07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was nave of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.

"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

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  12:00:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2981 words  
Categories: Nexus


?Private Dickbite.? Williams approached me on the bridge; he didn?t seem enthused that I remembered his name. A few weeks had passed since we?d fired the first volley of sensor pods.

?It?s Ensign.?

?Ensign Dickbite, then. Wait, I didn?t demote you? I should probably make a note of that.? That same anger from before, but this time he caught it, took a breath. ?Only kidding, Williams. McCain says you?ve made progress.?

He was sheepish. He?d probably forgotten I had access to his psych files. ?Yes.?

?Nothing to be shy about. Every man wrestles with his demons. No shame in having them, only in giving in.?

?Thank you, sir.?

?Now what?d you need??

?EngDiv wanted me to let you know they?ve tested all my environmentals: work station and living quarters, as well as recreational areas. Nothing for me to blame my outburst on. Just a crappy attitude. What I don?t understand is why, since he works on the bridge, he had me come up here to hand-deliver the information to you.?

?Probably so I could call you ?Private Dickbite.??

?Ah. So this was all part of my rehabilitation, then.?

?That certainly sounds less callous and abusive than the alternative. So we?ll say that?s it.? He stared at me dumbfounded for a moment, then, realizing it was far less frightening to be serving under a Captain with a dark sense of humor than a genuine sociopath, smiled like an idiot. ?But yours is the eggiest head currently on my bridge. Care to sit in on this??

SciDiv continued with his briefing. ?We?ve received back out first sensor pods. Planets are lifeless, though scans indicate that it was the site of a Roanoke.?

?A Roanoke?? asked Williams.

?Abandoned or lost colony. Buildings, signs of a settlement, but no people.?

?So we?re on course for,? I hesitated, ?fuck, what?s the name of the next habitable planet??

?It?s in the NGCs, I think.?

?Right. Whoeverthefuck cares. We?ll give it a proper name once we?ve got sensor information back, have a guess as to what we?re looking at. In the meantime, we?re still a good .16 lightyears from Tuscaroras- on account of the Roanoke.?

?You know that seems cute, now,? Dave said, ?but think in fifty to a hundred years when likeminded captains try to be clever across the galaxy, and we end up with fifty different Tuscaroras.?

?Mine will be special; it?ll be the one with the whores.?

?You keep saying that, and I keep telling you that decreeing it in executive memos you send me from the toilet doesn?t actually make laws, or ensure that the planet will be whore-friendly.?

?Silence, doubting David. We?ve still got another .21 light years until we?re in range of the next planet, though we should be picking up its sensor pod in the next few days. Then we?ll know if we need to reverse the engines.?

Williams spoke up. ?If we?re talking distances, shouldn?t we be using parsecs instead of light-years??

?No,? I corrected him. ?For one, we?re traveling at near-light speeds, so our total travel time is, roughly speaking, one light year per annum. Second, our entire trip will be less than two parsecs. Generally, I prefer meters, but telling a woman I?m packing .15 meters isn?t all that impressive.

?You could always say fifteen centimeters.?

?That sounds like a French lady?s ring-size. There isn?t much room for inches in science, but there?s even less room for science in my pants.?

A notification flashed across my eyescreen. I answered the call, and the SecOff Williams had verbally bludgeoned appeared in the corner of my vision. She looked better, and younger, without the tears or emotional distress. Her name was printed in a font that grew when I paid attention to it, then receded. Miranda, V. She was noticeably trying to be cold and efficient; I imagine she wasn?t pleased I?d seen her vulnerable.

?Sir, we have a fatality, in the barracks. Footage and scene indicates a suicide. Baker, Brian Phillip, Sergeant.?

I was numb when I said, ?Excellent work, officer,? but she was relieved enough not to notice.

?Thank you sir,? she said, and was gone.

?Something I have to take care of,? I muttered, and wasn?t sure anyone heard me. I dialed in a call as I walked off the bridge. ?Maggie, have you heard about Baker??

?Yeah. They call me first any time there?s bloodshed. I?ve been combing over his psych file the entire time they were investigating the scene. I don?t have a formal report yet, obviously, but I can give you my impressions.?

?Go ahead, then.?

?Brian Phillip Baker. Was in the midst of a sexual identity crisis. Put in a request for a sexual characteristics transfer.?

?You mean a sex change, don?t you??

?Yes, and no. The technique is similar to the civilian procedure, only such a thing isn?t allowed on ship. You remember when we were all first up for a posting on the Nexus- they had us all tested for genetic and personality compatibility? Of course you do. You are aware that as the head of PsychDiv I?m flagged when anyone, officers included, religiously check their bio/psych compatibility listings, right? Or when you link from there directly into my dossier??

?Are you saying I?m bordering on electronically stalking you??

?Not entirely. Bit of a gray area, there. But we can talk about your burgeoning digital codependence officially later. The reason our on-board sex characteristics transfer is different is that we can?t leave any genetic material on the table. Long-term- and I?m speaking in generational terms, here- diversity and viability on the genetic scale depends on having as many genomes in the mix as possible.?

?So our surgery does most of the same things, altering genitalia and appearance. It also involves a hormone-secreting implant. But the difference is that the testes are repositioned into the abdomen. They?re sequestered by a small dialysis device that keeps hormones from interfering in either direction, it?s really just a more strict version of the blood-testies barrier that all men have.?

?The what??

?Sperm cells are divergent enough from other body cells that they can cause an immune reaction. Your body would attack your testes if they weren?t kept separate from the blood. But basically, he?d still be producing sperm. There?s two potential options for harvesting haploid cells at that point, a reservoir with, for lack of a better term, a spigot, or a jab with a needle.?

?That?s disturbing.?

?What?s disturbing is we?ve all agreed, in advance, to these things. It?s in our employment contract. Of course, on the flipside, this kind of operation is prohibitively expensive in civilian life. So it isn?t all without benefits. And I did notice this. A portion of his file is sealed under executive level authority, and records indicate you?ve been through that information. I don?t need you to unlock it, just, is there anything in it I should know??

?He was my cousin.? My door slid open, and there was a long moment where the ship didn?t turn on the lights inside; it seemed to, like me, not know whether I was going in.

?Oh. I?m sorry.? She paused a moment; I couldn?t tell if it was a professional courtesy, or if she was measuring my reaction. ?Anything else that might be clinically relevant??

I plopped down on my bed; my whole body was heavy. I felt dead myself. ?Off the top of my head? He had divergent sexuality, questioning, I think is the term they prefer. But he signed an affidavit agreeing to contribute to in vitro if he decided to be gay. I don?t think he was going back on any of that.?

?Wait, here?s something. He was into one of those social role-playing games, but he was spending a greater amount of time in it- nearly double the average. That?s a marker for dissociating identity. And he was coming up for a mandatory profile review in a couple of months. We probably would have flagged him.?

?I wouldn?t assume that?s coincidental. He must have known how he felt, and how it would look. The review put a ticking clock to his decision.?

She sighed, and it came over breathy and heavy in my cochlear implant. ?I hate this. Feeling like I could have done something- maybe even like I should have. He was so close. We could have-? she sighed again, but this time it was lighter, and it made me feel, for a moment, lighter, too. ?But I guess that was the point. He didn?t want to be helped, anymore. Whatever he was struggling with- he wanted to be done with it. Look, I should get back to this. I?ll let you know if I find anything else useful. Do you want to be CCed on my write-up??

?No. I imagine it?ll be synthed into Elle?s incident report, and probably addendumed to it; if I need a copy after I know where to find you.?

I wasn?t completely honest with Maggie. I guess, if you parsed it, I hadn?t lied to her, either. But I hadn?t told her everything. He?d tried to kill himself once before. It stayed out of his folder, because his family took care of it privately. Which was more expensive, but keeping a suicide off his record saved his career. It was certainly the only reason he ever made it into consideration for the Nexus.

I wasn?t captain, then, just part of the executive committee managing staffing. I was one of the people, half of whom were now Div heads, who considered him for an engineering slot. He was on the bubble. I didn?t push him over, so much as not push him off. Maybe I should have.

But I?m lousy at second-guessing. I didn?t want to go to the scene (I?m not that stupid), but I couldn?t just stay locked in my room, staring at the wall. I called SecDiv. Elle?s portrait flashed up immediately, too fast for a human to answer; she must have macroed me, assuming I?d call her eventually. ?What can you tell me about the suicide??

?Still compiling, and its early into the investigation. But I walked the scene myself. Sorry about throwing the meat at you, earlier, but she?s been wobbly since the confront with Williams. Talking to the Captain seems to have hardened her back up a bit.?

?This is all prelim- report?ll come after we?ve had a chance to analyze and verify, but I can give you my gut-read. He was careful, and cautious. Put his BioMonitors in test so the ship wouldn?t flag him as dead. Used the just the right cocktail of drugs and chemicals to make it virtually impossible to transplant him with clone organs. But, and here?s where it?s strange, he was also specific in using drugs and chems we could either harvest back out of him afterwards, or can reproduce with relative ease in the BacFarm. He wanted to be sure he was gone, but? he wanted to make sure that nobody was going to be inconvenienced by his death.?

?Except of course whomever he pumped for information on how to kill himself thoroughly.?

?You think he had help??

?I think the system would have flagged him as a suicide risk if he?d started querying for clean means of offing himself using only available material. And he wasn?t medical himself, which meant he talked to somebody who was. We?ll get a SecDet to look into it. We?ll want whoever it was to have a sit-down with Maggie. And in the meantime, I?ll have to figure out an engineering schedule that?ll keep us on our targets without impeding anybody who needs to mourn the loss of their colleague.?

?HR can probably handle it, or the EngDiv. Or are you just trying to keep your hands busy??

?That wasn?t an oblique reference to masturbation, was it??

?You were a prolific masturbator while we were dating, but no. I understand the need to tinker. I remember after Dalaxia. We didn?t stop screwing for a week. Unless you count passing out due to dehydration. Which was a little awkward, since the medics kept coming in to give us fluids while we were in an unconscious, naked embrace. You?re smiling. That?s good.? She didn?t tell me how unsettling I was when I was upset, but I remembered she didn?t like it.

?You naked always made me smile.?

?Past-tense? Because I have to say it?s only gotten better.? One of the SciTechs bumped into her, and for the first time I realized she was back in the barracks, still at the scene, and how awkward that really was.

?I should go. It?s a mad house, and apparently I?m the one who?s supposed to be in charge.?

I did a quick comparative analysis on EngDiv shift changes. It gave me an idea of who preferred to work with Baker- Brian. I started to build a schedule where those who spent the most time with him on shift got the most time off. I was still engrossed when I was interrupted by a call from EngDiv. ?You?re monkeying with my schedules.?

?That?s because you?ve got a hole in your duty roster.?

?And you?re a bull in my China shop. Raw numbers aren?t enough to massage the schedule, though I can start from where you?re leaving off. But you can?t put Perkins on duty. I know they didn?t work shifts together, but they were outside work-friends. She called off this morning, emotional distress, after she heard about Baker.?

?Yeah. I?m obviously out of my depth, here. I?ll leave you to it, then.?

I sent SecDiv a memo for the SecDet, to have a hard look at Perkins. I was focusing hard enough on the memo, sparse as it was, I didn?t notice somebody at the door. Suddenly it slid open from a Div-level emergency bypass.

Maggie stood in the hall. She was a physically stunning woman, something I occasionally lost track of, since most of the time I only saw her on the screen in the corner of my eye. ?Doc.?

?Really, I try for our first few months to get you to call me by anything other than my first name, but now, when I?m walking into your cabin, at least technically off duty, you want to be formal. Or is that just an attempt to keep me at arm?s length. Now that you feel vulnerable, you want to make sure I don?t get too close.?

?You can get into my head or into my room, but only one at a time.? I wanted to add a side option of getting into my pants, but had just enough trouble navigating the subtleties of humor and sexual harassment that the moment passed without it.

?You?re right. I?m not here to examine your head, though I think there?d be fair precedence for me to consider doing so. I?m here in case you need to talk. Professionally, or otherwise.? She sits down on my bed, close enough that her leg brushes mine. It?s the first time there?s been anything past casual contact between us, and it distracts me; I embrace the distraction.

I try to kiss her, awkwardly, fumblingly, like a teenager who for the first time had a pretty girl sit on the edge of his bed. I think she recognizes it, too, but lets it happen anyway- at least for a moment, before pushing me away.

?If you ask me to a proper meal, I may say yes. But I will not be your rebound fling.?


?Well, let?s see. There?s a death in your family you?re trying to avoid. And Elle. It?s nice that you?ve dropped the ?T? from it every time you mention her; it sounds like an actual name, rather than an initial, or half a title. But you?re trying to keep her at arms length, too. And I don?t have access to your recent psych work-ups- clearance again- but if I had to guess, you weren?t alone when you decided to captain the Nexus; you left somebody behind. You have things to work through, and professionally I?m available to you, but personally, well, that?s an entirely different conversation.?

?And I also won?t be so easily deflected. I?m not here to crawl around inside your brain. If that?s what you?d like, I?m happy to listen. It?s the one part of my job that?s still fulfilling. But before we say anything else, you need to recognize one thing, and if I could sit down with every single member of your family planetside I would, because they need to know the same damn thing: it wasn?t your fault.?

?No. I know.? I didn?t kill him. I just made it easier for him to die. He?d tried to kill himself once before. I thought bringing him aboard- I don?t know what I thought. But taking him away from his family, whatever support structures he had in place on-world. I?d contributed, at least.

She got up, walked over to where I had m liquor, and poured a couple of glasses. ?You really should be resting. Take the rest of the day off.? She handed a glass to me and I killed it in a swallow. She handed the other to me, and she was so close to me, her lips were so close to mine,I thought maybe she?d changed her mind. ?Doctor?s orders,? she said, and handed the other glass to me, and left.


  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.?


  09:17:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 14 words  
Categories: Fiction

Friday Night Story

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