Thursday, February 3, 2011

No Escape

Carbon leaned in over Alex’s shoulder, her cheek almost resting against his as they watched the screen on the auxiliary control console. She was the first to break the silence. “What is that?”

At any other time Alex would have enjoyed the warmth radiating from her, maybe leaned over for a little bit of contact. Now, he was preoccupied by the object that had appeared 500 kilometers off their starboard side. His lips pulled into a thin line and he grumbled quietly. “I was hoping you’d recognize it.”

She shook her head as annoyance crept into her voice. "I know it is shaped like a ring and that you are the one operating the sensors."

“Well I’m not getting anything useful back from them.” He pointed at the display, getting short from the lack of data he could suss from the object. Almost a billion dCred worth of sensor equipment and it was just short of useless. The primary arrays couldn’t pull any chemical composition. Radar was blank, the ring didn’t even exist to it. LIDAR barely had it, but was mostly just showing dust and shadows.

They didn’t find any shielding or fluctuations to indicate a power source. Polyphase bombardment returned echoes and static. The secondaries didn’t even agree on whether or not it reflected light, even though it showed up on the passive cameras.

This wasn’t how the sensor suite was supposed to react with real, solid objects, even in the globule. There may have been some interference, but nothing that would have caused malfunctions this bad. It’s not like it was even unusual to be unable to scan inside of an object; radiation in space was not your friend and most hulls were resistant to it. The inability to pull something as basic as chemical composition was unsettling, though.

So far, all Alex knew was that it is a huge ring of unidentified material, putty grey in color and a little over a kilometer across - but only a meter thick and barely three deep. Despite appearing insubstantial, it was incredibly dense. Around nine million tons, according to its gravitation pull. The crisp edges and smooth surface pointed towards manufacture rather than natural formation.

The thing that really bothered Alex, and likely Carbon as well, was that it wasn’t there when they arrived. It appears to have materialized out of nowhere. Perhaps using some sort of FTL they were yet unfamiliar with, or a cloaking device that also hid its entire gravitational signature. Neither were particularly settling. At the very least, it didn’t seem to be aggressive towards them.

For that matter, it didn’t seem to be doing anything other than hanging out and rotating slowly.

Carbon stood up and stretched behind him, resting her hands on the back of his chair. She just sounded tense now, which was a step up as far as Alex was concerned. “We should move off from it. I do not like it being so close.”

“Yeah, I don’t either.” There was ample room in the globule, a few extra hundred thousand kilometers in any direction wouldn’t matter as long as they were roughly where the distress call had said they’d be. He took hold of the joysticks and snapped out a clean Immelmann, accelerating away from the object with the sublight engines.

In the back of his mind, he was allowing himself to be a little excited. As unsettling as it was, they’d found an alien object. That was pretty cool, particularly if it didn’t vaporize them or something. It didn’t hurt that finding objects came with a big bonus, even more so if it was usable somehow. Alternately, being shot and gravely injured by the Ehom also merited double pay for his entire tour. He was going to make quite a bit of money when they got back to Earth.

As he pushed the throttle up, he started thinking. Things would be really different once they were off the ship. He did love Carbon, but where would their lives take them? If they just got another scoutship and went back to work, that would be great. That was pretty far out of the realm of possibility though. They’d be in decompress and debrief for at least a month, and ships cycled in and out at a fairly slow pace.

How would he explain his relationship to his parents? What would his brother say?

“It does not seem to be moving.”

“Huh?” Alex’s eyes snapped up to the viewer, focusing on the scope. The little marker that represented the ring was 526 kilometers away now. His looked over to the speed indicator, 130 km/ps and still climbing. He tipped the throttle all the way up, accelerating much more rapidly. By the time he looked back to the scope, the marker had drawn two kilometers closer. That probably wasn’t good.

“That is not working.”

“I know.” His lips pressed into a thin line again and he flipped the viewer back to the ring. It wasn’t rotating anymore. It had stopped, facing them like some giant eye and chasing after them. No visible engines, but it had no trouble accelerating faster than they could.

The chair rocked back gently as she gripped it, leaning in over Alex’s head. “We should go faster.”

He gritted his teeth and swallowed a snide comment about their current lack of waverider drives. “I know. The engines are already spun as far as they’ll go.”

She didn’t have anything to say to that and just leaned in further, pressing her chest to the back of his head. That was distracting. He wanted to be able to enjoy it, and in some way he did - a few months ago she wouldn’t have come in contact with him at all. It was nice to know she trusted him, despite the current situation.

The engines went dead. They didn’t spool down like they should have, the output just shut off. Alex hit the engine restart and fiddled with the controls, to no avail. Maneuvering didn’t work, either. Navigation shut off next. “Aw, shit.”

“What? What has happened?” Carbon’s voice pitched up as her hands moved to his shoulders and gripped them, claws grazing his skin.

“Everything’s just turning off.” He found out that wasn’t accurate as the scope rotated. Something was using their maneuvering thrusters to slow them down and had pitched the nose of the Kshlavo down, the belly of the ship now facing the oncoming ring.

The distance on the range finder dropped rapidly, scant seconds before the ring reached them. Carbon’s arms curling around his neck and her cheek pressed against his was the last thing Alex felt before the counter hit zero.


  1. Wrut-wroh!

    To bad they didn't get the much awaited alone time they wanted. I was hoping they would be able to decompress at least a little before the next emergency.

    For the Edits:
    "..bringing it parallel to the ring"

    I'm not sure that the relation between the objects are clear. In my head, I think of the ship with nose pointed towards the center of the ring and moving to pass through it, but parallel makes me imagine the ring from it's side and the ship's length being parallel to the length of the ring. "Nose now aligned head-on with the empty space at the center of the ring" or some such might clarify.

    130 kps -> 130 km/ps?

    "It wasn’t strange to not be able to scan inside of an object, radiation in space was not your friend and most hulls were resistant to it."

    Hrm. : maybe? or ", as" instead of ,? If I read it fast I don't get the pause in my head that I know you want there.

  2. They'll get some quiet time soon... enough. Evil laugh.

    I tried to make their relation to the ring more clear, I hope it worked.

    km/ps it is.

    I went with the terrifying semicolon. I just didn't like the look of the regular colon here, and adding 'as' didn't seem to slow me down enough. I think use of a semicolon might mean I'm writing literature now, too.