Friday, February 11, 2011

Open House

Alex squeezed his eyes shut, knees locked and hips jammed against the backrest. He gripped the control sticks so hard his knuckles were white and adrenaline shot through him in preparation for an impact.

Nothing happened. There was no catastrophic impact. The ring was a kilometer across. There was ample space for it to pass harmlessly around the ship. It apparently hadn’t tried to vaporize them, either. There might have been a little jolt, but he wasn’t sure. That could have just been from Carbon’s arms around his neck tightening from loving embrace to death grip.

Alex choked out a noise as his eyes rolled towards her. With her cheek even more firmly pressed to his head, all he could see was the dark tip of her nose, so close that it wouldn’t come in to focus. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, rapid but constricted. Carbon didn’t seem to be inclined to let go of him just yet and as it turned out, she was really damn strong.

He tried again, this strangled sound a little more panicked as his fingers refused to heed his command to release the controls. It seemed to take forever, arms starting to shake from the adrenaline before his fingers finally unwound and he tugged on the limbs encircling his neck. Carbon gave a start and quickly let go, standing back up behind him.

Her hands smoothed his hair, worry in her voice. “I am sorry, did I do you harm?”

Alex sucked in a breath of sweet air and shook his head with a weak laugh and a glance over his shoulder. “No, I’m fine. Just surp-” His eyes darted back to the screen. ”Whoa. We are not in Kansas anymore.”

The ship was inside. The ring or one very much like it was embedded at the apex of a massive dome. For a moment they could still clearly see the Thackeray’s Globule they had been in through the ring. Their view of the globule seemed to frost over and then disappeared, leaving nothing but the unlit dome just beyond the ring.

“Is that-” Carbon leaned against him in that distracting manner again. “Were we teleported?”

He leaned back against her and enjoyed the closeness. “Maybe, never been teleported before. Shoulda been more sparkles, I think. Wormhole?”

“No one has successfully stabilized a wormhole that large. Not for that long, either.”

“You remember that time anyone created teleportation technology before?”

“You have a point.”

The scanners had the same problems detecting this ring as the one in the globule. They had no problem with the dome itself. It was a dense titanium-ceramic material, just about twenty kilometers in diameter and less than half as high. It was ribbed with kilometer long ribbons of light stretching out from the center, leaving the entire floor well lit.

A half dozen walkways radiated from the center one side crenulated and the other smooth, running all the way to the edge of the dome. Channels carved out between them got progressively deeper as they widened. The Kshlavo was heading towards one of the depressions, nice and slow. They were about to land.

Carbon started to pet him again, hands shaking gently. “I do not recognized this style of building.”

“Yeah, same here.” It just didn’t feel Human to him, and Tslao designs usually appeared more organic. Something built by the tkt was right out, they would never make an object with this much empty space. It could have been Ehom, but there was no biotech anywhere.

The ship rocked gently as it touched down, something it hadn’t been explicitly designed to do. The armor was specced high enough to safely support the weight, but this did not make him feel any better about having an unknown force land his ship anywhere.

Alex checked the scanners again and his brow furrowed. “Local gravity is .97 gees. Atmosphere is 77 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen and the usual trace elements. No biological, chemical agents or radiation. Pressure is at one 103 kilopascal and it is a chilly 10 Celsius. Looks like someone was expecting us.”

Carbon stopped petting him and slipped her arms around his shoulders, chin tapping his head as she nodded. “It appears so. Can we leave?”

“I’m still locked out of navigation. Might be able to get a workaround in place...” His jaw worked as he thought about their options. “I don’t know. Do we even have the gear to do that?”

“Operating the primary thrusters manually will not be an issue. The maneuvering thrusters and gravity plates will be far more difficult to control.”

“That’s what I thought. Even if we could get up there, we don’t know how to turn that thing back on. There’s always this.” Alex brought up a live feed from the forward camera. A hundred meters away there was a single small building sitting in the center of the floor. Arches covered it, each pointing down a radial path towards the outer wall of the dome. The one facing them was lit from within by a faint blue-green glow.

“It feels familiar. I do not like that.”

“That is kind of creeping me out, too. It’s the only thing in here that might house some sort of... anything. The walls are smooth, the lights don’t even appear to have any sort of seam or gap.”

“I do not like any of this.”

“I’m not loving this either, but I think we should check it out. Not like we’re going anywhere else right now.”

Carbon straightened up behind him and grumbled. “No. We will- We will begin work circumventing the navigation system. I am reasonably sure we can use the primary thrusters to cut our way out, with modifications.”

Alex swiveled around in the seat, eyebrows raised. “Are you serious? We don’t know how thick the walls are or what’s on the other side of them. We don’t even know where we are.”

She leveled a finger at him, eyes narrow and ears low. “Do you have a better idea?”

“Let’s just go take a look at the structure. There is not a single other damn thing out there. It’d be foolish to go through all that trouble if we could just go flip a switch.”

She started to reply and stopped, lips pursed. Then she started again, finger jutting forward a little more aggressively this time before she stopped again. Carbon considered it for a few more seconds before she replied. “We will inspect the structure, nothing more. Then we will return to the ship. We should still wear protective equipment.”

“Sounds fine. I’d get cold anyway.” Alex slipped out of the chair and stretched before heading for the door.

She followed him out, stopping at her bunk as Alex continued up the passageway. She heaved a dramatic sigh. “I will meet you at the forward airlock shortly.”

He gave her a wave and what may have been a confidant smile. “See you there.”

Alex got a cool response, which didn’t surprise him considering the circumstances. That was fine. They would just go check out the light, hopefully find something that would help them out and then leave. Be back where they’re supposed to be in time for the pickup.

Once in the airlock, he stepped out of his deck shoes and began the process of slipping into a space suit. It was extremely good with hostile environments, but it still felt like overkill. It was the standard off-white and trimmed with flexible armor patches covering the joints and various other soft spots. The suit’s neural wreath embedded in the helmet came on and lit his vision up with a HUD, green across the board.

He didn’t have to wait long. Carbon popped in and hit the inner door lock, at first glance wearing an encounter suit like she had when they’d first started working on board. Alex realized quickly that it wasn’t the same at all.

Carbon’s antenna were slicked back into interface sockets and the base layer was similar - a black, form fitting body suit, though this appeared to be a thicker material. The thin, flexible armor was replaced by heavier rigid armor that covered nearly her entire body. The breastplate was ornately carved, the design flowing onto her shoulders and repeated over her hips.

It looked like combat armor, really. The gentle bulges above each major joint indicated a strength booster. Layers of shield emitters pulsed gently around the armor, providing further protection, the innermost was airtight and covering just her head in lieu of a helmet.

The pistol and swords at her hip were really what sealed it. There were ways to render every sort of man-portable weapon useless, from plasma burners to good old fashioned bullets. A good quality sword or axe would ruin just about anyone’s day and there wasn’t much they could do to stop it, short of adding more armor. There was also a bit of an intimidation factor.

Alex was most surprised at how feminine a shape she managed to retain. The comm light went yellow and green a moment later as the connection formed. At this range, the audio was crystal clear. “Where did you get that?”

“It was a gift.” Like that was supposed to sufficiently explain everything. She looked him over and shuddered when her gaze lingered on his helmet. “I do not understand your willingness to put your head in a container.”

“Yeah, well. My going away gift was a box of plastic bricks. You’re on point.”

She shrugged past him and keyed the outer door. It opened almost immediately, the walkway a short jump down. Carbon went out, Alex following a moment later. The dome felt larger and even more empty in person.

The ground was light gray, edged with a dull gold color, every surface Alex could see textured with whorls and vortices. They walked to the building in silence, Carbon covering the building with what seemed like a ridiculously small pistol. Apprehension and curiosity built in Alex with each step. She stopped at the edge of the arch and waved at him to fall in behind her. The arch was easily twice her height and several times wider than that. She took cover and leaned in for a quick look.

Carbon moved across the open space, torso rotating to scan the interior as she went. She holstered the gun after reaching the far side of the arch. “Clear.”

They stepped into the building, Alex’s eyes adjusted to the dark interior and quickly found the source of the glow. A second, smaller arch was lit up like day. The scene on the other side was obscured by what appeared to be frosted glass, but it looked like tall green grass and blue sky lay just beyond.

Alex walked up to the arch touched the frosted surface, slick beneath his gloves before Carbon pulled his arm back with a very negative sound. A series of glyphs pulsed to life around the edges, four matching symbols on each side and a strange pattern of hashmarks below them, one set blue and the other red. They all dimmed with the exception of a single blue glyph. It was bright, sharp and felt violent.

“Hey, let me see one of those swords?”

Carbon had reached the same conclusion, the shorter of the two halfway out of its scabbard by the time he’d finished asking. The moment the handle rested in his glove, the same sharp glyph lit up on the red side. When he handed it back, it went away.

“No weapons?”

“That is what I’m thinking. This looks like the first... er, portal we went through. The way it’s frosted over.”

“The Kshlavo has no weapons.”

“But one of us does.”

Carbon’s curiosity was piqued by this. She unclipped the swords and pistol, laying them on the ground at her feet. The glyph faded from ‘her’ side and the frost melted, leaving the archway clear.

The other side may well have been a park. Long grass waved in the bright noonday sun below a cloudless pale blue sky. Alex reached out and his fingers passed through where the frost used to be. He looked over his shoulder at Carbon with a grin. “What do you think? Should we give it a try?”


  1. For some reason this chapter made me think of the space jockey ship in the first Alien movie. When it was just a matte painting before they got inside and it was more beautiful than ominous.

    Almost as an afterthought, Alex braced himself against his chair as best he could. You could probably cut this, the description of him bracing himself is very clear and the lack of any danger is funny without explanation.

    Carbon didn’t seem to be inclined to let go of him just yet and as it turns out, she was really damn strong. Tense shift, turns should be turned.

    I have to head out, so more comments later. Can't wait to see what's in the tall grass.

  2. Unlike the little dot that represented it on the scope - the same size as the little dot that represented their ship - the ring was a kilometer across. This could be cut to, 'The ring was a kilometer across.' Mentioning the scope had me trying to figure out the significance of visualizing the two objects as dots instead of focusing on Alex's overreaction.

    This whole paragraph is great, but I love the detail in this line: With her cheek even more firmly pressed to his head, all he could see was the dark tip of her nose, so close that it wouldn’t come in to focus.

    The ship was inside and preparing to land. This really confused me, given that the ring is only supposed to be 3 meters deep. How are they inside it if they only passed through the empty center?

    Its armor was specced high enough to safely support the ship, but this did not make the situation feel any better. I like that the ship isn't designed to land. 'The situation' is a little vague, maybe something like, 'but this didn't make him feel any better about an unknown force landing the ship'.

    Shoulda been more sparkles, I think. Ha!

    Given our lack of options and the possibility of intent in the atmosphere, I feel that I must. Carbon is giving in pretty easily. They have been, in essence, captured by an unknown entity/ring. I was expecting more caution from both of them.

    About Caron's outfit... two questions. Swords (as in why)? Also, no respirator/breathing apparatus (do they really trust the conditions outside)?

    “I do not understand your willingness to put your head in a container.” This struck me as very funny, not sure why.

    Back to Carbon's weapons. Does she have one drawn as they approach the structure? I would imagine she does if she's on point, but isn't described as holding either the pistol or a sword.

    Very interesting! I'm off to read the next one.

  3. Whew. Updated.

    All the stuff: fixed. I hope. Carbon is much more recalcitrant now and hopefully her armor/weapons are more sensical. Loads of other little fixes and adjustments, too.

    For some reason this chapter made me think of the space jockey ship in the first Alien movie. Most flattering comparison, ever. Thank you!