed it to the ground. “We are here.”

Alex leaned on the chair, legs wobbly despite the implants to ward off bone and muscle loss. “About time.” He smiled and then broke into a grin. “You did great. Didn’t hit anything.”

She didn’t smile as she unlatched her harness and stood with an involuntary stretch. Carbon turned and almost knocked him off his feet with a hug, arms gripping his chest as she shivered. “Am I still me?”

“Yeah.” He gave her a squeeze, “you’re still you.”

Carbon sighed and rested her head against his neck, shoulders slumping. “Do not make me do that again. Ever.”

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