Monday, July 9, 2012
Science Fiction Sanity
Diners at the Memory’s End
Copyright 2012, Raymond Frazee, All Rights Reserved.
Note: this is is being written as you read it. It is a first draft, and as such, it may be presented with typos. Please excuse these, and remember that everything will be nice, clean, and near perfect, when you buy this story. Remember--you get what you pay for.
Thursday, 2 October, 3183
“How we doin’, Maggs?”
There’s an interesting question, Meredith thought. Given what she’s doing this moment, and how she’s doing it, one wonders who is going to answer . . .
Meredith had been to Penningham Spaceport before. Everyone who arrived at New Oxford came through Penningham, and she’d been no different when her shuttle touched down a year ago. But she’d disembarked the shuttle through Interplanet Customs, and then through the passenger terminal and down to the six hundred year old subway that still ran between the spaceport and New Oxford.
After leaving the campus grounds, though, Albert brought Meredith to a part of the spaceport she knew existed, but had never seen. Every private, and nearly every commercial trans kept at Penningham were stored in underground bays, and Meredith knew those bays were sunk deep and, in some cases, extended for many kilometers beyond the visible boundaries of the spaceport.
They transomed into a station somewhere within the hanger bay complex. Albert was off instantly, with Meredith close behind. The corridor they walked followed alongside one of the huge, softly-lit, ship tunnels that led to one of many lifts, which, in turn, led to the surface. Their path was near the ship tunnel’s ceiling, and she could see easily; immense space below. She hoped they’d see a ship gliding along silently on a cushion of magnetic fields on it’s way to another part of the planet—or even into orbit.
She was somewhat unnerved by the quiet; she’d half expected to find a cacophony of sound reverberating off the walls—not this all-encompassing silence. And with the low, subdued lighting, it made the area feel somewhat spooky.
None of this seemed to bother Albert, however. He didn’t look around; he didn’t pause in his forward progress. Meredith saw him checking marks here and there, he didn’t look around like he was lost; rather, it seemed as if he was checking his marks, as if confirming that he needed to turn here, watch for something there . . .
He knows where he’s going, she thought. He knows his way through this labyrinth. Once again, the question appeared in her mind: What does Albert do? She knew it was entirely possible that the ship they were headed for—this Liberator—wasn’t his, that he was using it for a few days. Which brought up the next question: If it’s not his, who are these people he knows?
They turned left and crossed over the ship tunnel, then turned right, passed two side corridors, then turned left down the third. Meredith checked the markings to the right of the passage. They were very clear: Bay 17-B. And below that a ship’s name: HMSS Liberator.
The ship has a Her Majesty’s designation? Meredith almost gasped aloud. It was one thing to register a name for your ship: everyone did. But you had to be something . . . special . . . to get a HM designation. You had to know someone, and that someone was usually in the Department of Transportation—
Albert started clapping as they neared the end of the corridor. “Winnie is true to her word,” he said. Meredith saw the large Cameron Compressor, and knew they were the telescopes Albert had requested. He punched up the inventory list. “Eight fifty centimeter scopes and—” He turned to Meredith, grinning. “And a gamma ray detector.” He activated a control and the CAM began hovering about waist-high. “Time to star gaze.”
On the other side of the large door was the bay, and in the center of the bay sat Liberator. As they took the lift to the bay floor, Meredith examined the craft. She recognized it as a Princess-class System Ship, a simple craft with an electropolymorphic hull, a powerful fusion drive capable of twenty gravities acceleration, and enough fuel and provisions to keep a couple of people happy for at least six months as they toured a solar system.
At the moment Liberator was configured as its basic hull: twenty-five meters long, six meters across, and maybe five meters high. It was easy to see the modifications to the hull: there were large viewing windows at the front of the hell, and there seemed to be a bubble in the roof about a third of the way back from the bow.
Meredith was able to see more as they approached the ship, walking around the bow and heading for the port side. The ship’s T-aileron assembly was deployed, but the wings were not. She noticed the slight flaring ten meters from the bow, and figured this was where the venting would open for the scramjets needed for hypersonic flight. But there was something a little different about this design . . . I wonder if Liberator can do atmospheric scooping? If that was true, she knew fuel would never be an issue with this craft. It also means the ship has been heavily modified; the Princess-class was never meant to have hydrogen scoop and processor. That’s all military-grade equipment—
An open appeared in the port side of the craft as soon as they rounded the bow. Albert popped inside, Meredith right behind. As the door closed, Albert pushed the CAM aside. Turning to Meredith, he said, “Welcome to home for the next few days.” Before she could give him a reply, his eyes shifted to the left. “Maggie!”
A figured quickly rose out of the floor. To Meredith, she thought the avatar—because that’s what this person was—was based upon an old East Asian genotype, possibly Chinese or Japanese. She was thin, she had magnificent long, black hair, and her dark brown eyes glowed with intelligence. She was dressed in a colorful, loose-fitting top, cream colored capri pants, and very cute, pink, strappy sandals.
This was Maggie—and Meredith knew, she was also Liberator, for she was the avatar, the AI that controlled every ship-board function. Without her, this vessel wouldn’t even exist.
Albert quickly explained what they were planning—but there wasn’t actually that much that needed planning. It seemed that Albert had spent a great deal of time speaking to Maggie through their link, so by the time they arrived it was up to her to lock the scopes away, while Albert prepared for flight.
It all moved so quickly after that. Albert had Liberator moved from the bay into the tunnel, the spaceport using their automated system of levitating fields to pull the ship down the underground passages to the nearest lift tube. Once they were on the surface—and back into the rain—the wings were deployed as they moved onto the nearest runway. After a few minutes of waiting for clearance, Albert throttled up the engines, and took Liberator into the air on his own. Because gravity and inertia were being compensated, Meredith felt nothing, and only knew they were climbing by watching their progress through the main window, and any number of holo terminals Maggie made available for her.
There wasn’t much of anything to see as the cloud deck was very low, around a kilometer. They were in varying shades of gray and darkness until they reached four kilometers, then it was a nearly unlimited expanse of sunlit white as far as one could see.
There wasn’t much time to enjoy the view, as they were suddenly pitching up, and the scramjets were powering up . . .
Meredith had never been in high orbit before. In fact, the only time she’d even been in space had been during a few trans-atmospheric flight, as well as the shuttle flights to and from the ship that brought her to University. She’s never been to her own planet’s moons, so she’d never seen a planet from a few tens of thousands of kilometers away, let alone three hundred thousand. Though he wasn’t piloting the ship—Maggie was doing all the calculations and delta-v burns—Albert remained in the bubble for the entire time it took for Liberator to get into position.
Meredith suspected that Albert was up there because he was watching everything unfold through his instruments, and by “staying in the loop,” he knew what was happening at all times. As if there were something he could do, she thought. It’s not like if Maggie shut down he’d be able to pilot us back to University manually. If we had a problem, he’d contact Space Rescue . . . She looked about the cabin, looked up and saw his legs, and little else, and smiled. If anything truly bad happened, we’d never know it. We’d either get locked up in emergency status—or die.
They were in a stable orbit a little over an hour after they departed Penningham. Meredith knew the engines of the Princess-class could reach twenty gs acceleration, but she had begun to suspect there was nothing ordinary about Liberator. Besides the ram scooping, were they also changes to the engines? She’d have to do the calculations, but she thought that even a ship with a twenty g acceleration profile should have taken a little longer to reach their orbit—which, as Albert has promised, was three hundred thousand kilometers, inclined 88 degrees to the equator. She suspected Liberator could accelerate to twenty gs, and beyond.
And once they were in orbit, Maggie went to work.
A few minutes after Maggie passed the CAM through Liberator’s wall and into space, Albert called for Meredith to join him in the pilot’s bubble. Not only was there an amazing panorama of space, but from here one could watch Maggie setting up the telescopes—all at once.
She’d split herself into eight parts, and each avatar was tasked with taking one scope, securing it to the hull, and making certain it was tied into the ship’s main processor. Of course there wasn’t eight Maggie; there was only one. And each avatar was really an extension of the ship, able to walk upon the the outside of the hull because, just like the avatar Meredith had met inside the cabin, they were nothing more than an ambulatory segment of the electropolymorphic hull.
Even though each of the Maggies were working in the vacuum of space, it didn’t mean that they hadn’t decided to look stylish while doing their job . . .
Each Maggie was dressed in an outfit that looked like an exaggerated, over-styled school girl uniform. They were all very colorful, but Meredith saw they were also so . . . well, nearly all the Maggies were in heels, which she supposed didn’t matter, given that none of them were going to have to worry about twisting an ankle, or tripping and falling off the ship, to end up floating off into space. Their gloves were made more for opera and less for working, each had a choker with a tiny star positioned over their throat, and they were all wearing elaborate headbands that almost looked like tiaras.
And two of them carried scepters—no, check that. Meredith realized one carried a scepter and the other carried a long pike with a huge, curved, double-blade at the end. It’s not like she needs that weapon, she thought. So why? Is it part of her uniform? Meredith decided she didn’t want to know.
That’s was when Albert asked Maggie how she was doing . . .
The Maggie closest to the pilot’s bubble—dressed in a very light green uniform, and wearing low heels with ribbons wrapped about her ankles—turned to face them. “We’re doing fine,” she said. Albert and Meredith could hear her well, because while this Maggie’s mouth was voice the words, the avatar was really speaking to them from inside the ship. “We’re getting the scopes integrated into the hull matrix; I’ll align them so they’ll track independent of the movement of the ship, and we should be in position to accept data within seventy-five minute.”
“Did you get the request list from my account?” Albert asked.
‘Yes. I’ve got it all set up on my system. I sent a notice—in your name—that we can accommodate a lot more data channels, now that I know what I’m configuring.”
“How many more.”
“Two thousand, two hundred, forty-six.”
Albert nodded. “That’s a good deal.” He turned to Meredith, but he was still speaking to Maggie while he look at her. “We’re going to be down in the cabin. If you need us—”
“Hey!” A Maggie sanding upon the port wing and near the hull, dressed in red and wearing matching high heels, turned toward the bubble. “Who’s going to set up the gamma ray detector.” She pointed to the telescope floating next to her. “I’m already in the middle of something, if you didn’t notice.”
A Maggie on the far starboard wing, the one with the large bladed weapons, turned away from the scope she was putting into place. “Yeah, we’re all busy. Who’s going to set that up?”
“Save it for last, and one of you do.” He nodded toward the other scepter-carrying Maggie at the bow. “Or have Pluto do it; she can be in two places at the same time. Right?”
The Maggie standing next to the character Albert had called “Pluto”, dressed all in blue, including her boots, mumbled, “You could get Dumpling Head out here.”
Meredith had no idea what they were talking about, but Albert understood the conversation. She didn’t know if this was something they’d set up ahead of time for her entertainment, or if they engaged in banter like this all the time. “You go wake up that lazy Rabbit of the Moon and drag her ass out here. You can’t gonna get that gamma ray detector set up any quicker if having her do it.” He shook his head. “Have the Senshi of Time deal with it.”
Pluto Maggie was having none of it. “Making us poor girls slave away in the dark of space—”
A short-haired Maggie, now standing close to the first version of Maggie the spoke with, said, “Yeah, we should do something about this . . .”
Albert realized when he was being given an opening. “Yeah? What are you Magical Senshi Maggies gonna do?”
Each Maggie turned towards the pilot’s bubble. They struck a defiant stance, their legs spread and their feet planted. They crossed their arms across their breasts, their right hands away from their bodies with the thumb, index, and pinkie fingers extended, and the left index finger pointed in the direction of the bubble like a pistol. Simultaneously, each Maggie said, in Japanese, “Tsuku ni kawatte, oshio kiyo!”
Albert threw up his hands in surrender. “Okay, ya got me!” His laugh was loud in the bubble. “Let me know when we’re ready to go.” Albert slipped out of the pilot’s chair and went into the cabin; Meredith followed, noticing another Maggie rising out of the hull—presumably to mount the gamma ray detector.
In the cabin Albert sauntered up to the front. “We got time to relax now.” He looked out the main windows onto nothing but black and stars. “It’s been a while since I’ve been out this deep.”
“You come out here much?” Meredith asked, slowly making her way around the other side of the large V-shaped seating in front of the bubble steps.
“Usually not this far.” He shook his head, never taking his eyes off the expanse of emptiness. “I’m been up to Aula; I’ve even been out to Melling a couple of times.” He turned towards Meredith. “Not a lot to see there.”
“It’s just a small rock,” she said of University’s outer moon. “I wouldn’t imagine you’d see much.”
“No. You don’t.” Albert walked over to the V-section and sat. He turned to Meredith. “Enjoying yourself so far?”
“Oh, what girl wouldn’t?” She sat opposite Albert, the triangle-shaped table between them. “You know, it’s not every student in that class who has a study partner with their own spaceship.” Meredith stared hard at Albert. “This is yours, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “Sure.”
“What’s the acceleration profile on Liberator?” It wasn’t hard for Meredith to come across as curious, because she was.
Albert was quick with his answer. “Thirty gs.”
“The Princess-class has a maximum profile of twenty gs.”
“Princess-class?” Chuckling, Albert asked, “You identified it with one look?”
Meredith pointed to herself. “Hey: hyperspace engineer, remember? I love ships. I can identify most without having to tap into the web.” She laid her hands in her lap. “So the ship is modified.”
“Yeah, she’s got a few mods.”
“Like the ram scoops?”
“You noticed those, too?”
“Need I say it?”
A silence fell over the cabin. Meredith saw that Albert was thinking, but about what, she didn’t know. She didn’t want him to change the subject, so after almost ten seconds she said, “Those type of mods—that’s pretty much military grade tech.”
Another five seconds passed before Albert stopped twiddling this thumbs and set his hands upon the table. “I know a few people.”
“The same people got you a HM designation.”
“Albert . . .” Meredith shook her head. “What do you do?”
He didn’t miss a beat. “A little bit of everything.”
Albert considered blurting out his secrets, everything about him that he’d told Cytheria he’d not discuss when he got into class and began interacting with other students. I so want to tell her, he thought. I so want her to know everything about me—and it’s not like she’s going to be able to get up and leave afterwords—
He also knew it was impossible for him to tell her these things. Not only would he be pissing Security Service off, but he’d likely be in violation of more than a few Rules of the Empire. My just being here is a Secret of the State—and no way in hell I can tell her about my better half . . .
Meredith saved him, however. “You do things for the government, don’t you?”
“Yeah, a few things,” he said, nodding. Well, I’m not lying—
“Anything you can talk about?”
“Not really.” Albert cleared his throat. “I mean, it’s not like I’m like a secret agent—”
“Who just happens to have his own spaceship!” she said, laughing. “Not a very good cover, mate!”
“No, it isn’t.” Albert joined in the laughter, the sound filling the cabin for a few more seconds. For the first time today, both Meredith and Albert looked happy and relaxed, knowing that all they had to do now was wait for Maggie to finish setting things up, getting the telescopes calibrated, and waiting for CQ Draconis to put on its show.
That was when Meredith asked the question she’d not though of until now: “How long are we going to be up here?”
Albert had that figured that out as well. “Well, this afternoon and evening, then tomorrow, and then . . .” He shrugged. “I figure most of the show will be picked up by the stuff on the ground by late Friday."
Meredith hadn’t considered how much time they were going to spend up here. She didn’t pack anything for any sort of extended stay, but then . . . With this sort of ship, if I need something, anything, Maggie can probably create it for me.
There was another issue, however— “Albert, I know we’re suppose to be observing, but we can’t do that all the time. What else are we going to do?”
Not surprisingly, he also had an answer for that question. “You ever wear powered armor?”
Did you like it? Hate it? Did it make you look for sharp objects? Do you want Maggie's number? Have you worn powered armor? Leave a comment and Tell Me!