Friday, September 27, 2013

Full-Throttle Ahrrotl - Chapter 3

Jump back to Full-Throttle Ahrottl Chapter 2

                Ahrrotl was dragged from a deep sleep and confusing dreams of huge alien beings locking her in a tiny cage while copulating violently nearby.  A sing-song tone played over and over; the ringer for her door.

                “Come in!” She croaked, and shivered herself into a more wakeful state.  Maria came in, looking concerned.

                “Hi, Ahrrotl, we found something interesting.  Did you want to come and see?”

                Ahrrotl stretched and stood up, her joints popping.  She gave a huge shiver to settle her fur and blinked a few times.  “Yes.  Let me get a drink, I’ll be right there.”

                Maria nodded and left, and Ahrottl went to her cold storage unit and obtained a sweet stimulant in a squeeze bottle, and headed out of her quarters.  She walked down the hallway, passing the small kitchen and dining area and out into the small bridge where she had spent most of her time on the journey.  She stumbled a little as she moved towards her beanbag, but Algernon called out, “Hey Throttle, come see this!”

                Right, they wanted me to see something.  Probably a rock.  She yawned widely and took a strong pull from the squeeze bottle and ambled over to where Gerry and Maria were sitting, under the watchful eyes of a projection of Mother Superior.   She looked towards what they were indicating.

                It was most definitely not a rock.

                The projection that the crew was looking at (and the AI’s avatar was hovering over) resembled a sphere with even spines stretched out of the material , causing a fluting effect along the edges of the spines.  The spines themselves were longer than the sphere at the center was wide.  The surface was shiny, and appeared to have an oily iridescence to it.

                “What is it?”  Ahrottl asked, baffled.

                “We don’t know.”  Maria said.  “For some reason it read as being made of molybdenum at a distance, but now that we’re closer…”  She trailed off.

                “Now that we’re closer, all that we can be sure of is that it is made of an unfamiliar alloy.”  Mother Superior supplied in crisp tones.  “The object is roughly four times the size of our ship at its widest points, and volume- wise occupies at least six times as much space.  It is cooler than the surrounding space, which suggests either absorptive capabilities or recent placement.”

                Ahrottl’s stomach dropped at “recent placement”.  “That – that can’t be good.  Shouldn’t we head back and notify someone?”

                Gerry turned around and looked at her with a shocked expression.

                “Notify?  Before we lay claim to it?”  He shook his head, grinning.  “That’s crazy talk.  We’ve got to tag this!”

                Maria frowned at him.  “Tag it?  It’s obviously an artifact of some sort – it’s too regular to be natural and whatever it’s composed of it isn’t something that occurs naturally.”

                Algernon snorted.  “That we know of.  The universe is big, a lot of funky things happen.”

                “Maybe it’s the center of a dead star.”  Ahrrotl mused.

                Maria frowned again and rolled her eyes.  Algernon just grinned.

                “No, seriously.  They say that when a star novas, sometimes the inner core remains intact.  Maybe we’ve found one.”

                “I’ve never heard that in any of my astrophysics classes, Throttle.”  Gerry was scratching at his nose again as he scanned figures.  “We should be able to match with it in a matter of minutes.  I want to jump out in a suit, lay a tag on it, try and get a sample, and then we can head back to Lotus.  It’ll be no sweat, seriously.”

                “We don’t even know what it is, Gerry!  You want to jump out and take a scraping of it?  For heaven’s sake, what if it’s someone’s ship?”  Maria sounded exasperated.

                “If it was an active ship it would have made a contact attempt by now.  Oh, and it would have insignia and drives and other things that ships have.  It’s a twisted hunk of metal floating in a place where no ship goes unless it’s looking for minerals.  Not even Ningyo like going past the Oort clouds; there’s literally nothing out here.”

                Ahrrotl’s imagination, her primary source of income and entertainment, was rapidly providing her with images of all of the terrible things that the object could be.  “What if it’s a decoy?  Or a … creature?”

                Algernon laughed outright.  There was something odd about his laugh; he sounded stressed.  Ahrrotl noticed that the veins on his face and neck were standing out just a bit also.  “A creature?  Look, I get it.  I know you were interested in coming mostly for material for one of your books; it’s okay.  But things like that – they aren’t real, okay.  I know, I’ve been doing this most of my life.  No space monsters.  And a decoy?  Out here?  No one comes out here.  If we hadn’t been looking in just the right place at just the right time we wouldn’t have even noticed it!  It’s a lump of twisted metal.  It doesn’t even look all that even –“

                “The object is symmetrical along at least three axes, Captain.”  Mother Superior interrupted.

                Gerry smacked his hand into the console.  “Look, even if this thing is manufactured, is an artifact, there is no energy output.  It’s dead.  It’s probably been dead for a long, long time.  I’m going to go out there and take care of it.  Please trust me, I’ll be fine.”  He looked back and forth between Maria and Ahrrotl, almost pleading.

                Ahrrotl realized that she had stilled and started to sway a little, but lowered her gaze to his feet.  This wasn’t her decision.  Maria, on the other hand, was biting her lip and glancing back and forth between the projected image of the spiky object and her husband.  “All right, Gerry.  I understand you want to see it in person, but I want you to agree to be put on a line.  That way we can tug you back if there’s anything we notice that you don’t.”

                Algernon nodded and smiled, pulling his thick black hair behind his head and tying it into a quick ponytail.  “No problem.   I have to use the facilities, then I’m going to suit up.”  Brimming with barely concealed energy, he practically bounced into the back of the ship and shut himself in the lavatory, singing quietly as he went.

                Maria sat down heavily on her stool and looked down at Ahrrotl.  “He always gets like this on the edge of deep space.”

                Ahrrotl flopped down onto her beanbag and took a long swig of her stimulant.  “What do you mean?”

                “Antsy, nervous, excited.  He … he claims that he can tell where the edge of the solar system is, that he can sense when the solar wind tapers off-“

                “I can still hear you!” came a sing-song voice from the back of the ship.

                Maria scoffed and shook her head.  Algernon came bounding back onto the bridge.  He was wearing a black pressure suit with almost painfully reflective orange and green stripes.  Only the helmet was not yet affixed, and was hanging behind his head and knocking against his shoulders as he moved.

                “She’s right – I think I can, because I can.  Look, like I said, the universe is a funky place.  Creatures have capabilities that they are frequently unaware of.

                “The first time I ever passed an Oort cloud, the first time I went out into the Great Dark, I felt it.  It was like … it was like breathing for the first time.  Like I was awakened to something I’d never felt or heard before because.  It feels like a presence, like a pressure, but a comfortable one…”  His hands flailed a little as though he was grasping at words.

                “But since the first time, I can always tell.  I can tell when we hit the end of the solar wind, I can tell when we pass the clouds, I can tell when the Empty begins.  I’ve tested myself on this, you know.  I’m just surprised no one else has ever reported similar feelings.”

                “Maybe it’s because no one is crazy like you.”  Maria said, smiling.

                “Love you too, honey!”  Algernon bent down to kiss her.  As they embraced, she reached behind him and helped him to affix his helmet.  “Tommy, are you coming with me?”  His voice came out of his helmet, projected.

                “Of course, Mr. Algernon!  I wouldn’t miss it for all the worlds!”

                “Allright Gerry.  Be careful, and if you don’t attach the line before you break contact I’m leaving you here.”  Ahrrotl could tell that she was worried.

                Algernon strode towards the airlock in the back of the ship.  After a couple of minutes, an image of his face appeared projected over one of the panels.  “Can you see me?”

                Maria nodded.  Ahrrotl piped out, “Yes.”  She started to go through a stretching routine on her beanbag.  The stimulant and sugars were doing their job, her blood was moving more quickly through her body and she was starting to feel far more awake.  She was sick of having to do her stretches alone, though.  Not too long until I can find a partner.  She thought glumly.  Just another couple of days of stinky, argumentative humans.

                A third projection appeared, this time showing Algernon in his pressure suit negotiating the outside of their ship.  Ahrrotl’s gaze went back and forth between the three projections.  Gerry fiddled with the back of his suit, pulling a control limb made of metal forward into his hand and adjusting it.  A moment later, he separated from the surface of their vessel, still linked to it by heat resistant poly cording, and began to drift towards the object.

                His face was rapt.  “It’s amazing!  I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of event would form something like this.  It’s…”  He shook his head.

                The holo of the object showed a tiny figure moving towards it now, gently, gracefully.

                Algernon frowned.  “I might be nuts, but it feels like my acceleration has increased.  Tommy?”

                Tommy’s voice piped up.  “Yes, sir, it has, by a tiny degree.”

                Maria and Ahrottl looked at each other, then Maria glanced up at Mother Superior.  “What could be causing this?”

                Mother Superior raised her thin, grey eyebrows.  “I honestly do not know, Maria.  Magnetic pull seems unlikely.  I am attempting to examine other potential sources of the pull.”

                Maria nodded.  “Gerry, please come back.  That’s… weird.  It shouldn’t be happening.”

                Ahrottl realized that she had stilled again.  Images of the spiny mass coiling inwards and swallowing Algernon kept playing through her mind.  She jumped to her feet and off of the beanbag.  “Gerry, listen to Maria.  This can’t be good.”

                Gerry just looked frustrated.  “The pull is gentle.  It’s nothing to be afraid of.”

                Maria pursed her lips and banged both of her fists on the console, standing up and looking the holo of Algernon eye-to-eye.  “LOOK, Algernon, we have no clue what this thing is, and it’s sucking you towards it.  For all we know it could be…”

                “What, Maria?  A space monster?  A sleeping alien god?”  He shook his head.  “Even Mother Superior said, it’s colder than the space around it.  The damn thing isn’t radiating anything, at least not anything that we can pick up on.  I’m only about twenty meters away.”  He sighed.  “It’s magnificent… and…”  He grew quiet, his gaze focusing downwards.  The miniature Algernon on the map continued drifting and seemed to make a gentle contact with the object, feet-first.

                “And it’s got writing on it.  Letters.  I’ll be damned.  It’s an artifact after all.”

1 comment:

  1. Yay! A wild problem appeared! Here's a great example of something else I'm struggling with. Some 'big events' happen in moments, and you end up writing pages and pages just to lead up to them and pages and pages with characters trying to figure out what happened. Other 'big events' unfold slowly. A full chapter is spent here just describing a thing and the characters' investigations of and reactions to it. Just its introduction. Then again, whole books are about strange, alien Things, and not just the Thing(s): Rama, Ringworld, Robot City (actually, a whole lot of books about each). Artifacts are mysteries in themselves AND links to the cultures that generated them. I see these stories as similar to the thrill archaologists get at finding a new type of knife, or linguists at encountering a novel grammar. It's not just the thing itself, it's the lure of putting it into context.

    In summary: Algernon is being dumb, and I wouldn't be able to act any differently.