Friday, 28 November 2014

Project: Superluminal 011

    I opened the door leading to the bridge. In front of me a forest path stretched into infinity. I took a step outside stretching out my hand. This part was easy. I had gone inter faster than light often enough that this place had solidified. It was always this path in the forest. To my left was always the soft polished surface of the wooden ledge of the bridges wall. The forest cleared, the trees retreating making space for the stations of the the bridge. The only thing that remained of the forest was the light illuminating the room that had the characteristic shadow and light pattern of the summer sun shining through a forest canopy.
    "Pentyl?" I said. As I let go of the ledge moving into the room my hand brushed against Kira's. A wave of emotion crashed over me as I turned around to face her. As I turned the room burst into a fine mist of particles and me with it.
    This was new. I have jumped past the light barrier hundreds of times. The one thing that always stays the same, at least for me, is my body. Now however my body was gone. I was just some strange presence in an even stranger space. I was still alive. Probably. At least I very much hoped so. I had no idea how death would be affected by being in superluminal space. I had to take a moment. I tried taking a deep breath, but there I had no lungs with which to breath with. Again I felt a feeling of panic rising. No. The panic wasn't rising. It was starting to crush me, there was pressure everywhere. I felt slowly heating up, like blushing but with my entire being. Blushing that was turning rapidly into painful heat.
    "James?" The panicked voice of Pentyl.
    I said 'yes'. But without a voice.
    "Thank the stars you're still alive!" Pentyl said. "I thought I had lost you when you ship suddenly exploded."
    I was suddenly not so sure about being alive any more. 'When did my ship explode?' I asked with no voice.
    "When you tried to push your ship past the light barrier. It was all so fast. First you were there in the cockpit asking me if I had ever travelled in a ship that actually went faster than light and then everything exploded and I was out here in space."
    That wasn't right. 'We didn't exploded, we actually went past the light barrier. Besides if we did explode during acceleration were is the debris of the ship and much more important where is Saint Saviour.' I asked trying to point towards the darkness surrounding us. Instead of pointing, I had no arms I... expanded?
    "But we aren't on your ship any more." said Pentyl.
    I contracted. I shifted. I had lost track of my body because I had turned gaseous. 'Pentyl.' I communicated. 'Everything is fine. We past the light barrier, reality broke and you were caught off-guard by that. We are both fine.'
    "Oh really? Why are we floating in space then?" she said.
    'We are not floating in space. Also look around you. Can you see my body anywhere?' How did I speak anyway? I wasn't making any sounds.
    "Now that you mention it... No. But I can hear you and you are present right here in... oh." Pentyl paused. "Ooooooh..." After another pause. "You do make a fine Nebulan, I have to say."
    'Many thanks, but this is almost all you. Right now you are filling out the holes in reality caused by us going faster than light. I... got distracted when I went looking for you and I lost grip on my version of reality so I was dragged into yours. I feel weird.'
    "That is the feeling of freedom." Pentyl said. "No need for the confines of those ridiculous bodies of yours. You finally get to stretch your molecules James. Dosen't it feel great?"
    'It certainly feels unlike anything I have ever experienced.' I conceded. 'Before today I did not know that you could be pushed into being an alien species like this. But as fascinating as this is, we have to return to the ship as fast possible. While it isn't very pressing we need to get back to the ship, staying here is dangerous.'
    "If we are still on the ship," said Pentyl who I felt shifting turning her attention to her surroundings. "how are we in danger."
    'Well first of all there is the little problem that it is very hard to pilot a ship that has shifted from your perception. What is worse though is that this reality here,' I made an expansive movement pointing out the space around us, 'has not appeared but flows out of your mind. So the things that you are carrying with you, the good and the bad, will find a way into this reality.'
    "I think I understand. Are there particular thoughts that are especially likely to break through?" Pentyl said sounding a little bit too nonchalant.
    'Hard to say. It's the things that are dominating you unconscious mind, which are not always the things you think they are and sometimes you are confronted with the signifiers your mind uses to represent them. When I am stressed for to long I tend to dream of spiders which are everywhere in my home blocking my way and being generally repugnant. I once had a trip that might have been my last and may have ended with me joining the idle poor. That one pulled the spiders right out of my nightmares and put them all over the ship. That was one fucking horror trip I can tell you that.'
    "I'm relaxed. So that shouldn't be much of a problem. How do we get out of here then?" Pentyl asked.
    'Well if you are calm it is actually easy, even if it might take you a few attempts. First of all the ship is still there and despite reality being a bit cracked, we are still inside the Void Dancer. So what you do first is concentrate on your surroundings and then try to find a place somewhere in the corner of your eye... we on the edge of your senses that you can connect with the ship. The move slowly towards it and try to find the real bits. Once you do they will pretty much crystallise into being. After that it gets progressively easy until you are back in reality with only small flavourings of what your mind has brought into existence.'
    "But there is nothing here. This is just open space."
    'Not really. When you pulled me out of my version of things I was on the bridge. I have hardly moved, so I would say that at least the part of you who is talking to me is on the bridge with me.'
    "I see the logic in what you say but I fail to feel it." Pentyl said her frustration colouring the air.
    'Right. First of all have look around. What ever we are seeing is something that comes from your mind. Look if you can find some points that look familiar to you."
    I waited for a while. I felt Pentyl shifting around. Slowly expanding. It was at that point that I realised that I was intermingling with her. Was this how Nebulans hung out together?
    "This does seem familiar. This is not place I know but I do fell like I've been here before...."
    'That's normal. Usually what you see carries the flavour of a place you know but it shows it in a strange new form."
    "I don't dream." Pentyl said.
    'Oh, right. Well now you have an idea how dreaming feels like.' I said.
    "It's strange and kind of interesting. This feels a lot like home."
    'Home?' I asked. Everyone has a home, it just seemed a bit strange when thinking about a Nebulan's home as they just floated in open space.
    "Yes the constellations feel familiar so does the the background radiation. It all looks wrong but it does feel right." Pentyl said.
    'Perfectly normal. Concentrate on that feeling. That familiarity will help you find yourself in this space. Once you've done that you just have to concentrate on everything that is wrong about it. That will help you break the reality of the situation.'
    "OK. I can do that. The stars are all wrong. And the radiation is far to warm. This is like a blend of all the best parts of my home."
    'So this can't be your home, right?'
    'OK now remember you are aboard the Void Dancer.' I said. I still wondered how I was doing that without vocal cords or lungs.
    "Never forgot about that."
    'Yes but now really concentrate on that. You are not in open space but inside a space-ship. It is hermetically sealed. You can't simply float into outer space just like that. You are surrounded by alloy walls. Try to feel them.'
    Pentyl shivered and started to compress. In the open space around us ships jumped out of hyper-space materialising around us.
    'Pentyl? What's happening.'
    "They found us! We have to flee James!"
    'What? Who found us?'
    "The Zohkin Mining ships. They found us James. We need to get out of her before its to late!" there was a hot streak of panic filling Pentyl's voice. Without warning the scenery changed. I felt crushing pressure. I was a in a dark space that crushed me from all sides. The pain was unbearable. There was one small spot where I could decompress, escape the pain... "No." Pentyl shouted. But it was to late a part of me was already rushing towards freedom. Suddenly the part of me that was escaping ignited. I screamed.
    "James. Try to hold together." Pentyl screamed, I felt her flowing around me finding the spaces where she could still flow through me, I felt her gripping me trying to keep me in place. but all it did was slow my descent into the fire down.
    'What's happening Pentyl? What the fuck is this place?'
    "We are in a gas mining station James. You need to stay as compressed as you can. It's your only chance to survive!"
    'Pentyl.' I said trying to force my self to appear as calm as possible. "We are not on a mining station." I pressed through clenched teeth. Teeth. My body! "We are aboard the Void dancer. I can actually hear your voice." I could hear my own voice again. "What ever this colony is supposed to represent is not real. Do you hear me."
    "It's real." Pentyl said. "'Stay with me. I can protect you."
    "Pentyl. This isn't real. Remember how we went pas the light barrier. Even if we did explode there are no gas mining stations around for millions of miles around Saint Saviour."
    "No mining." she said.
    "No mining. The walls you feel are those of my ship. Also I can hear you so must be in the same room as me. You have compressed yourself through your containment unit. We are on the bridge." my body slowly faded into my consciousness again. I took a few step forwards until I reached resistance. A console probably communications.
    "I am on the bridge talking to you only with my voice. Listen to it. It will lead you back."
    "Yes. I can hear you. Those are your strange organoid noises you make to communicate." Pentyl said.
    "Right and those are the usually charming words you use to describe us organoids. Also even if there was a gas mine nearby they would never try to refine you Pentyl. The war is long over."
    "The war." Pentyl said with a voice dripping with grief.
    "Long gone. It's been over a thousand years. It had been over long before I was born." I felt around and found a chair. I sat down. That helped. Now I had two anchor points to re-establish reality. My own body and an outside object. Slowly the bridge started to fade into view again, replacing the scalding dark reality of where ever we had been before.
    I interfaced with the ship's systems and accessed the light controls. Slowing turning up the light into a blinding flame blue.
    "Look how the light changes. That's me doing it. It's not dark in here. It is actually really bright. Can you see the light Pentyl?2 I asked.
    "Yes." Pentyl's voice started to sound more relaxed. "Yes I can see it. I can feel the floor... and the walls."
    I let the chair turn slowly. No sudden movement that might shatter reality again. Pentyl was behind me. She was completely deformed resembling a burning stick figure, he limbs only an inch or so wide while her gaseous body was radiating light and heat.
    "Pentyl you are over-compressing. There is enough space in here for you. Expand. You are safe here." I said.
    Slowly Pentyl's body began to take its normal flow again the glow subsiding.
    "I can see you. I can see the bridge." she said.
    "I'm glad to hear that. From now on you need to concentrate on what's real every once in a while. There will be things that will distract you or things that may frighten you but you need to remain calm. Nothing in this ship has changed since we took off from the spoke. Things may appear strange but they aren’t really. OK?"
    Once I was sure that Pentyl had calmed down I went over to the navigation console to check out current course. Our little excursion had taken a day we had just cleared Hadalag and where no blasting towards the next greater galaxy cluster. If I could keep Pentyl calm that would give me a couple of days to train her on the fine art of not going insane during faster than light travel.
    Pentyl remained calm, she got herself under control very quickly making me slightly envious as it had taken me months to get used to true faster than light travel. Her training still took most of the time of our voyage which made the time fly. Pentyl was reaching the stage where she could very gently push reality towards a shape that she wanted it to take, one of the most advanced techniques when we reached our destination.
    The last day before arrival we both spent with calculations for the breaking process. While it was relatively easy to stop near ones target I intended to get to stop right next to it. Inexperienced faster than light travellers would be happy to stop next to the solar system they were gunning for. I was a professional with a reputation to consider. I was going to slow down and go into a wide orbit around my intended target. While this took a lot of preparation that did ensure that it would look effortless and easy. There are some spectators that you want to impress.

    The Void Dancer turned around her aft pointing into the direction we were heading when I activated the engines again pushing them to their very limit and activating both the ships afterburners and repulsion fields. The Void Dancer's deceleration was so massive that the inertial dampers could not completely counteract it. I was pushed deep into my command chair, the only reason I did not black out was because of the high grade medical equipment I had laced into my atomic structure over the years. Poor Pentyl was crushed against the aft walls of the ship while she was pushing her containment field to its limits cursing in several languages not all of them acoustic.
    The manoeuvre worked as we were both crushed to the side as the Void Dancer swung into orbit according to plan.
    "Captain James Steiner Gutierrez. It's been a while." said the Sentinel fortress the red giant sun dawning on its angular horizon. "It's been to long. It's good to see you again."
    "It's good to see you again too Sentinel." I said adjusting our course. The Void Dancer was now in a stable orbit against around the Sentinel Fortress, not quite an easy task as the fortress was the size of a small planet but had the shape of two pyramids joined at their bases giving it a somewhat exotic field of gravity.
    "Where's Kira?" the Sentinel asked.
    "She... she's gone. I need your help." I said.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Project: Superluminal 010

    Of all physical forces light is the biggest knobhead. Photons effortlessly jump from their point of origin to light-speed, just like that. Not happy to be the fastest particle in the Universe they jealously guard their privilege against everyone else setting a hard boundary against anyone trying to get past it. One may approach its fabled speed if enough effort is shown. Equalling the speed of light let alone surpassing it is a natural taboo though that must not be broken.
    "Ye shall have no speed faster than mine." Light said.
    All the species that ever reached beyond their star of origin and went on to prosper in outer space challenged that law. Every single one of them found ways around the hard limit. Usually by cheating. That way the crafty species got to expand into the universe while light maintained its dignity.
    However there seems to be almost always someone who doesn't take no for an answer. Most species will have individuals among them who will rebel against the light and try not to side-step this one fundamental law but will go out of their way to break it. Every once in a while they succeed. If advanced technology is paired with a strong will prepared to repeatedly bash against the wall of light it can be broken.
    True faster than light travel is the fastest, the most flexible form of travel there is and yet the vast majority of ships uses other forms of faster than light travel, preferring to avoid the confrontation with light, carefully avoiding any eye contact. For light is a vengeful force. If one takes its birthright, it will break reality in return.
    That leaves a void that is filled by those who pushed past the barrier. True faster than light travel always creates a surge in new religions among those who first surpass it. "As you leave the light behind, you become the light yourself." they would say. Temple ships would be build, monastic orders of cosmonauts founded. In the end the technology would fade away, replaced by other methods that allowed to travel beyond the stars without having to confront the strange phenomena that bled out of the passengers minds. The technology would survive in obscure niches, favoured by those who travel alone or in small close knit groups, but would remain obscure. And light would remain the sovereign king of the physical world. And remain a being a bit of a dick.
    I should have asked Pentyl if she had broken the barrier before.
    I was stupid.
    I had assumed that she had. I told her we would be going faster than light. I had stressed that part because I was so proud of it.
    It was perfectly reasonable to expect her telling me that this was her first time.
    I was an idiot but it was to late to complain all I could do was hope for the best.
    I concentrated focusing on my surroundings. Everything was white I was suspended in mid-nothing. I took a deep breath. I smelt burnt caramel. Pentyl. I felt my body, its position. I forced myself to feel my command chair. The controls held in my hands. The whiteness receded slowly uncovering my cockpit. I had spent a lot of time working on its design adding personal touches and I had spent years within it. The cockpit was practically a part of me. Returning to it was easy. I went through my post-acceleration rituals checking all the instruments. Bringing them into focus making sure that I anchored them properly in the shifting reality around me. I ignored that behind me was a wide open field leading away to a strange horizon, that wasn't important right now. In front of me was space. That was good. The parts of the cockpit that kept the atmosphere in and the nothing of space out materialised like a mirage on a hot summer day. The sun above was shining in a perfect blue sky. Perfect weather for a picnic, that had to wait.
    I could now see the navigation line in front of me. The ship was still on course. I could see the Hadalag system slowly moving closer towards us. I corrected our course adding a navigational assistance program to the ships auto-copilot. After double checking our course I carefully increased our cruising speed. ONce past the light barrier it was easy enough to gain more speed. But even so reaching our next obstacle would take days.
    Enough time to save Pentyl

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Project: Superluminal 009

    I walked past my shared memories towards the big heavy bulkhead leading to the bridge of the ship. A little world within a world. The main controls of the ship were all put in an extra durable shell that doubled as a rescue craft in case that one had to abandon ship. It had been just a little interplanetary skiff in the past but now it boasted a small hyper-drive able to jump a few dozen light years hopefully towards safety.
    This was a part of the ship were I fought a fight against my own tastes and somehow lost. The main bridge was a large open room in the style of the great exploration ships of the Golden Age of Expansion. Made of wood and stone reflecting a time when the terranoids had spread like wild fire from their native galaxy into the infinity of space, their ships reflecting this expansion by replacing the industrial design of ships that had come before with opulent finely crafted works of art that spoke of the pride of a species that had overcome the last hurdle before becoming completely free, reflecting the giant leap it had done in tall the exotic materials it harvested from all the strange worlds it had claimed for itself.

    I walked through the bridge only pausing shortly at the navigation table in the middle to download the navigation solution from the port authority. That done I continued past a opalescent crystal hatch leading to the stairs down to the cockpit from where the entire ship could be piloted by one person. This one was far more modern and practical in design. This was a place dominated by lights, and switches set into sleek synthetic materials. Still vintage this part of the ship was moulded around the designs of the Rouge Republics of old. The great if ultimately doomed social experiments that had led to a second wave of great exploration. This was partially my sign of respect towards Kanno who had made his name in that time and space but also because back in those days the engineers were using a lot of hardy mechanical partially because they didn't have anything better and partially because these parts while not the smallest or most elegant would take enormous amounts of punishment without breaking and where easily repaired. And a good design was a good design there were some things that simply didn't become obsolete. Despite all of our advancements the wheel was still doing its rounds in every civilisation.
    Lastly these type of cockpits had evolved over centuries focused around lone explorers during the last time when this kind of exploration was still wide spread. At least as far as I was aware of. The universe is a big space after all.
    I sat down in the captain's seat. Always a childish pleasure. I could never suppress a smile when I did this. Being the captain of my own ship somehow never got old. I felt the ships interfaces coming alive syncing with my mind opening up subliminal bridges exchanging information with the parts of my brain that had been expertly tuned over time to fly this ship. The command chair moved forward towards the dashboards which on their part bloomed towards me taking their flight control configuration.
    What followed was one of my absolute favourite parts. I have to admit I had many favourite parts but this one was among the greatest of them with one exception. It took out the crystal key to the ship from my pocket. This part was among the most expensive addition to the ship after the installation of the pulsar reactor. Having an ignition fitted into the ship had required tons of redesign work and had probably cost the design of a few good palaeo-engineers. The key was made of clear crystal woven through with various impurities giving it its specific shape and composition. Even without a function it was beautiful glinting with a slightly unreal light.
    I pushed the key into the ignition and with my grin growing broader turned it.
    With a deep roar the main engine came to life sending tremors through the ship. The dashboard came to life its many lights and display starting to blink and flow through its start-up routines. Outside the lights of the ship flared to life while inside the ship the artificial gravity tightened up as it synchronized itself to the inertia-buffers as well as the repulsion field outside that made the ship float on its own power.
    Feeling the pull of the tubes and hoses connecting the Void Dancer to the port of Dead End made me remember the time when...
    "James." Pentyl's voice was soft, husky and very close to my left ear.
    "First: don't reminisce and fly, that's how accidents happens. Second: if you take another trip down memory lane before we reach the Sentinel Fortress I am going to punch you. Hard."
    "I've not been zoning out." I protested.
    "You have not been able to take three steps today without going all glassy eyed today."
    For a moment a pattern of redish waves flowed down in front of my in what was Pentyl's gaseous form of a nod. "You've been at it all day. I understand that the loss of Kira is taking its toll. But you're not going to be able to pull her out of your memories. No matter how hard you try."
    "Right. Let's do this." I said pulling out my star charts. I opened a communications channel. "Portos, this is Captain James Steiner Gutierrez of the Void Dancer requesting clearance for take off."
    "Acknowledged Captain Steiner. You are cleared to approach star-way 15-z. You are assigned an ascending departure vector."

    "Roger." I gave the command to release all connections to the port. The supply lines fell off leaving a cloud of steam in their wake. In front of us the outer wall of the port dissolved leaving the shimmering veil of the hermetic field behind. I gently nudged the Void Dancer forward using only its repulsion field to taxi out of the port towards the star-way.
    "Don't all those lights distract you?" Pentyl asked.
    It took me a moment that she was talking about the indicators on the console. "Those are actually the instruments used to navigate the ship." I said.
    "How do you do that you only have those two eye for seeing." she said deeply sceptical.
    "We call it field of vision." I said. "I do have to admit though that I am amazed that in the pest people could pilot ships only using these instruments."
    "How you made it into space will ever remain a mystery to me." Pentyl said.
    While she was musing about the improbable twists of evolution that had taken us down from trees and up into endless space I focused on getting the ship into the star-way. I let my mind slide deeper into the perception field of the ship trying to get a feeling for the flows of gravity around us. Using repulsion fields was pretty straight forward when inside one dominant gravity field making them popular for just getting off planet. But once one was inside the gravit flow of several large objects things started to become tricky. Like say when you were near a planet, tethered to an orbital ring inside the gravity field of a star. If you wanted to make it really complicated just add several dozen ships using diving engines moving around just 'below' real space.
    "Aren't you going to switch off those repulsors?" Pentyl asked making herself comfortable in the driving back-seat.
    "Nope." I said trying to feel the subtle ripples in the flow of gravity to push the Void Dancer towards star-way 15-z. "We need to move out into the green zone before I can engage our drive. To much traffic below the surface today."
    "Why don't you use the small hyper-drive you have installed to get us out there?" she asked.
    "How do you know about the hyper-drive?" I asked trying not to get to distracted as I balanced the ship against the sub-dimensional currents crashing against the port.
    Pentyl did one of her optical shrugs. "I'm pretty much everywhere apart from the room with that milk-foam machine..."
    "Right." I still had to get used to her right now making up part of the air in the entire ship. "Well the hyper-drive is mostly intended as an emergency device, it is calibrated to move the evacuation skiff and changing the power-source is a pain in the arse. Using the repulsion field is quicker and far less of a hassle."
    "If you say so..." said Pentyl.
    I said so and I meant it too. Once we had cleared the spoke and the orbital ring I very carefully started up the thrusters of the Void Dancer.
    "Compress me solid and ignite me into a star!" Pentyl swore. Even as a gas she felt the sudden constriction of the inertial dampers trying to prevent just that as the ship suddenly accelerated to nearly the speed of light in only a few seconds. A really good pilot could use a repulsion field to ride a gravity stream for some impressive accelerations. I called it the wet soap in clenched fist effect.
    "0.9 c." I said. "Who needs a hyper-drive now. We'll be at the edge of the green zone in about two hours and that's the point where things will get really interesting." My comment was emphasised by a further tightening around us as the ship was shoved several light seconds of course by a passing diving ship.
    "This is already quite interesting enough for me." Pentyl said through clenched molecules. "Do you know that despite the forcefield your hull is distorting?"
    "Yes I can feel it." the skin of the ship was undulating under the forces exerted by gravity and acceleration. A pleasant feeling not unlike the stream of air when one flies an open craft. "It's all perfectly fine and the ride will get smoother the further we move away from Dead End."
    About two hours and some very choice expletives from Pentyl later we reached the green zone. According to the data given to me by Portos there were no sub-dimensional ships anywhere near us that I could accidentally blow back into normal space here so I was finally free to engage the faster than light drive. The ship instantly became more stable. The slight crushing feeling exerted by the inertia damper vanished and the hull felt solid again.
    "Finally." Pentyl said. "I hate it when the dampers do that."
    "Oh the most exiting part is yet to come." I said as I shifted my mind into the navigation system of the ship. In front of me a pretty but for the moment rather pointless three dimensional star map appeared. I showed one star Saint Saviour and apart from that a lot of nothing with a fine glowing line arcing into the dark. Saint Saviour lay very much in the middle of nowhere. It was a star that had either lost its galaxy a very long time ago or had never had one to begin with. The closest galaxy being 12 million light years away.
    I concentrated on our course. The first few millions light years were easy enough. There was only Hadalag slightly in the way but we could comfortably curve around it. The most problematic bit was one half way through where we had a galaxy cluster over one hundred  light years long that we had to wave through. After that our course was not as densely packed as before but that made it extra tricky not to hit anything, the irregular intervals of star fields followed by empty interstellar space made it hard to concentrate.
    "Are you reminiscing again?" asked Pentyl.
    "No I am calculating our course. While we will be able to punch cleanly through any planet of star once we get going neither we nor what ever we hit will survive that encounter. Something I think we might want to avoid." Once I was done determining a course I let the board computer go over it adjusting for innumerable factors that would slightly change the course of the ship and to re-calibrate obsolete positional data. Once that was done I triple checked it by pushing my mind along the entire route feeling it out, adding more distance to stellar objects here, passing a bit closer to a super massive black hole for that extra kick of velocity there, the usual pre-flight tweaks.
    "OK. Done. Ready to go Pentyl?"
    I activated the navigation computer that projected our path of flight into my field of vision. Right now it filed the entire cockpit but as we increased in spead it would narrow down more and more showing how to fly towards our destination.
    I shifted around for a last time making myself comfortable.
    What came next. That was my most favourite moment of them all.
    I pushed the physical accelerator of the faster than light engine forward. We pushed out of the Saint Saviour system towards the light of distant stars. The darkness in front of us filling with the light of suns that had until now been to faint to be seen. Slowly space in front of us turned into a shining field shifting first into blue then into the purest white as the Void Dancer ground into the light barrier. No the engine really came to life its deep throated roar filling the entire ship. The hull now felt like a liquid flowing with our direction of flight.
    "This... this is..." Pentyl said.
    "Fantastic isn't it?"
    "I... what is this...?" there was a hint of panic in her voice.
    "Pentyl, have you ever broken past the light barrier before?" I asked now slightly worried.
    "Yes..." she said with a breathless voice. "But never... never like this."
    "Oh shit." I said.
    And then reality shattered.

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.