Between: Part 4

“Monopoly?” Jaclyn raised an eyebrow and looked at me. “Seriously? Why?”

I shrugged. “To kill time. We’ve got a week in jumpspace and as you can see,” I pointed toward the infinite gray outside the window, “it’ s not very interesting. Plus, I was joking a little too. We probably ought to come up with ideas for how we’ll handle it if we have to defend the colony. There’s no question they’re being followed.”

Jaclyn shook her head. “Skip the Monopoly then. Let’s get prepared.”

Cassie laughed. “That figures.”

Katuk said, “On smaller Xiniti ships, we often do simulated drills of attack and defense patterns. On the larger ships, of course, we have facilities for physical training.”

Jaclyn frowned. Tikki unstrapped herself from her seat and looked around the group. “So what’s Monopoly? Is it a game?”

“It’s a game,” Marcus said, “a really, really long game. It’s fun, but it’s not short.”

Tikki nodded along as he spoke. “What are you trying to do?”

“Get rich,” I said. “If I remember it right, it became popular when a lot of people were poor on our world. So it was a fantasy, I guess. What you try to do is buy property, charge people rent, and become the wealthiest player.”

Watching me with his big, black eyes, Katuk said, “That sounds like a dangerous game. You’re taking money from those you play with and work to acquire more than the others. It seems as though it would breed jealousy and division. Is that the custom on your world?”

I thought about it. “I don’t know. I don’t know the history of other worlds well enough to say that we’ve got more of that than other places.”

Hal, the ship’s AI, spoke before anyone else, his “voice” sounding over our implants or in Tikki’s case, her bracelet.

[If I might interject, I’ve prepared a number of simulations that will put your group through common offensive and defensive situations. You’ll be able to experience and therefore assess group members’ personalities and training in combat.]

“If everyone’s okay with it,” I said.

Everyone was—except for Tikki, and she wasn’t against it as much as unsure. “I’d like to, but I don’t have an implant—just this bracelet—and I’m not part of their team, so I don’t know where I’d fit in?”

She looked down at the bracelet.

Hal responded, [The bracelet will be adequate for this function. As for your presence, their purpose here is to protect civilians. Having a civilian who isn’t a simulation will be useful. Did you participate in the Human Ascendancy’s militia units?]

Her mouth twisted. “It’s required. I wouldn’t have been able to attend school without it.”

[Then I’ll arm you with standard infantry equipment in some scenarios.]

The week settled into a rhythm after the first day. We’d run through combat scenarios. Hal simulated combat on ships and between them, on planets, and in the atmosphere above them. Run through Xiniti implants, it felt like we were there. I could hear the rain, and even more impressive, feel and smell it.

I’d become awake later with my body feeling like I’d slept in a strange position. This was more or less true. And the AI wasn’t wrong. We did become familiar with how people fought. I didn’t have much to learn about Jaclyn, Marcus, or Cassie because I’d been training with them for years. Katuk though? I learned through fighting with him that the Xiniti we’d killed wasn’t an exception. Katuk moved almost as quickly as Jaclyn in his armor even if he wasn’t as strong. He made up for the relative slowness with his weapons—laser, plasma gun, and a sharp blade.

Especially at the beginning, Katuk would forget that he wasn’t part of a squad with the exact same abilities. To be fair, we were close. Jaclyn had the speed, Cassie had the weapons, and I had both except that I had to be flying but didn’t have his reflexes.

Marcus didn’t have any of that—which helped. Katuk remembered the differences because Marcus’ shapeshifting didn’t fit the Xiniti paradigm at all.

Tikki, meanwhile, reveled in all roles Hal used her, appearing as armed support, a kidnapped civilian, powered and unpowered enemies, and even as a spy. Virtual reality let Hal slip her into spots where we didn’t expect to find her, playing them to the hilt—even the ones where she had to fight us. It may have been the game, but I felt like she’d been trained in hand to hand combat.

So training took up the days. At night we separated to the degree that we could. I read, watched a movie, or messed with Rocket suit improvement ideas. Marcus drew, Cassie talked with people, and Jaclyn delved deeply into her implant’s culture and history archives, sometimes asking Katuk and Tikki questions.

On the last night of jump, Tikki said, “We should play it.”

“What?” I asked.

“Monopoly!” Tikki looked around room, grinning. “I’m sure I’ll never have the chance to play it again. So how about just once?”

“No,” Jaclyn shook her head. “I’ve never liked that game.”

“I’ll play,” Cassie said. “It’s still better than looking out the windows.”

“It’s not that bad,” Marcus told Jaclyn. “What have you got to lose?”

Narrowing her eyes, Jaclyn said, “I don’t know. More time to that game?”

“If it will make things easier,” Katuk said, “I’ll play.”

I was about to say the same when my implant informed me that we were about to drop out of jump. I hadn’t been the only one notified either because everyone strapped in. Watching as the ship counted down, I connected with the ship, feeling its sensors, weapons, and shields.

We dropped out of jump, the gray fading into the blackness of normal space. Even as we did, I knew that something was wrong. The sensors showed me hundreds, possibly thousands of small dots. I turned on the shields, turned the ship, and radioed the colonists’ ship, telling them to do the same.

The space between us and the planet had been thoroughly mined.

24 thoughts on “Between: Part 4”

  1. Hope everyone’s enjoying the last month of summer. That said, I suppose some readers are experiencing the last month of winter–which is probably a good thing (unless it’s normally unbearably hot and winter is the pleasant season).

    Anyway… I hope everyone enjoyed the update and I’m looking forward to the section that’s now starting–the one where everyone’s near or on the colonist’s planet.

    Vote on Top Web Fiction if you have the urge:

    1. Summer in the sunny Sicily span mid May mid October. Today 41°c!

      Btw I to find mine alone as lame defense / stranglehold system. But I’m willing to hold judgement until next update ’cause Jim is good 🙂

  2. Man, I dunno about space mines. Even on land, aren’t they basically only used at choke points? Those don’t really exist in space (well, maybe if they’d come in on a ‘standard lane’ or something, but they didn’t, because they avoided the gates) so you’d have to mine a complete shell, which would take ridiculous amounts of resources, because saturation is x^2 coverage on every x of diameter at a stable orbit. Tracking mines – essentially self-launching missiles – might work better, but then saturation isn’t worth it; better to pour more resources into fewer installations, so you’re not wasting the (potentially massive amounts) of mines that never do anything. You could maybe also stealth them so they don’t show up on standard detection schemes, too, for a better chance at kills.

    I guess… whoever did this was ridiculously wealthy, or mines are dirt dirt dirt cheap, or they were expecting a saturation attack of some sort, or they’ve somehow made a chokepoint in space that people can’t just fly around, or it was the only solution they could reach when they absolutely had to have some sort of defense… I dunno. I just can’t think of a good reason to use mines in space. It feels kinda silly to me no matter how I approach it.

    Am I missing something obvious? Is this just a stylistic author’s choice? Is there a superpower at work here, an unknown factor skewing my logic?

    1. Thoroughly mined in this context is a little different than saturating the area around the planet/system.

      What it amounts to is that there are still choke points even if no gates are involved. Ships want to appear as close to a planet they’re visiting as possible. However, jump and blink space is extremely sensitive to gravity. Thus, they tend to come out at LaGrange points because that’s the closest to zero they can get (which is also why they place jumpgates there). It’s easier to come out farther out into space where there isn’t any gravity to speak of, but then the trip in takes longer.

      Thus, people tend to mine the area around LaGrange points. In addition to that, some types of mines are capable of movement, making it worth it to mine the areas around a planet where you aren’t willing to place some sort of orbiting weapons platform. Even if you don’t have spot exactly right, you can always set the mines to close in on a ship.

      This is a little too much to jam into the last sentence of the post, however. Thus, I skipped it.

      1. Hey, this marks the first time I’ve seen someone use the neutral gravity of a Lagrange point before. I’ve read a decent amount of SF where it wasn’t possible to go into hyperspace near a planet due to the star’s gravity, and I wondered why they didn’t use L1 as an escape hatch.

        That question actually turned into an urban fantasy idea for me. The villain had a ritual to open a dimensional gate, but it could only be done in neutral gravity (L1). And it could only be done in darkness, which was a problem given where L1 is. Ultimately, though, it just came down to me providing a reason why the villain had to wait until a solar eclipse to summon an eldritch abomination.

        1. If they know enough about astronomy and gravity to know about the L1 point, and the ritual needs darkness, couldn’t they just go to L2? You can still see stars at both places, albeit less stars at L1.

          1. That villain’s knowledge of astronomy isn’t quite good enough for him to have figured out L2 over the course of the plot. The balanced gravity thing was without factoring in momentum, so the ritual site wasn’t exactly at L1, anyway. The same thing means that the dark side of the Earth wouldn’t work, except during a lunar eclipse. That would still give him lots more chances to pull things off, though.

            And before anyone tells me about how silly separating momentum out of the deal is, I already know. I was mostly trying to produce at least half-decent technobabble for why the villain had to wait for the right time.

            There’s also a certain amount of horror on the heroes’ part, when they learn just how common solar eclipses really are. Normal people think of them as being much more rare than they really are.

        2. well, its not necessarily the GRAVITY that causes the problem. It’s the mass. If we go by the theory that gravity is caused by the bending of the space time frame by an objects mass, then a Lagrange point isn’t a place of neutrality. You’re in TWO different bent frames that just happen to balance each other.

    2. You are missing something obvious, even though your main point mostly stands. You’re missing time. What if they simply launched, say, 100 new mines per month. Or 500, whatever fits on one launch platform. But if they’ve been doing that for a decade, or century, or much, much longer…

  3. Also, it’s obvious that Tikka (the woman who was “rescued” from the mall) is a plant. No, not a literal plant, that’s Crawls-Through-The-Desert. Maybe they’re both plants. Anyway, she’s a plant. Either that or she’s going to end up roaming the galaxy along with the Xiniti fellow as a mercenary for hire, but she’s not going to end up living as a colonist.

  4. Narrative structure quibble here:

    “Jaclyn frowned. Tikki unstrapped herself from her seat and looked around the group. “So what’s Monopoly? Is it a game?””

    Normally when you delineate two separate actions by two different individuals you start a new paragraph. An exception being when one individuals actions are a direct result of another’s.

    It seems as if Jaclyn’s frown is in reaction to Katuk’s statement, not Tikki’s unstrapping herself, so Jaclyn’s frown should be separated narratively from Tikki’s unstrapping herself, with a bit of whitespace.

    If that’s not the case, then you might want to embellish Jaclyn’s action with more clues. “Jaclyn frowned as she watched Tikki unstrap herself…” or some such.

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