Angular moment, p.1
Angular Moment, p.1Louis Sollert
By Louis Sollert
Copyright 2012 Louis Sollert
Cover Design Copyright 2013 by DigitalDonna.com
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Eternity was interrupted by the appearance of an oddly flattened cube. For an instant it hung in place, foreshortened along one axis. Then it extruded itself to its proper dimensions. No particular notice was taken of it other than as a change against the unchanging forever of reality.
Even as an unfathomable richness of energy poured through the cube into its surrounds, the Entities near enough to harvest it paid no specific attention to the intruder other than to gather the negatively charged subatomic particles and store them against future need. These were power, the ability to effect change, the currency of eternity.
A white-hot flash of wonder, another of astonishment, of the passion of accomplishment, of dozens of roiling, boiling, superheated emotions and needle-sharp thoughts flooded from the cube. The Entities near enough to have harvested electrons screamed in inhuman pain, thrust up barriers to block out the blinding, searing light of chaotic thought and naked emotion, their newfound wealth and more expended in the effort.
That which was closest to the cube, in the desperation born of the suffering of an immortal, expended much of its own essence to snatch the cube from reality, to pluck it roughly from space and time. Its grip extended, unaware, to the far end of the conduit through which the originators of the lethally bright psychic energy had made their foray into this reality and tore a swath of that space loose, pulling it through, compressing it along forbidden axes, rotating it about and extruding it along others. The noisy, hateful, painful irritants brought through were silenced in the transition.
The Entity, having expended all of its potential and much of its constant substance, sought refuge, safety, surcease from pain and change. Pulled into its reality was an object that contained a point-mass, a place where the Entity could repair itself. Through some arcane process it was barely aware of, two other point-masses moving around this one generated wave upon wave of energy that could be used to restore the Entity to its eternal state. The Entity co-located with the cube. It embraced the central point-mass and harvested the energy released by the odd configuration of orbits and potentialities. It waited for healing to come.
Ensign Matthew J. Parker was master of all he surveyed. At the moment all he surveyed was the bridge of HIMS Kestrel, a dispatch vessel of the Cormorant class, ten days out of TSFHQ on a mission to reestablish contact with a physics research station that had missed two consecutive monthly housekeeping reports.
Kestrel had just disengaged her FTL drive and was crossing the heliopause of HR 2251 A, an F9 main sequence star, at 0.3 C. She was entering her destination system considerably above, but parallel to, the plane of the ecliptic. Ahead and below, relative to her current orientation, was the bright speck that constituted the stellar body in this system.
Parker flipped the switch that activated Kestrel’s IFF transponder. Digital data giving the little ship’s identity, destination and a running update of her position and current vector was broadcast and would continue to be broadcast until it was switched off. No matter that it would take the signal nearly a week to reach Station Howard. SOP said that when a ship was in-system, the IFF transponder was to be active.
He engaged Kestrel’s gravitic drive to bleed off velocity. It allowed little maneuvering, but with corresponding compensation, Kestrel could accelerate or decelerate at 100 meters per second squared as long as she didn’t dip too deeply into a gravity well. Over the next half hour, the compensator would shift from 100 m/s2 to 90 m/s2 and give Kestrel’s crew some one-g time. That would save him and his crew the monotony of an hour a day on the bicycle centrifuge. Humans were not so well adapted to space that they could do without at least occasional exposure to gravitic stresses. There was one other piece of housekeeping to be taken care of before Parker could turn the ship over to the navigation computer. He keyed a mike. “Cath.”
“Cathcart, aye,” came the immediate response. His exec, who in Kestrel’s tiny three-man crew doubled as his engineer, was technically off-watch, but at transitions to and from FTL, he attended to “his” engines like a mother hen watching over her chicks. Parker had known he’d respond immediately.
“We’re in-system, broadcasting IFF. We’ll switch to local timekeeping as soon as you can get me a sync from Howard.” Winters was the primary comm officer, but Cathcart was his second and capable.
“Scanning,” he replied. After too long, “Nothing, sir.” The sir concerned him. When they were alone, Cathcart only used it when there was trouble.
“Define ‘nothing,’” Parker said.
“Just that. Nothing. Not even a carrier on the UTS frequency.”
“Maybe there’s local intermittent interference on the primary. Try the alternates until you get a UTS sync.” Sometimes rogue radio emissions stepped on standard utility frequencies. There were others that Howard would know to fall back on.
After several minutes, “Still nothing, sir,” came the reply. There was that sir again, with perhaps a touch of emphasis this time. That meant Cathcart was beginning to worry. “I also did a broad spectrum EF pull and found nothing patterned that we didn’t generate ourselves.”
“Maybe . . . ,” Parker started, and then checked himself. “Okay, this is weird enough to wake up Winters. I want every voice available. You throw him in the shower and I’ll fix breakfast. We’ll meet in the wardroom in half an hour.” In such a small crew, each officer wore many hats. Ensign Parker might be the commander of this little ship, but he was also its chief cook.
Twenty-eight minutes later Ensigns Cathcart and Winters sat down in the wardroom to mushroom and onion omelettes, coffee and toast. Cathcart was tall, swarthy to Parker’s fair skin, stocky with close-cropped dark curly hair. Winters was shorter and appeared flabby until you met him for a bout with pugil sticks. With his coffee-black skin it was easy to expect to see hair that was typically kinky, but at some point in his past Winters had sprung for a full body induced alopecia treatment. He had not so much as an eyelash visible. Parker hadn’t ever gotten around to asking him why, but he was sure Winters had a good reason. Winters had good reasons for everything he did.
“Set to, gentlemen,” said Parker. He poured coffee from a carafe. “The problem can wait until we’ve had a decent meal.”
Synthetic eggs, hydroponic mushrooms and reconstituted onions, artfully presented, disappeared quickly. Likewise the toast. They sat back with refilled coffee cups and Parker brought Winters up to date on the situation.
“SOP offers two primary options. Either we treat this as a hostile system or we treat this as an empty one,” Parker concluded. “Howard is still 105 AU away and not emitting any electromagnetic radiation that we can detect. It’s too far away for any sort of visual examination. Winters, you’re junior by about a week. What’s your recommendation?”
Winters made a show of taking a long pull on his coffee. “We need more data. If it were up to me, I’d send in one of the Mark VIII probes with a booster and have it take up a position a klick or so from the station so we can get a look at it.” He put his mug down. “In the meantime, we burn on a slower intercept vector and make plans based on what the probe’s data tells us.”
“How long to modify
“Twenty minutes. They’re pretty modular.”
“What’s your recommendation?”
“I agree with Winters except I think we should leave ourselves enough velocity to blow past Howard if the probe’s data shows anything squirrelly. We can always burn hard if we need to rendezvous immediately or loop around the star and intercept it afterwards. I don’t like the idea of coming in with no options.”
“Okay, Cath. I concur. Gentlemen, we’re on double watch and watch, overlapping shifts, until we’ve gotten this situation in hand. I want two of us on watch at all times. Hit the autodoc for sleep aids and stims as needed. Cath, you’re off as of now. You’ll relieve Winters in four hours. He’ll relieve me in eight. I’ll do what I can with getting that probe ready. Winters, I want you at comm. If Howard so much as whispers, I want to hear it.”
Cathcart might have been able to rig a booster to a Mark VIII probe in twenty minutes, but it took Parker thirty-five. Nevertheless, by the time Cathcart came back on watch, the probe was well on its way across the system. The booster gave it a substantial head start. Once exhausted, it disengaged
Angular Moment by Louis Sollert / Science Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes