Space Date: Part 5

The League jet had cameras all around the body, allowing me to check out almost the entire hull without leaving the cockpit. I’d always thought that was cool, but as of that moment I could guess at the practical reason why Grandpa had installed them.

A long, black shell clung three quarters of the way down the hull. The fact that it had attached itself said a lot about it.

A depressingly large amount.

For example, it said it could match our speed. We’d hit a small but significant fraction of the speed of light. If something less than six feet long could catch us, they probably had better technology.

A reactionless drive would theoretically let it move without carrying a lot of mass. And while it was violating physics anyway, who knew what else it had aboard? At that tech level, the thing wouldn’t have to be a flying missile. It might actually be a sentient machine.

Beyond the question of how cool that was, it opened up a lot of possibilities. It might be a relatively recently constructed AI, or citizen of one of the machine civilizations I’d heard were somewhere out there.

Either way, we might be able to persuade a sentient machine to go find something better to do.

Of course, if it was a combat drone, we might as well start writing our obituaries.

Still, the fact that it hadn’t yet blown itself up argued against that possibility.

Given our heading, it might be trying to reach the gate, but not be massive enough to use it alone.

The question was, where did it plan to go after that, and was it our problem?

I considered possibilities, but Haley pulled me out of my thoughts by reaching out with her hand, and muting the comm.

“Nick, I’m going out there. We can’t leave that thing on the ship.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It might be an option.”

I began to tell her my thoughts when Raptor’s voice came from the communicator.

“Don’t let the drone near the gate. It’s probably been spying out here for months, and plans to use you to get close enough to get away. Let it go, and half the spiral arm will know our defenses.”

I clicked the comm off mute. “What do you want me to do, change course?”

“That would be a good start.”

It might be. If it realized we weren’t going to the gate, it might let go, slide slowly through our shield like it must have on the way in, and find another victim–or if not a victim, another taxi.

That assumed, of course, that we didn’t blast it out of existence as soon as it was off our hull.

I looked at Haley. “What do you think? I think we could still try to talk to it.”

“If all we need to do to get it to leave us alone is turn, let’s turn.”


I activated the directional jets, pointing the ship into the beginning of a long arc that would eventually take us home.

It didn’t let go.

Haley watched its image on the monitor. “What do you think it wants?”

“I don’t know. I wonder if it would survive reentry?”

She frowned. “What do you think it would do on Earth if it did?”

Over the comm, Raptor said, “Is it off?”

“No,” I said.

“Then you’d better clear it off. No… Ignore that. Don’t do it. I’ll send you our position, and we’ll get rid of it.”

“Could I talk to it? Then it might let go by itself.”

“Don’t be naive.”

The ship’s computer beeped. We’d received Raptor’s position. It would take at least half an hour to get there.

Time enough for a conversation.

17 thoughts on “Space Date: Part 5”

  1. Oh thats cool. Also, I hate Raptor. He’s annoying for some reason.

    Also, it feels like they are getting…whats the word? Insensitive? About such things? I mean, first time in space, find this uber tech probe thing and they seem a little blasé. Or maybe thats just how I’m reading the tone? Then again, a lot of teenagers these days do have that sense of invulnerability.

    I may well be rambling abit…I’ve not slept in about 40ish hours, and my mind is going “warble”. But a fantastic read as always. Love your work! 🙂

  2. Thanks. I don’t think about it as being blasé about it, but Nick’s normal wonder about the thing might be overshadowed by the possibility that it will blow up at any time. Also, of course, he’s heard about them before.

    That being said, that may be something I should think about on revision.

  3. Now wouldn’t it be awkward if the machine turned out to be sentient, but only mildly so and trying to mate with the league jet?

  4. No, awkward would be when they discover the machine is “male” as it becomes excited by the league jet. I wonder how you patch a ship from the inside whilst in space?

  5. Actually, WA_side, patching from the inside is the easy way. Y’see, as soon as there is a hole, there begins a rather violent migration of gaseous air from inside to outside, as the pressure differential attempts to equalize. And since fast-flowing air tends to haul things along with it (as anyone who has ever flown a kite can attest), we very quickly have everything that’s not nailed to the bulkhead making a mass exodus for the newly improvised exit. Given a lucky combination of stuff, this could actually plug the hole all by itself. However, what most people don’t really think about (at least consciously), is that what holds the lucky plug in place is the mass of ALL OF THE AIR that’s still inside the ship. (I know, I know, air weighs all of, what, nothing? But I’m not talking weight, I’m talking mass, which is significant at standard earth-atmosphere density. Consider that the air above your head when you’re standing on your favourite ocean-side beach has a mass of about 1 kilogram per square centimeter, which translates to about 14 lbs sitting on each square inch of your head.)

    So, now think about what would happen if you actually took a big piece of metal or plastic — something rigid enough that it wouldn’t fold under the pressure and slip through the breach — and slapped it across the hole. The mass of the air it would now be blocking, a.k.a. everything left in the ship, would be doing its darned-est to push that piece through the hole so that it could carry on with its God-given tendency toward equalization. Put a little caulking around the edges to fill any gaps and keep the patch from sliding around, and you’re good to go — at least as a stop-gap measure, anyway. (Heeeeyyyyyyy… so that’s where that phrase comes from!)


  6. The funny thing about cliffhangers in my mind is that there are at least a couple different kinds.

    You can do a very direct cliffhanger where something bad looks like it’s about to happen, and you cut things there whether or not the scene is over.

    You can also do something that’s a little less direct where you resolve the scene you’re in, but then make it clear that something more has to happen.

    I try to do the latter rather than the former. Sometimes that’s hard to arrange, but that being said, given a choice between ending at a point where the reader is neutral about continuing, and point where the reader wants to read on, I choose enthusiasm.

    Oddly enough, one of my trumpet teachers (a Jazz musician) advised ending solos on a seventh. In music theory, the seventh note in a scale generally leaves the listener with a need to resolve the tension, setting things up for the next solo, or for finishing the piece.

    I tend to think of this as similar.

  7. I wonder if that’s because of Jazz’s tendency towards call and respond. End on the seventh, give someone a need to respond, like so many annoying commentators with names that involve mental conditions and animals that talk about nothing that actually matters.

  8. Could be. People do respond to other people’s solos sometimes.

    That being said, what’s even more like call and response is “trading fours.” Basically you swap off doing a solo every four measures instead of going through the entire chorus. You can also swap other lengths. For example, you can trade every two measures, or even every measure (though that sounds hard).

  9. Am I the only one who’s left feeling so…..afraid?? Nick and Haley are in deep space all alone with this……thing… attached to the ship. Nobody knows if it wants to make out with the jetship, blow it to hell, or simply get directions to the local nebula. I feel like I did the first time I saw Alien.

    Which is another way of saying “awesome stuff” Jim.

  10. I hope it is sentient! That brings lots of possibilities for this trip. Nick may find out something about the technology of the drone through some kind of partnership that allows him to start his “next generation” Rocket suit. Not that the suit he has isn’t good, but with what we’ve seen so far, he loves to tinker. Building a new suit from the ground up, or at least heavily modifying his grandfather’s designs, sounds like exactly what he’d do.

    Though I’m not sure if that’s allowed? Wasn’t the purpose of the Xiniti to keep humans from acquiring tech they weren’t ready for?

    Also, to me, I don’t think they were completely unfazed by it. Haley seemed to have the rational, “get it off” reaction. Nick seemed to be geeking out and figuring out if it was dangerous in equal measures, in his engineer fashion.

  11. Sentient weapons?

    Well that’s not useful at all. Sentient weapons could decide to stop fighting or switch sides. Getting sentients to be your weapons, corrupting them, that’s entirely different. I say blast it and take it to a space station for a good old fashioned alien autopsy. If it turns out to still be alive, good old fashioned anal probing. Yeeehaw!

  12. I am ablative armour! Life is boring, then briefly exciting, then over! I am ablative armour! Life is…

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