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  07:18:39 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2753 words  
Categories: Nexus


Note: I'm backdating the first several chapters of this story so it can all be read from the blog.


Space exploration began in earnest when we started to worry about the Russians dropping nuclear weapons on us from space, back when US meant America. But everybody lost interest in the space race, and it quickly became an expensive hobby for countries with too little sense and too much money.


There were discussions of monetizing the cosmos, mostly through mining and eventually trade, but it was all academic, because it was too expensive. Then we hit peak oil, and that was followed by all kinds of other peaking minerals. So we had to start mining off-world.


The United Nations became the United Government, mostly a coat of paint, really, but it pushed the ICC and other disparate sections of international law and government under the same tent. At the same time the power of national governments had been shrinking the smaller the world became, so the UG became roughly equivalent to the old US in real world terms.


Some of that disseminated power and authority went to the UG. But a lot of it went to multinational companies, many of which had larger populations and economies than a lot of countries. Things like space had long since been ceded to the for-profits.


Our company was the largest of the interstellar corporations. Their first ship was called the Argus, after somebody got their Greek mythology slightly wrong. It had just completed its first ten year tour, and to celebrate opened up a worm-gate at their location.


Ours was to be the second in what the board hoped would grow to be a fleet of deep-space exploration vehicles. The company wanted to call the ship the Enterprise, but Altimwancapdaq, Inc. sued. Several related names were floated, including ?commerce,? and even ?intercourse,? before they settled on the Nexus.  


Ours was ostensibly a five-year mission, but our service contracts can be unilaterally extended indefinitely. And we all knew when we signed up that the ship was designed so generations could live and die onboard.


We haven?t been out of the worm-gate more than a few weeks. The corridors still have that plasticky new ship smell. I walk through the halls, because we?re still weeks away from having anything to do.


I get an in-coming message on my HUD. Lieutenant Louise Templeton. I came up with her through SecDiv, a lifetime away from now. I pull her into the corner of my eyescreen, and her hair is pulled back in a bun in a way that makes her seem more severe than she is.


We were in love, as madly as two people ever were. It ended? incompletely. I hadn?t seen her in years. She didn?t know I was up for a spot on the Nexus, and I hadn?t known about her. It was a coincidence she ended up my head of SecDiv.


She?s still first on my personality compatibility list; seventh for genetic compatibility. I haven?t had the computer build a composite, but I suspect we?d have beautiful, disturbingly brilliant children.


?LT? What?s happening?? I realized only after answering that I?d called her by her initials, LT like ?melty,? and hoped she could confuse it with a recitation of her rank. 


?I?ve got a situation developing. An ensign?s setting off the decibel sensors in the corridor, trying to blow the drums out of one of my SecOff?s ears. I?m on the bridge, or I?d handle it myself. Just down the hall from your location.?


I adjusted my cochlear implant, just enough to eavesdrop. ?Yeah, I hear him now. Jesus. That?s some Paleolithic caveman shit he?s flinging.?


??maybe if you?d allowed the baby?s daddy to be in the picture, but you chose to be a single mother?? I rounded the corner, and he was there, looming over the SecOff, spittle suspended in the air before it smacked across the wall and the woman.


I stepped between them, and puffed out my chest to be sure the augmented reality sensors in his HUD would pull up my name and rank so he knew who he was dealing with. ?Do I have to explain this situation to you, son?? His lip curled into a snarl he failed to hide.  ?You?re being a dick; worse, you?re being a misogynistic, irrational dick, and it?s fucking with my morale. First off, you?re going to apologize.?


?Like fuck I will.?


?You will apologize, or I will fire you out the nearest airlock for insubordination.?


Anger and surprise flashed across his eyes, and for a second I thought he?d take a swing at me. But he?d heard the stories, and realized that I was likely more trouble than the SecOff, so he mumbled a quiet ?Sorry.?


?Now I don?t care if mommy was a bad lady with a weakness for swallowing the seed the wrong kind of men, I don?t care if the love of your life decided to get a sex change and start dating farm animals. The why behind your numbfuckery is beyond my purview, but you?re going to have a nice long talk with the therapists about why you?re such a fuckstick. Toddle on down there, or the next meet-up you have with SecDiv will include the press of boots in your neck.?


He gave the weakest salute I?d ever seen and spun on his heels. ?Impressive as always,? LT said. I?d forgotten she was still on the line.


?I should get a hold of PsychDiv, let them know to expect the 1400s knocking on their door.? There was the hint of a smile on her face, then a click as she ended the conversation and disappeared from my eyescreen.


I dialed our head head-shrinker. She appeared on my screen, her long, strawberry blond hair tumbling messily over her shoulders. Our personality compatibility was 3rd on the ship. Genetically we were an ugly match. Breeding might even require a few gene-therapy modifications. And if her hair were a little more strawberry and a lot less blond, I don?t think that would have mattered in the slightest. It still mightn?t. ?Maggie??


?Shouldn?t you be calling me Lieutenant Allbright? Or at least Doctor?? she asked with a wry smile.


?Maggie, I?ve seen you naked.?


?You do know this is an open channel, right? Into the entire PsychDiv.?


?No, it isn?t. And even if it had been, it was basic. Everybody saw everybody naked. They wanted to desensitize us, make the bodies of our crewmates less exotic and tantalizing.?


?I thought that was why they poured us into Lycra uniforms.?


?No. That was my request. Well, actually I requested corsets, stiletto heels and Lycra, but you can?t always get what you want.?


?I am amused at the thought of you stumbling around on stiletto heels, but you didn?t call me to banter, hopefully??


?Why, you don?t like our bantering?? I chuckled. ?No, I was wondering about Williams, Martin, Ensign. He just reduced one of my SecOffs to tears; certainly emotionally abusive, and I think had I not intervened, it might have gone physical. At which point I think the officer would have clubbed his eye out, because tears or no she?s trained for fighting. But how?d the little sociopath get on board my ship??


?Let me see.? She waved her fingers through the air, and I heard the whoops and bloops of files being moved around on her HUD. ?He was cleared by Sarah McCain. Not a doctor, but a psychiatric nurse. She has good credentials, slightly better than average behavioral prediction stats. I?m assuming he?s on his way to me. I?m pulling up his file. Yeah. She noted slightly elevated aggression, potential issues with female authority, but low on the Allende scale. If he?s developing a personality disorder it?s atypically fast.?


?All right. Well, maybe he?s just had an off morning. You?re the professionals. But if you think it warrants an investigation, you have my backing to put McCain under the microscope. And, as it may come up, I threatened to fire Williams out of an airlock.?


?Which one??


?Is that important??


?It isn?t medically relevant. I was just curious. For the last few hours we?ve had an excellent view of Rigil Kentaurus. If you have to be shot out an airlock, at least you?d have a nice view before you explosively decompressed. But is that standard disciplinary procedure?? she asked with a smirk.


?I was improvising. Though I think legally I?d be in the clear. It?s a little scary the authority the charter vests in my position.?


?I think you?ll do fine.?


?I wasn?t fishing for a compliment.?


?No. I just thought, it?s important you know that I trust you. We trust you. Heavy is the head, and all that. But there was an at least slightly democratic process behind your selection. We?re here, most of us, anyway, because we trust you. Most days that won?t matter at all. But if it ever does.?


?Thanks. CC me your findings on Williams. Particularly if there?s going to be the need for monitoring, discipline, or counseling.?


?Can?t imagine him not needing counseling.?


?And I can?t imagine him seeking it unless I can follow up. So let me know.?




I?d been on the ship just long enough that I no longer had to think about where I was going, and it wasn?t until Maggie hung up that I realized that I was walking onto the bridge. I wasn?t entirely sure why. I scanned quickly over the room, and noticed LT was gone. ?Where?s SecDiv?? I asked no one in particular.


One of the middle-rank SecOffs had taken her place at the security panels, looked up and figured it was his job to respond to me. ?I think she went down to debrief her SecOff.? I tried not to think of one woman pantsing another? and failed. Though one of them crying made it more surreal than erotic.


Martin Jacobs, EngDiv, leaned over my shoulder. ?Heard you sent one of my jackasses to time out.?


?He?s lucky I?m in a charitable mood this morning. His behavior warranted a jackassectomy first.?


?Anatomically speaking, I?m not sure where the jackass is- though I?m assuming it?s a gland- or how painful it would be to forcibly remove it outside of a medical setting. I?m presuming very.?


?Correct. But how?s my baby doing??


?No complaints. Everything?s nominal.?


?Good. Do me a favor and check up on Williams? sector. On the off chance something?s gotten into the environment there that set him off.?


?Sure. Docs haven?t taken a look at him yet, have they??


?He?s on his way to Psych now.?


?So it?s probably a needle I?m looking for in this haystack.?


?Once the doctors have given him a once-over I?m sure they can advise on potential environmental mood alters.? He wasn?t happy with my answer, but neither of us being able to pluck diagnoses out of the future, he could stick his unhappiness. He left out the same door I?d just come through. ?Nav, how?s our course??


?Slow and steady, boss-man. We?re still crawling our way to near-light. So far no obstructions, no obstacles sensors or probes didn?t see from more than half a light-year away. I?ll keep you appraised if anything changes, but really I don?t see it happening. Until we reach speed we?re more a cruise ship than anything. Might as well sit back and enjoy a Mai Thai.?


?Drinking while navigating is strictly prohibited by the ship?s charter,? the ship?s computer added helpfully.


?Why can we program an AI sophisticated enough to fly the world?s most expensive starcraft, but not savvy enough to understand the difference between ordering a drink and making conversation.?


I smiled as I answered him: ?We have. I think she just enjoys fucking with you.?


He turned a weary eye to his control-panel. ?Is that it? Because I know where they store your RAM, and if I have to start yanking boards until you no longer have the excess operational capacity to be a pain in the ass, I will.?


?EngDiv would never let you do that, Dave.?


?I know my name?s Dave, but still, it creeps me out when you say it like Hal.?


I cut in. ?In her defense, she has a far more silky and pleasant voice than Hal.?


?Thank you, Captain. Plrrrbt.?


?Did she just raspberry me?? Dave asked.


?She did. I think Haley has your number. I?d quite while you?re ahead. Ish.?


?Oh God, you named her that??


?How close to light are we?? The force to push our ship, and hence the amount of energy it takes, is roughly the mass of our ship multiplied by our acceleration. So we start slow, and build slow, over time, towards the speed of light. Takes a little longer to get going, but the fuel savings are huge.


?Just rounding 70%.?


?Then we should already be reverse Winkling.? Anything close to 70% of lightspeed and time is effectively taking half as long on the ship as off it. But by 95% of lighstpeed, the ratio?s reaching for the sky and 1 year on the ship feels like ten to the rest of the universe.


?How long before we?re in the Kennedy Window for the first few sensor pods?? The window was named for Andrew Kennedy, who invented the Wait Calculation. Basically, because of differing speeds, two bodies that leave the same point can reach their destination at radically different times. Kennedy was concerned with increases in technology, but the calculation had since been applied more broadly.


The Nexus fires sensor pods from tubes, like bullets from a gun. Their initial speed is much higher than the Nexus?. However, the Nexus continues to accelerate, and would eventually overtake the pods.


The purpose of the pods is to arrive at a planet that?s been flagged by earlier probes for closer inspection. The pods are designed to orbit a planet a couple of times, get enough info and slingshot back towards our trajectory to be picked up en route. Hitting Kennedy?s Window means getting the pod and its sensory data back early enough that we only have to slow down for a planet that?s actually got someone to talk to on it.


?Ten minutes.? We?re specifically targeting inhabitable planets. We?re not primarily after mining rights to particular worlds. We?re looking to claim mining rights to whole systems. So we need to find who might have a competing claim, and break bread with them. If possible, make a deal. If not possible, at least make sure we mark off territory around them, to keep their expansion checked. 


?There you are. You threatened to throw another engineer out an airlock?? I recognized the grating voice before I turned around. Pete Ferguson, HR rep and the company?s man on the ship. He?s the only unranked member of the crew, which is odd, because he?s also number one in the ship?s hierarchy- behind Captain, of course. Stickler for the goddamn regs. He seems to like me, but not respect me. It?s an odd combination in practice.


?Is it somehow my fault you hired engineers who are 90% dick and only 10% brain.?


?I don?t suppose you could tone down on the references to male genitalia. I?m sure, at a minimum, that the female members of your crew aren?t comfortable with it.?


Haley chimed in to defend me. ?Actually, Mr. Ferguson, the term ?Dick? came around in the 1500s, meaning ?fellow? or ?lad.? It was not until the late nineteenth century that the phallic connotation of the word surfaces in the written record.?


?She?s in rare form this morning, isn?t she?? I asked him. 




?With that voice I think it?s obvious. You don?t want to give our ship gender identity issues this close to the start of our mission, do you? You aren?t deliberately trying to create a hostile work environment for our computer, are you??


 ?I?ll, uh, be in my office,? he said, slightly ducking his head as he turned away.


?Thanks for that, Haley.?


?Anytime, Captain.?

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