Sunday, 23 November 2014

Project: Superluminal 008

    I believe that making the Void Dancer my home was a good idea. My friends, my parents and my sisters thought I was being slightly crazy. Everyone told me that a terranoid needs to plant his roots firmly in the ground. Have a proper house. An unmovable anchor in time and space. I tried pointing out that there were countless cultures out there which didn't do that. I got a response very much along the lines of 'And see where that got them.'
    One needs to know which battles to fight and which leave to go and fuck themselves. This one was one of them. I extracted some grim pleasure for the fact that it was as much a lost cause for the others as it was for me. And I got to zip away in my faster than light home, while they could cultivate their reservations in their immobile gardens for all I cared.
    By now I was getting the impression that the common wisdom was wrong. I could see it in other people. Anchoring themselves in one place they had to return there regularly or risk the memory of it fading. Most people established their museums there too. Again forcing them to go back there and stay there longer and longer if they wanted to maintain their memories. And of course there were also the ghost houses that were pointedly ignored by the adults in nearly every street in the universe where the owner never returned. For children it was of a great adventure to break into one of those houses or at the very least peer through its windows and try to find out what kind of person had left that house behind.
    To my parents this was not cause for alarm but rather a sign of decadence of the common rich. Funny how every social class found a way to describe every other class as lesser as themselves. The common rich where those who had all the money but none of the eduction or who at least lacked the drive for it that the intelligentsia had. For the academic class these people looked suspiciously like the idle poor. Wasting their money on frivolities their jobs usually not involving neither the production of goods nor the advancement of the species. Many of the more abstract artists had a tendency to be common rich and their designs and art often did carry strong resemblance to the works of the driven poor, who despite the lack of encouragement and tools pushed to create their own works and leave their mark on the universe necessity and social propriety be damned.
    So most of the houses that remained dark for decades 'obviously' belonged to someone who had gone common. Bought more houses on more planets and was obviously either far to busy to return home or what would be even worse had forgotten where they came from. Forgetting ones origin was the most horrible fate that could befall any terranoid. Served them right though. At least according to my parents. Well at least they were keeping the tradition of embarrassing their children alive. I bet even during the Golden Age of Expansion the children of the great explorers and founders were mortally shamed by their famous progenitors with a carelessly uttered sentence betraying their narrow-mindedness.
    When your home travels with you, you don't have to worry about losing touch with it. And maybe it was because the Void Dancer was a bit of a derelict when I got her but she grew with me. When I got it it was the ship in which Alejandro Kanno built the foundation of his legend. By now it was mine. Kanno would probably recognize bits and pieces of it, but most of it was changed. I had gone even more retro than it all-ready was adding wood panelling to pretty much every part in the living quarters. getting rid of most of the obvious technological crutches that were installed by Kanno to drag the ship into the present replacing them with modern subatomic machinery that did a better job while being pretty much invisible. While going the other way for the important mechanical parts of the ship.
    I got in touch with a paleo-engineer to rip out most of the added tat from the engine restoring it to its prime condition. Then we spent the next five years slowly rebuilding everything the engine needed to stop being a death-trap to becoming as safe a modern engine this kind of propulsion system would ever become, while and this was really important keeping its character.
    My first stop after boarding the ship was the engine room. This was an old ritual. I'd have to do it after every prolonged stop anyway however when I had the chance I would take the time and do it anyway. There was something about going to the heart of your ship go over through all the checks even, actually especially when it was not really called for. Maybe that was the romantic in me, but that's the way I captain is supposed to treat a ship.
    "It this... is this",Pentyl said greeting me in the engine room, "some form of sculpture?"
    "What exactly?" I asked.
    "Everything?" Pentyl said. "Like those giant tube things lying across the room and the circular thingies going through it, and all those tubes? I am really not sure where to being."
    "That would be the engine." I said rather amused. There was a time when this reaction was getting a bit old. Whenever someone new entered the engine room the reactions usually were similar. But somehow I discovered the funny side of it and had come to enjoy this part.
    "What is the engine?" Pentyl asked the scent of caramel becoming dominant a clear sign that Pentyl was having difficulties getting to grips with a situation.
    "All of it."
    "Even this floppy bendy bits?" she asked one of the flexible tubes started to wave gently surrounded by a light red mist.
    "Yes even that floppy bendy bit. And please don't pull it off as it would fill the room with superheated and poisonous plasma." The tube stopped wobbling and the glow dissipated.
    "Isn't that dangerous for you?" Pentyl asked.
    "No, that tube is specifically designed for that function."
    "But you just told me that it could come off." Pentyl insisted. The smell of caramel becoming stronger. This was slowly turning into one of those conversations.
    "Yes if you yank it around with enough force."
    "So how is that not dangerous?"
    "Because there is no one here that would do that on purpose and it is actually not that easy to take it off. I just wanted to make sure it remained there because I know how curious and more importantly how strong you are."
    "Yes but what if something horrible happens and the thing goes off?" Pentyl said.
    "Horrible like what?"
    "A meteor strike." she said.
    "Most meteors would not get past the ships force field and even if they did they would not break the hull."
    "But some could." Pentyl pointed out.
    "Pentyl, if something actually got past the Void Dancer's shields and hull armour I would have far greater worries than that hose detaching."
    "Hmph." the scent of caramel slowly faded giving again way for the red berries. "A single block design would still be far more secure and efficient."
    I shrugged. "Sure but this ship was built long before single block engines."
    "Hmmm... Well I can't sense past the surface of this monstrosity, so I guess it may be more safe than it looks like... wait. What's this?" This time the glow appeared around a medium sized squat apparatus made of steel.
    "That's a coffee maker." I said.
    "I don't understand."
    "It is a coffee maker. It makes coffee."
    "And nothing else?"
    "No. Just coffee."
    "That's ridiculous. Why would you not use a compiler for your coffee? And what is it doing in the engine room?" Pentyl asked, the smell of caramel slowly increasing again.
    "Well keeping the engine running smoothly requires quite a bit of maintenance so it's good to have decent coffee around."
    "So you keep your self awake doing complex mechanical work by making coffee with an unnecessarily complex machine?"
    "Not the way I would put it. But in a way, yes." I said.
    "What's this then?" a metal nozzle attached to the coffee maker wobbled a bit. "It seems to be some kind of... valve." Pentyl said the last word with disgust tainting her voice.
    "That's for steaming milk."
    "What's milk?"
    I explained to Pently what milk was.
    "That is utterly disgusting..." she said. "And from another species? What is wrong with you organoids." a shiver went through the air.
    "How about letting me check the engine so that we can set into space. If you want to help me you can check the integrity of the hull for me. That might distract you from the milk problem." another shudder went through the room.
    "Gladly." Pentyl said. The red tint quickly vanishing from the room.
    "Oh and Pentyl?"
    "As this ship is a very old design you'll find many valves and air ducts, stuff like that. Be really careful around them some of them lead to really unpleasant places and it might be that not all of them inside the ship are properly hardened."
    There was a moment of silence while the sense of berries became stronger. "Thank you James. I doubt anything inside this ship could seriously harm me but I appreciate your warning."
    And another strange reaction from my alien friend. Sometimes I was not sure if she didn't do that on purpose just to make sure that she was really from an utterly different branch of life that had only the chemical elements with us in common. But then on the other hand life followed similar paths no matter what form it took. In the end communication was always possible because some concepts were shared among all of us. I shrugged letting my mind synch up with the ship. Connecting to the ship flooded me with a warm feeling. The ship was at rest, its systems slowly pulsing in time with those of the port keeping it in a peaceful slumber. I flexed into its structure paying close attention to how everything felt. The hull felt warm and good, the internal ship systems smooth, only the atmosphere was slightly off tinged with a reddish haze with a taste of berries. I suppressed the very slight compulsion to turn on the emergency air-pumps to filter Pentyl out of the air.
    Lastly there was the engine. It felt great. The ships muscles were well toned itching to be used. I paused for a moment waiting to see if there was some subtle itch or feeling that something maybe be not quite right but as far as I could tell the ship was ready to go. I walked over to the control panel of the engine, one of my favourite pieces aboard the ship apart from the helm. I had installed real physical interfaces here. Monitors, a holographic projector and my favourites real mechanical switches. It was maybe childish but there was a deep satisfaction of pushing buttons, reconfiguring a holographic interface and flipping those shiny metal switches. The displays flicked into life filling the room with their many coloured light and the ships drive hummed into life. I loved the sound of the archaic ignition turbine coming to life the transparent parts of the engine starting to glow as the plasma inside of them was starting to flow turning brighter and brighter as it became energised. The ship shuddered. The main engine had woken up replacing the whine of the turbines with a deep murmur that filled the entire ship with a slow rhythmic purr.
    "Pentyl what's your analysis?" I said walking toward the bridge.
    "Your ship may look like it escaped from an archaeological dig but the hull is impressively sturdy. I am rather surprised as it seems to be even better built and sealed than a modern ships hull." Pentyl said.
    "Pure necessity, this type of ships have to withstand more strain than any other type of faster than light craft. Anything else?"

    "No. We are fine. The internal structure isn't as massive as the hull and there are some weak spots that you might want to reinforce one of these days to increase overall hull stability but as long as you are not planning to place your ship on a planets surface and drop asteroids on it we should be fine. Last point the gas circulation system of this ship has a few points were hazardous gasses could mix with your breathing air in case of an error during maintenance."
    "Really?" I had had no idea that the ship had any structural flaws much less possible problems with life support. "You'll have to tell me more about all that in detail once we are on our way."
    I walked through what once a long time ago had been the astrogation room. Housing giant computers allowing the Void Dancer to reorient herself after each of her jumps. Now the large space was the made up the main living quarters. It contained two floors that wee built into it using mostly natural materials. Mostly wood and leather. Materials which were easy to obtain but hard to turn into a finished product as there were hardly any people left who knew how to work with the materials. And why would you if you could get a vastly superior product out of a compiler which would automatically scale and fit what ever you wanted into the room of your choosing.
    When Kira had entered my life this room was still a bit of an experimental disaster zone mostly filled with furniture and objects which I had fit into the space slowly approaching my vision. She liked the general idea but wasn't all that impressed by the general execution. A few weeks later when I returned from work a wooden shelve had started growing up the fore wall. Kira had compiled some historical tools and was starting to teach herself how to get things done properly. At first I was rather busy starting to stop her destroying the fragile order of my personal chaos. In time I gave up the resistance letting myself get carried with the flow of her enthusiasm. Again one of these magical moments of symbiosis. Suddenly the situation clicked turning us from two people with different ideas and perspectives into one team with an unifying vision complementing each others efforts.
    I had not been in this room for a while. Seeing it hurt. This was our room. Everything here was a shared reality that I had crafted with Kira. Everything here reminded me of her. If I turned away from the shelves that had grown first, my eyes feel on the table that she had made out of 'leftovers' of material I had used to make the cockpits new classic style dashboard. On it lay the physical star-maps we had bought together during our travels. In every place we stayed we looked for antiquaries and junk dealers trying to find some beautiful stellar-maps showing the local constellations to track our voyages.

    "These are beautiful?" said Pentyl her form coalescing over the map table into her elegant long limbed travel persona. "May I?", she asked pointing towards a map.

    "Be my guest." I said. Pentyl took a rolled up white map, which she smoothed down into a white square on the table. She activated the map which filled the room with light scanning its surroundings cautiously expanding into the available room filling it with shining stars, glinting galaxies and luminescent nebulas, rushing them past us as the map tried to figure out its position in the universe. It took it a while to discover that it was out of bounds deciding to centre itself showing a scenic view of its contents with a blueish glow growing more intense towards one direction indicating the most probable direction we were to be found according to its own internal calculations. 
    "Tasty." said Pentyl with a hint of surprise savouring the faint radiation of the map. "This is one is spectacular. Where did you get it?"
    "I'm not quite. Let me have a closer look." I touched the physical part of the map to interface with it, manually working myself through its archaic controls to find the first marked location. A sun the colour of ember appeared above the table, it has the form of a sitting bird of prey, wings neatly folded head bowed bright solar eruptions illuminating its eyes. "Ah..." I said memories flooding over me. "The Faclon Star. Kira was on Hercules the ocean planet over there," I pointed towards an aquamarine coloured star near the door where I had entered the room. "She spent half a year there learning the basics of stellar sculpting while looking for a master that could teach her the art."
    "Never heard of that place." Pentyl said.
    "It's pretty much on the other end of the known universe. Very nice place and one of the greatest if you are into any kind of culture. Very strange people in that they don't really differentiate between the idle poor and the working class, full of artists and weirdos. The food there is also great." I always forgot that Nebulans don't eat, Pentyl told me once when I was drunk on expensive booze and she on some kind of exotic radiation that she took it as a compliment, "The weather there is just crazy though. It will rain there one minute only for the sun to pretty much come out of nowhere and shine from a blue sky feigning innocence."

    "We should go there sometime." Pentyl said looking at the blue spot. "Sounds like a great place."
    "Yes it's special place. We should all go there one day." All three of us I thought.
    "But you know where we should go first?"
    "The Sentinel Fortress, your girlfriend won't undisappear all on her own."
    "Are you sure?" I asked feeling a knot tightening in my gut.
    "No. Are you?"
    "No. Let's get going.

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