December 2023 Archives

Lemarcus was getting bored, so Helene included him in the conversation telepathically, What are your plans, young man? The sending was limited to Lemarcus and myself.

"I'll find a way to get by." I had to wince. It was plain from his surface thoughts that he was still in 'minimum effort' mode.

Some advice from someone who's seen a little more of life - 'getting by' is the way into trouble, usually sooner than later. Learn to do it well. You may still encounter trouble, but not nearly so often and not nearly so much.

"I'm two hundred years old. I know what I'm doing."

Clearly. Mindrape and fraud are such minor issues.

I could feel the sarcasm dripping. Lemarcus, do not antagonize her! She'll eat you alive! I told him privately.

"I don't wanna be the mule making other people rich."

"Teach this offspring of yours the way economics works," Helene told me in Technical, pointedly turning her back and walking away.

"Well done. You going to challenge Amras to a duel next, or just pull a weapon on Iaren?" Either one was suicide - but I wasn't certain he hadn't done something worse already - Helene ran the family, and her marriage to Scimtar was as close as mine to Asto.

"They can't be dissing me like that!"

"Listen up - everyone here knows what you did, and don't tell me you 'didn't do anything!' Losing your adulthood for mindrape and fraud is plenty to mark you as needing remedial life training! You do not 'know what you're doing,' because if you did, you wouldn't have committed fraud or mindrape, and you certainly wouldn't have been convicted! You want to be the buffoon the whole family laughs at and makes fun of? If that's your goal, you're right on track!"

"You said you loved me!"

I made a prayer apologizing to Our Lord for putting Lemarcus up for adoption in the first place. Even then, I would have done better for him than what he got. "Love requires more than emotional support. It requires getting you off the self-destructive path you're on!"

"I was doing fine!"

"You had thirtyfive luc in total assets! I make more than twice that per hour! Esteban, who became adult two days ago, has cubes in his personal account! Your four other siblings, who can't be legally responsible, still make more than that every single week!"

"Who told you that?" Lemarcus was outraged.

"It's in the accounting for your fines owed." I realized the whole room was watching us.

Ilras broke in, addressing me in Technical, "Thirtyfive luc? Why are you bothering?" He turned his back in contempt.

"Because I'm his mother, and it was my responsibility to see he had a chance to learn better! What if I'd given you to strangers who should have done better by you, but didn't?"

Ilras saw the point, and turned back around. "I'm sorry, Mom." He might not have had any tolerance for fools, but he could admit when he was wrong. Switching to English, "I apologize, brother. Your adoptive family was not your fault."

"What you mean?"

"Stop right there!" I interrupted, "Ilras was apologizing for denigrating your efforts. The correct response is 'apology accepted.'" I looked from Lemarcus to Ilras.

"Apology accepted. But Mom, she done good by me. She always supported me."

"That may be part of your problem," I told him again, "She should have demanded more. It's never easy to improve, and there's always a tendency to coast on minimum effort. But the people here have a strong motivation."

Copyright 2023 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Even before I got to the squad Leader, the first thing I noticed about my fellow trainees was their emaciated, hollow look, like they were on the ragged edge of repshanti. Was this what I had to look forward to? Available evidence said it was. And yes, it was outdoors in the rain and the mud just like you might have surmised, and the temperature was barely above freezing. "Sir, Trainee Grace Juarez reporting as ordered!" The Imperial procedure and salute were essentially identical to Earth, palm out like the British, for similar reasons. Convergent evolution of ideas.

He was wearing the same uniform as Instructor Jereya, with one difference. His insignia of rank had red above the horizontal white bar in his insignia, green below. "Leader Dakar, trainee," he returned my salute, "Grab a set of weights and get started!" In a locker were sets of five weights, two for wrists, two for ankles, one for your torso that strapped on via a belt and shoulder straps. I quickly put on the wrist weights - five prime of mass each, or a shade under four kilos - followed by the ankle weights, which were twice as heavy, and the back weight, which was a full thirty prime, over twenty kilos. Altogether, it was just under forty-seven Earth kilos of weight, or about one hundred three pounds. Over the last couple years, I'd increased my height to five foot six (168 centimeters, or two ififths, thirtyfour isixths by Imperial measure) and my weight to 185 pounds (eighty-four kilos, or one square, forty-seven prime by Imperial measure) although thanks to high density tissue it looked more like 150 pounds. Over a hundred extra pounds was quite an addition. I could do it - I'd been augmenting my muscles since I went operant - but it wasn't trivial.

"Tighten those shoulder straps, trainee!" Dakar told me, "Course rule: no matris assists! Follow Nushto!" indicating a man slightly taller than myself but who had probably the gauntest appearance I had ever seen, wearing some sort of tabs that made him stand out from the other trainees. I took note of the prohibition, complied with both instructions, and fell in behind the emaciated man. Matris was the ability it might be easiest to think of as telekinesis, although it could produce many other effects as well.

I'm Nushto, trainee team leader, one of them told me, First thing you need to know, he sent to me, is that this phase of training is all about keeping us at the ragged edge of our strength, endurance, and agility. This particular course is testing if we've augmented our muscles well enough. Follow me and do the same things I do. If you slip, you are allowed to save yourself but then you have to go back to the start.

The course was an ithird in length, or about two and a third kilometers, if you followed the track on the ground. It wasn't a horizontal course. It started out as a jungle gym, climbing and swinging, then a couple of standing jumps of about four meters - in the rain and carrying a forty-seven Earth kilograms in extra weight, mind you - at an altitude of over twenty meters. Four obstacle walls, each about thirty-five meters high, and you had to climb both up and down with Leaders telling you to "Go faster, you waste of an opportunity! People behind you might make soldiers if you don't hold them up!" Then a water tunnel where you swam/climbed uphill against a current, then a pair of things that looked like fifty meter paddlewheels you had to clamber up first like a monkey, switch to jumping on the outer edges of the planks - their edges were about five centimeters wide - to get over the top, and then clamber down the planks on the far side. Did I mention the planks were moving against your direction of travel and there was slick gooey mud at the bottom which stuck to everything? Then a comparatively short low crawl through thick mud that was the easiest part of the course, although I wished it could have been before the water tunnel, then back to more jungle gyms, more walls, several rope obstacles and a few pole obstacles, and finally something that reminded me conceptually of a three dimensional version of the training apparatus in Kung Fu Panda. It wouldn't kill you, but if you timed it wrong or zagged when you should have zigged, you took one hell of a blow and your lap didn't count. Your datalink was constantly updated with your time and where you should be if you wanted to pass the phase, judging from the time you'd last passed the starting beacon.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved

I had just passed abeam the last Imperial beacon on my way back to Earth when I got a hard contact in the instance I was using for a Vector run. I was getting my breakfast and Lady's at the time, piloting by remote, mostly holding station, not really paying attention. I brought the shields up to full as I ran into the control center, Lady following behind. I brought the main weapon online as the shields recorded a hit. The energy drain was nothing to be concerned about; barely perceptible in fact. Even if I lost shields entirely, it'd take the aggressor days to break through my hull charge with that much energy.

I hit the gas - immediate quick Vector to where I planned my next Interstitial. About four hundred years' distance, ran a quick confirmation of position, and applied the Interstitial. Wrench. It worked, but the ship wasn't happy about it, and the stress on the hull shot up to about twelve iprime torsion around one of my Interstitial field anchors. It was out of alignment - without hull charge the ship might have torn a hole in itself. I started re-aligning the anchor to align with the rest of the field, while trying to figure out what had gone wrong. My Interstitial velocity was about two thirds what it should have been, but it built back to nearly full as the torsion on the hull dropped and the system was restored to alignment. Lady whined; she could pick up there was something wrong, if not what.

It wasn't life threatening, or even trip threatening, but as soon as I stopped manual precession, the anchor started drifting out of alignment again. I was hungry, and I knew Lady was, too, but breakfast was just going to have to wait. I tried taking the anchor offline, out of the system completely, and Interstitial velocity dropped to about sixty-eight Imperial years per hour - it should have been about seventy-four - while the hull stress picked up slightly from zero, but the temporary configuration was stable now, and no threat to the ship in any way. It would add to the maintenance load of the rest of the system, and I'd want to have the entire system checked out when I got back to the Empire, but first I was continuing on to Earth. However, I wasn't leaving the control center until I was grounded, or at least inside the solar system. Lady could tell my stress level had dropped, and she perked her ears and made false starts in the direction of the living quarters, as if to ask about breakfast, but I explained to her we were going to have to wait, be patient, be a good girl, breakfast will come but not now. Telepathy really did help with dogs; she understood and settled right down in her bed next to the command console.

I'd have to look at the system when I grounded, to see if it was something I could fix. There was an Interstitial node right where the weapon had hit. My best guess was that the enemy weapon had done something weird to it. This was confirmed by careful review of the data from the attack. But there were other systems' components in that area of the hull, too. Net result: I was not leaving my command console until I could shut the ship down. Vector equalizers were fine, as were inertial integrators or there would have been a major irregularity in internal gravity, but what about the impellers themselves? There was an impeller not five feet from the failed Interstitial anchor. It was on minimal power right now as Interstitials were moving the ship, but what about when it was time for the impellers to take over? I was kind of regretting not giving that damnable pirate an in-kind response, but I knew I had made the right choice in ducking out. Technologically inferior or not, the other ship had been designed for battle, and probably had the crew to repair damage while the fighting was going on. My ship was designed for cargo, and I could hardly fight the ship effectively while unbolting hull plates to fix damage. I was a merchant, not a military vessel. For me, victory meant survival, and I had survived un-captured.

It turned out the impeller I was concerned about was fine. I grounded at the sanctuary outside Mentone without further incident, but then Adela met me and asked, "Tia Grace, aren't you going to turn on the camouflage?"

Oh, no. I had turned on the holographic camouflage before I entered atmosphere. The holographic system said it was working just fine. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case when you actually looked. The cruiser was a whale roughly twenty meters tall from belly to back and over eighty meters from front to back; it didn't shine like most Earth people expected metal to shine, but its dark grey towered over the citrus trees surrounding it, and anyone looking down the mountainside would see it plain as day. I could hear the dogs we kept for Earthside adoptions setting up a ruckus near the front of the property; stretching my perceptions I "saw" that a San Bernardino County Sheriff had turned up the drive, lights flashing. "Delay him thirty seconds if you can," I told her, "I'm getting out of Dodge. I'll call you later on the tachyonic communicator."

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

This will all make more sense if you stay in a light link for translation, ScAnara sent, you may sit at the auxiliary station over there. A display activated, kind of like those banks of security monitors you see in the movies sometimes, but each one had a different view. One display was the exterior, which looked like one of the canyons around the edges of the mountains above San Bernardino, possibly on the north or eastern sides of the plateau where it drops into the desert. A second view was a hologram of the ship, which didn't look anything like any spaceship I was familiar with. The closest I could come was an elongated egg with the fat end as the front, the small end as the back, and the bottom flattened, with a pair of stubby triangular wings on either side of the rear two-thirds, starting at the widest point of the main body and widening only slightly before coming to an abrupt end slightly before the actual tail of the ship. A third view might be a three dimensional radar or sonar image, currently showing the topography of the land around us while above us floated various gnat-like sparks. My guess was that they were Earth aircraft. Other displays were gauges and status displays that I had no clue how to read. I noticed not only were there no windows, viewports, or anything of a kind used for looking out directly, there wasn't a main viewscreen, either. I supposed if you wanted or needed to see out, you brought it up at your own work station, like ScAnara had done for me.

This is an Explorer Cruiser, ScAnara explained, based on a Patrol Cruiser, largest of our military small cruisers. Patrol Cruisers and their smaller kin are designed for extended missions, generally used for military patrols between stars. For scale, we're just over 100 meters, Earth measure, on the major axis. Crew is usually 110 to 116, but we're a little under complement because we were in a hurry. Our family only has eight of these, and this was the most quickly available. Explorer versions sacrifice a little weaponry for better sensor and survey gear and an emergency backup siphon and converter.

Survey, prepare beacon drop as previously detailed. Navigation, plot a minimum trajectory spaceborne recovery, then beacon drop and homeward transition. Engineering, confirm Status Red. To me she sent Status Red is normal spaceborne operations. We've been maintaining it because we don't know what else might be in the area. We're about four grads from the nearest Imperial Survey Beacon. Close enough for it to be routine, if we are careful. If not, the universe is a big place. What she meant was that it wouldn't be difficult to get lost. According to survey, we're the first known Imperial vessel in this Instance. That doesn't necessarily mean we're safe. It means we don't know. There might be ston vessels lurking about, or possibly aliens of comparable capability. Nothing in-system, ScAnara explained, but with Vector Drive and Interstitial, they could have a corps waiting to pounce and we wouldn't have any warning until discharge. While linking with me, she had received several other communications. I couldn't keep track of it all. Not yet, but you will. Here we go.

The ship lifted off, smoothly accelerating straight off the ground upwards, then rotating so we were facing in our direction of travel, and no, I didn't feel a anything. You know how you expect to feel force when your car is accelerating, cornering or braking? We had to be maneuvering more violently than any earth car, plane or rocket, and I didn't feel a twitch. It was like Earth's gravity, or our own motion, didn't translate to any kind of force. We got to a point where we were maybe a few thousand feet up, and...

Blink! The exterior view changed. We were now in space. Earth was nowhere I could see. After some searching, I found a much shrunken sun in the distance, and a few small widely spaced irregular rocks around us. Your astronomers call these the Trailing Trojans, one sixth of the orbit behind the planet you call Jupiter. We're going to launch a beacon and recover our auxiliaries here. A roughly five foot radius sphere dropped from our ship, while suddenly four firefly sparks appeared around us in the radar display, arrowing in towards us. They had merged with the dot in the middle of the radar screen representing us before I saw any of them in the visual display. Their function was obvious as soon as I saw them - high performance fighter craft, and they were gorgeous. Not in painting or decoration, but in the manner of well-designed machines. They reminded me of diving falcons. Wide aerodynamic wings mid-body that were proportionally shorter than earth aircraft, small nacelles both over and under the ends of each wing. If you've ever idly wondered what it was like to fly one of the US's military fighters, you'll understand why I immediately had a serious lust to fly one. Think F-22 or F-35, and then consider what if they had way more thrust and weren't bound by atmosphere? One man Starbirds, military mark fiftysix. There are civilian versions, too, and you should be able to learn to pilot them. Oh, sweet Jesus, yes! The Starbirds swiftly attached themselves, one each above and below each of the "wings" of our cruiser I had noted earlier.

Interstitial in five seconds. I should probably mention that it was about this point I realized that ScAnara was piloting as well as commanding and talking with me. I later learned they did have the capability of separating the functions in particularly demanding circumstances, but generally the Empire expected the ship's commander to also be its pilot, and even when the functions were separated the pilot was less independent than any of the other subordinates. It was a long five seconds. It's one thing to know that imperial seconds were longer, but that didn't tell the little timer in your head to stop counting just as fast as it always had.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

 



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