Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vacancy

An intricate dance had started behind the scenes at the scoutship program when the Tslao asked for help. The program - and the rest of the Confed - would love to get a look at Tslao waveride technology. Therein came the problem of actually getting access to those drives. So they struck a deal.

The Tslao would provide the waveriders and part of the build cost, they get whatever that ship finds. The program would provide a pilot since the Tslao pilots would not interface with the AIs. They wouldn’t give up one of their good, proven pilots, though. There was a long list of rejected applicants who were perfectly capable.

Alex Sorenson was one of these pilots. The problem they had with him was rather insignificant. So small that the whole of the rest of his scores almost overwhelmed it. Unfortunately, it was still very important to the people who set up the criteria for acceptance into the program.

It was projected that if he were given the right motivation, he could act impulsively. This was not ideal for someone who was going to be piloting a ship worth something in the neighborhood of three billion dCred into largely uncharted space.

But the Tslao had picked up more than half of the cost of building the Kshlavo. Once the program had gotten their peek at the drives, they lost interest in this particular social experiment. They had no problem handing it over to someone who would, as an example, jump through an alien portal because it felt like the right thing to do at that moment.

By the time his boots hit the hard floor on the other side of the portal, Alex was reasonably sure that was not have been the best of his ideas. Pain stabbed through his chest, knocking the wind out of him. He staggered and fought for air, lungs unwilling to work for entirely too long.

That gave him time to really notice the nuances of the pain. It burned and rather felt like something was attempting to pry his ribcage apart. He fell to his knees and scraped at the chest plate of his suit with a gloved hand, his lungs finally pulling in cool air. He started asking for help in a not so polite manner before he noticed the audio connection to Carbon was off. Perfect.

Alex turned and looked, still clutching at his sternum. Carbon stood there on the other side looking stunned. Not what either of them had expected, apparently. That was something. She snapped out of it and stepped through, one hand already reaching for him as the pain faded down to something manageable.

Now it was Carbon’s turn. He caught the trailing end of a wheeze as their audio reconnected, then a grunt as she wrapped an arm around her chest and set her hand on his helmet to support herself.

“Give it second. Goes away.” Alex waved a hand, still panting.

Carbon hissed something in Tsla, staring through him as her eyes dilated.

“Exactly.” He patted her hand and waited for her to even out.

It was a few moments before she straightened up, still rubbing at her chest plate. “The... What was that?”

“Don’t know. Not yet, anyway.” Alex slid a handheld scanner out of its cradle on his thigh, the screen lighting up as he flipped it open. He picked through the menu for medical scanning and turned it on himself, waving it over his chest. “Oh, well. That’s normal, right?”

He held the scanner up for Carbon to see, a green holographic snapshot of his ribcage with a red sliver sitting on top of his sternum. “That is not normal. Is it?”

“I’ve never had a little chunk of metal embedded in my chest, no. Can’t say I like it.” He cleared the scanner and waved it at Carbon, getting nothing through several layers of shields and armor. “You have medical in that thing?”

“Yes.” She tilted her head and frowned, “I have received one as well.”

“Perfect.” He stood and stretched, thumbing through the scanner’s menu again. “Same atmosphere in here as out there. Same everything.”

“That is unsurprising.” She turned and looked at the portal, another snippet of Tsla escaping her in low tones. It had frosted over again, leaving them stuck there. The arch was different on this side. No symbols, just two rings of pale blue dots surrounding a bar turning at a lazy pace.

“Looks like a clock.” The outer ring had thirty dots, the inner another twelve. As they stood there watching it, one of the inner dots disappeared.

“It appears to be a timer.”

“So it does. Maybe look around a bit? Looks like we got awhile till it opens again.”

“I do not see any further harm in that, if we do not go far.” She didn’t sound particularly pleased as she crossed her arms and looked out of the alcove, the sunlight still bright overhead.

“Great.” Alex reached up and unlatched his faceplate and flipped it up, his helmet retracting and stowing itself away between his shoulder blades. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, beatific smile on his face. “Ahh, grass. Been a long time since I smelled that.”

Carbon sputtered, arms flailing. “Do not do that! There is- We do not know what is here!”

Alex shrugged and wandered out onto the grass, waving the scanner over his shoulder. “Says it’s clean out here. Besides, this is some nice air.”

She growled and followed him out, squinting in the sun. She shouted at him over the comm using her authoritative voice. “I did not authorize you to do that! Put your helmet back on now.”

“Authorize me? I’m not one of your underlings.” Alex grinned, amused and just a little annoyed at her tone as he scanned the horizon.

Carbon didn’t slow down. “It is dangerous, there are too many unknowns yet. We do not even know who created this gateway.”

“Yeah. Do you see any other signs of life here? I mean, a city or something? A tether or some aircraft?” He twisted and took a harder look around them, shaking his head as worry crossed his face. There should have been something other than a little hut in the middle of a field.

“I- uah? Hn.” She ran out of steam when she saw his expression, her eyes focusing on the horizon as well. “There is something wrong...”

Alex nodded, worry turning to confusion and then shock. He sat down in the grass hard, disbelieving what he was seeing. The horizon curved upwards, away from them in all directions. “Oh my god. We’re inside.”

1 comment:

  1. Inside what?! This is one of those times where I wish this was finished so I could skim ahead and figure out what's going on.

    Also, I like the little hint of tension with Carbon ordering he put his helmet back on. Should be interesting when they get back to civilization.

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