hares-recovery

Lunar Picnic

Tari yawned off her slumber, stretching out carefully and glancing around the hazy blue-green darkness of her cabin. She quickly realized she’d fallen asleep during the massage - Jadyn was nowhere in sight. The backlighting had been turned down and she wasn’t certain of the time. Frustration crept into her mind - she hadn’t wanted to fall asleep, but the massage had felt so good

“What time is it?” she called out, sitting up.

Fatal error: unable to properly translate to Terran reference without a Terran time zone reference. Time is presently 0204 hours GMT, TS,” Aerin replied.

“Oops,” T’bia muttered. “Oversight on Jay’s part. I’ll tweak that to the time where you were at. Uh… GMT minus six would make it 2004 hours down there.”

“Eight PM? We must be getting onto a different schedule… May as well start giving it to me in whatever you guys use.”

“Can do. Technically, we’d be observing early morning right now, but Jay’s going to take a day or two more to break in.”

“So how long was I asleep this time?”

“Thirteen hours,” T’bia chimed. “And yes, that’s Terran hours.”

“Thirteen HOURS?

“There an echo in here?”

“I wasn’t that dead, was I?”

“Apparently.”

Tari flopped back on the bed, shaking her head in amazement. “And somehow, I still feel tired… Where’s Jadyn at?”

“Sleeping. Been out for about six. I made him put the ship back together after we got done with the last bit of testing. Not because I couldn’t, but because I didn’t want to.”

“When did he sneak out?”

“About half an hour after you fell asleep. He finished his TLC before he realized you were out. I think he enjoyed it as much as you, to be honest. He wouldn’t admit it but I know he’s really missed having someone that enjoys a good backrub.”

“If he wants practice, I’ll accept any day of the week.” Tari grinned, crawling off her bed. “How’d the project turn out?”

“It’s working better than it ever has. With the modifications we made to the engine core and the shields to make up for the norm before, we’re now missing from our own scans. We both owe you.”

“Well, I’ve got to pay rent somehow. I don’t know enough yet to be of any real help anywhere else.”

“You’ll adapt. If all else I’ll give you a primer on ship systems. We can’t have you going around without a basic education, right?”

“That’d be great.” She stepped over to the mirror, glancing up as the ceiling directly above her head brought itself on to a dim level of illumination. Turning her attentions back to her reflection she clicked her tongue a few times in appraisal. The garb she had donned after the workout gear still covered her body - a simple green cotton halter top and green denim shorts equipped with a tail-hole. Having clothing that came ready for her tails was both an unusual and welcome change. Her hair was presentable, but slightly resembled a case of bedhead. The rest of her fur wasn’t much better, flattened and mussed from her sleep. “I don’t suppose there’s a brush around here anywhere?”

“Err… Forgot to place one, sorry. Have a preference as to a type? Nylon, boar-bristle, otherwise? I’ll eject one out of the replicator. Try to duck.”

“It’s alright. Don’t worry about it - I’ll just cover it up for now. I really don’t feel like taking the time to do it right, anyway.” Stretching out her arms, she summoned her blue silk robes. They were one of her favorite sets, the same she’d worn when she first revealed herself to Jadyn: a golden and silver dragon embroidered into the fabric, its body curling all the way around her torso and ending in a second head, facing the first. A simple slit ran up the back to allow room for her tails and fastened at the bottom to keep the halves from drifting apart too far. A clasp at the neck fastened itself for her as she dropped her arms.

Very nice,” T’bia complimented. “I really hate to plagiarize, but I do like that robe enough to tempt me to do so…”

“You’re welcome to it. Maybe a different color scheme?”

“Hum… I’ll have to tinker. Thanks for the thought.”

Tari smiled, padding back to the bed and sitting down. For some reason, the small table and the pair of chairs previously flanking the table were missing. “So, what’s the plan for the day?”

“Not much. We’ll be parked here for another day at the least. Ship-wide, everything is in a low-power state while the hull soaks up sunlight and the other organic components go through a deep regeneration phase. They’ve missed out on getting lighter daily and weekly regens since the controls were funky for months. Different things take different times for a regen cycle, so as the day progresses we’ll get more and more things back. Overhead lighting is going to be down the longest. Holographic emitters come in at a close second, which inconveniently removes most of the tables and chairs for a while.”

“Was wondering where those went. How much stuff around here is holographic?”

“Lots,” T’bia confirmed. “Tables, chairs, decor, all sorts of other mundane stuff. I’m on low-power as well… Running entirely off of one processing node I’m sharing with Aerin - under protest - while the rest regenerate. Here I am, a brain the size of a solar system, and I’m reduced to swapping CPU time with an inferior autonomous program… Ugh.”

“So no sparring this morning, I take it?”

“We could, though I’d likely be overprotective of my ‘Achilles wrist.’” T’bia snickered. “Going to pop the avatar onto my bracelet shortly. So, let’s see… What’s there to do in low-power mode… Ooooh! Excellent, though I’ll have to wait for Jay to wake up and accept to my terms.”

“For what?”

“Can’t say. Don’t want to ruin the surprise any further than you knowing I might have a surprise for you in a couple more hours. Instead, allow me distract you with tomorrow’s schedule of events. We’ll be leaving Terran space in the morning, en route to Veloria’s orbital spacedock for check-in. I’ll make sure you’re awake for the FTL transition, at the very least.”

“FTL?”

“Faster-than-light. Crossing the light barrier with our engine is all pretty and sparkly and stuff. After that, the rest of the day and the next several are pretty open on how you want to pass the time since we’ll have full power available again. On days like this, Jadyn usually does some writing in his journal or listens to music… Sometimes during transit he fences with one of the holographic opponents to keep himself in shape, or with me if he wants to lose. I don’t have an obvious need to relax, but I enjoy it anyway.”

“Er, wait…” Tari shook her head, slightly confused. “How do you relax?”

A giggle reached the kitsune’s ears. “Odd thought, no? A program - by definition, a machine that never needs to cease work - that likes to relax… I can shut down most of my cognitive functions, disable the sensor inputs from the rest of the ship… Leaves all my processing power to idle. It’s hard to explain, having no physical basis to judge it by. It’s a little different than what I’m at under the current regeneration protocols, though.”

“I think you’ve got the gist of it. Anything you can suggest for me to do right now?”

The AI hesitated for a brief second. “Well, we’ve got music available, games, books, all sorts of things. If we don’t have something on hand it can be created in pretty short notice. I downloaded a lot of things from Terra’s so-called ‘Internet’ as well, so there’s all that… Might be able to get current news feeds if you follow that sort of thing. I do recommend a large amount of exercise over the next couple of weeks… You need to get used to this higher gravity. It’s still wearing you out by the end of the day.”

“Eh… I just woke up, don’t feel like working myself up to a stink quite yet. Though I have to say, the shower after yesterday’s workout was probably one of the best I’ve ever had.”

“I take it there aren’t many on Terra, if any, that can handle a full pelt properly.”

“Not really. Drainage clogs are a pain, and the lone showerhead usually doesn’t have enough pressure. That shower stall is like standing in a hurricane.” There had been extra jets not only overhead, but in each of the walls and a couple in the floor. “Any other ideas?”

“Breakfast, perhaps. If you’re hungry?”

Tari’s stomach growled on her behalf. The two burst into laughter.


“Light, it can’t be morning already,” Jadyn groaned. “Is it?”

“Well, if we’re going to get you back on the right schedule, yes.” T’bia grabbed his arms, pulling him to his feet. “Come on, get that blood pumping.”

“Easy for you to say.” The fox stretched his arms over his head, making pleasant sounds to himself as he felt his muscles pull. “Mmm… Tari up yet?”

“About an hour ago.”

“Huh, okay. She really must be a creature of the morning… Always seems to be up early.” He padded to his closet, glancing through the contents and pulling out a pair of patterned steelsilk pants. Purple dots of varied sizes and shapes shimmered on a black background. “Hmm…”

“Aha.”

“What?” Jadyn asked, putting the pants away and snagging his plain black pair.

“You’re doing it too.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

T’bia grinned. “If you don’t know, you’ve got it worse than I thought. Don’t worry, she’s done it too.”

“Done what?

“Never mind. You’d just deny it. So, I’ve a proposition for you, on this day of downtime…”

“Oh, this should be good. Might explain why you’re on your avatar during regeneration?”

“Hey, the emitter bracelet had a full charge already. Figured I may as well use it so the shipwide arrays could get the rest.” T’bia grinned. “Besides. I’ll need it outside the ship.”

“Out…” Jadyn trailed off, examining the look of mischief in his partner’s eyes. “Bee? Just what shenanigans have you planned for today?”

“A picnic.”

“But you don’t eat.”

“You and Tari do.”

“I already told you -“

“Yes, yes, I know what you said.” T’bia sat down; her avatar apparently thought she’d parked on a chair, though there wasn’t one in her image. He’d never gotten over the absolute weirdness of seeing her do that - at least, not until he’d started doing something similar with the Art. “But hear me out, okay?”

“Okay, I’ll listen. But no promises.”

“That’s all I ask.”


Tari glanced from Jadyn to T’bia and back, slowly shaking her head. “You know, I’m having more and more trouble deciding which one of you two is the crazy one.”

“We alternate days,” T’bia stated matter-of-factly.

“It’s really not as crazy as it sounds,” Jadyn assured her.

“It’s just that… No, I want to make sure I heard you both right. You want to go outside…” Tari pointed to the window, indicating the lunar landscape beyond the glass. “Outside! Where there’s zero atmospheric pressure! And you want to have a picnic?

“The weather’s good. No chance of rain or wind. And there’ll be no ants! No flies! On a serious note, the shield generators are already back online from their regeneration run,” T’bia explained. “We’ll extend and adjust their protective barrier a little and flood the interior with normal atmospheric pressure. It’ll be a big, safe bubble around the ship. Think of it - you’ll be the first Terran to walk on your moon without any protective gear. We’ll be leaving footprints in the sand that will drive researchers absolutely insane in the years to come.”

“That could be fun,” she mused. “I don’t know…”

“It’ll be a good time,” Jadyn said.

“Mmmph,” Tari grunted, looking out at the lunar soil. “You’re absolutely sure it’s safe? We won’t suffocate or any of that?”

“It’ll be just as safe as standing in here or on Terra proper,” T’bia confirmed. “Besides… What’s a little explosive decompression between friends?”

“I don’t think that’s helping,” Jadyn observed.

“Okay.” Tari nodded. “I’m in.”

“Great!” T’bia exclaimed. “Because I’ve already flooded the shields with atmosphere.”

“You knew I’d say yes?”

“No,” she replied. “We’d have gone out with or without you.”


Standing at the wide-open door of the airlock, Tari gazed out over the open plain. Several hundred feet away, a faint electric-blue glow danced along the ground, highlighting the distant edge of the protective energy barrier. The ship’s immense shadow stretched out over the lunar soil, standing tall in the morning sun. And morning, as she understood it, would last for days.

“Not made of cheese after all…” Tari joked, trying to find some measure of comfort to displace her anxiety.

“Maybe that’s why humans never came back.” Jadyn grinned. “You want one of us to go out first to prove it’s not going to immediately kill you?”

“No… Just… Give me a minute, okay?”

“Take your time.”

Tari nodded to herself, cautiously reaching toward the edge of the airlock. Briefly, she felt resistance against her fingers, as though she’d suddenly tried to reach through a vat of gelatin. They’d said that would happen - ‘a tactile sensation caused by the ship’s atmospheric retention fields’ or something. Basically, it was a warning that going further could be a bad idea.

Hell with it. Taking a breath, she shut her eyes and stepped out of the ship, expecting the worst. The air to be ripped from her lungs, the cold to freeze her flesh, the vacuum to boil the gases dissolved in her blood.

But nothing happened. As far as she knew, she’d just stepped onto any desert on Earth. Except, there were no abrupt changes in gravity on Earth like this. Terra, she corrected herself, remembering Aerin’s patient scolding. The quick adjustment left her dizzy; she knelt down to let her body acclimate to the change, running her fingers through the lunar soil.

“Wow…” Tari gasped, drinking in the view. “This is… I don’t know what this is, but it’s something…”

“Scenic?” Jadyn offered.

“We passed scenic a long time ago.”

He laughed, stepping out of the ship with a large pack slung over a shoulder. Taking a deep breath, he peered at the dark sky overhead. “Bee? What’s the ceiling on this?”

“About two hundred feet at the peak of the dome.” T’bia leapt out of the airlock, coasting easily across the open plain. She clearly had no problems with the shift in gravity, landing with unparalleled finesse just on the edge of the ship’s shadow.

“Like you were born here,” Tari mused.

“Hey, what can I say. I’m graceful no matter what I do.” She promptly tripped over her own feet, falling in slow-motion under the lunar gravity. “I’m okay! You didn’t see that, right? Right…”

“Say? When would the Earth rise on the horizon?”

“It won’t,” T’bia spoke, dusting off her uniform as she stood up. “Your moon turns on its axis once per revolution around the planet. If we were somewhere where it was visible, it’d always be in the same spot in the sky, going through its own set of phases.”

“Ah, right. And the goal was for no one to be able to see the ship from the planet.”

“You haven’t really seen the ship either, have you?” Jadyn queried of Tari, offering his hand and helping her to her feet. “Let’s wander around to the daylight side. Can’t get a good look from here.”

“Okay.”

“I’m going for a walk,” T’bia called to them, promptly taking off in a fast lope. The shields flickered slightly as her avatar passed through their protective boundary. Gliding easily across the landscape, she bounded off into the distance at a breakneck pace. “Back eventually,” her voice called from inside the airlock.

“Where’s she off to?” Tari asked, walking with Jadyn along the right side of the ship toward the bow.

“Who knows. Maybe she’s going to vandalize an Apollo landing site.” Jadyn shrugged. “I really don’t pay all that much attention. She’s just as free to do whatever she wants with her free time as we are. And I want to relax for a while, get a few messages sent off to a couple of places on Terra, and have a nice lunch.”

“Messages?”

“I promised the trucker who dropped me off at the corner that I’d make sure to let him know I made it out of that winter storm alive. Was anyone expecting you anywhere in the next year? You were going to visit friends, you said. Need to send a note off?”

“No, not that I’m aware of. They weren’t expecting me. It was going to be a surprise visit.”

“Okay.”

Tari squinted in the bright sunlight as they rounded the nose of the Serin. Jadyn walked straight away from the port side toward the sunrise -

“Do ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ make sense on a spaceship?” she suddenly asked.

“I don’t see why not. Just a permanent reference to the left and right sides, based upon looking forward at the bow, aren’t they?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, since there’s artificial gravity inside to define an up and down between worlds, and a definite front and rear, only follows that there’d be a defined left and right.”

“What if there wasn’t gravity?”

“Then it’d either be harder to move about, or time for a zero-gee party.”

I vote party,” T’bia yelled from the distant airlock.

Tari shook her head, smirking.

“This should be far enough. Turn around.”

She did so, her breath escaping her as she saw the ship from the outside for the very first time. The Serin glistened slightly in the sunlight. Unlike the shadowed side they’d emerged from, every surface bathing in the sunshine shimmered a vibrant leaf-green. The texture seemed to shift about itself, the green occasionally darkening to a cerulean blue before brightening back to green.

“You weren’t kidding when you said a three-story house…”

“Two and a half might be more apt. Maintenance deck is more of a basement.”

“The coloring… Why does it keep changing like that?”

“The ship’s organics are very loosely based on plant life, but they can absorb a lot more than just the visible spectrum for power conversion. They’re black when not actively absorbing energy, and they shift between those green and blue shades depending on how much they’re processing into energy. There’s also an ‘overdrive’ version of this energy collection, to super-saturate the hull with energy that can’t be immediately processed to other storage points… Bee tends to turn that on and go sundiving.”

“…Sundiving?”

“Just like it sounds - a low flight over the surface of a star. No idea what color the organics go on that setting… I’d hazard a guess at white or silvery, just to reflect a portion of it back.” Jadyn dropped his pack to the ground, popping latches and tugging the bag open. “Sandwich?”

“Um… Yeah. Please.”

“Tuna, sliced beef, PB-and-J, egg salad, other?”

“Beef.”

Jadyn nodded, lightly lobbing her a plastic-wrapped package. “There’s some various cola products and bottled water in here too. Help yourself.”


To: William Cullington, Cullington Trucking LLC

Subject: Safe and sound on a snowdrift the size of the Moon

William -

As promised, letting you know I survived the storm and the insanity that was walking through it. Hunkered down in an abandoned vehicle for the night. By morning, it was clear. Reminds me - I need to have the plates checked so I can send them cash for repairs. Had to bust a window.

Sorry about the constant ‘religious reasons’ excuse. I do… sensitive work, for a prestigious organization. Occasionally I have to do insane and unsafe things to get my job done.

Again, thanks for the ride. And if any of the ‘steak money’ is left over, invest it as you will. Do consider shooting SETI a little bit. Anonymous is good.

— Jadyn


T’bia charged across the lunar landscape, eyes scanning both the position of the stars and visible landmarks as she bounded across the airless satellite. A slight course correction here, an adjustment there. Somewhere, a function had determined what maximum safe speed she could run before she might accidentally achieve an orbit. At the same moment her avatar sprinted across the lunar surface, another portion of her consciousness closely monitored the regeneration progress of the Serin. Every fractional change of the dozens of AI processing nodes towards ‘done’ gave her cause for joy; the sooner she could get back on her own array, the happier everyone would be.

An interrupt from the ship’s sensor array raised an exception somewhere in the back of her consciousness; she slowed in her run, her eyes focusing into the distance ahead.

There you are, she thought to herself, grinning widely. A final carefully-calculated leap dropped her neatly beside the remains of an antique spacecraft. Vandalize you, will I? Maybe I should have some paint replicated… ‘Bee wuz here’ or ‘aliens 4 life’ or…

Nah. Be enough to leave what I came here to leave.

… If I’d remembered to bring the damn datapad I was planning on leaving here…

Cursing silently in the vacuum, T’bia stomped the ground. The transporter regeneration cycle was nearly complete. A few more minutes at most and she could just beam a pad to herself. A delay was simply a minor annoyance.

Bee?

Her attention immediately shifted from her avatar’s location to the comm system. “Sup?”

Have a link to Terra’s Internet still? I’ve got a few letters here I need mailed.

“On your pad?”

Yeah.

A call to a data accessor later, the contents of his letters were at hand. “Be a little while, but I’ll get them sent.”

Thanks. What are you up to, by the way?

“Vandalizing! What possible other reason could I have for coming out here? Whoop, transporters are back online. Go away. I’ve got work to do.”

And she closed the channel with nothing more than a passing thought. She wondered briefly if the simple force of will she used to control the ship was similar to his control of the Art; setting a reminder to ponder the implications, she beamed herself a datapad and started writing a note.

People of Earth, she began, then paused. “Damn, that’s cheesy. Let’s try this again…”

To our cosmic neighbors. “Blah, boring.”

A thousand and fifty-seven openings later, she grimaced, turning back to the comm system. “Jay?”

Hm?

“Tari’s in earshot, it looks like… Say I were to leave a letter, addressed to your planet, sitting in the decrepit remains of an antiquity they left here…”

Bee…” Jadyn scolded.

“What would you expect it to say? Rather, what would you not expect? I’d rather screw with their heads about the existence of alien life than actually provide any meaning.”

Uhm…” Tarioshi fell silent, apparently thinking. T’bia tried another dozen ideas in the several seconds of quiet, finding them all not to her liking. “You thinking of a Rosetta stone kind of thing?

“Not exactly - erm… That’s a good idea, actually, leave the same stuff in several languages… But I’m suffering writers block. Need a topic.”

Grab the absolute worst spacey movie you found on Terra,” Jadyn suggested, “and leave the transcript in several languages with your scalding critique.

Tari burst out laughing. “Why the worst? Pick any space flick they’ve done and tear apart the special effects and the like and explain exactly how and why they did them wrong!

“Oh, I love that idea…” T’bia pondered the choices, examining the vast datastore of movies she’d snagged from peer to peer filesharers. “Excellent. I’ve got a nicely recent one to shred.”

Oh?

“Independence Day. They did it all wrong. First off, we wouldn’t come and use Terra’s own satellites. Too archaic. We’d blow them up to break their communications infrastructure, then go after utilities, power grids and the like -“

You’ve given this a lot of thought…” Tari observed quietly.

“Only about seven seconds worth.”

A veritable eternity,” Jadyn laughed. “How’s the regen going, by the way?

“We’ll be ready to go by morning at the latest.”

Go us. Bury the transceiver already?

“Not yet. I’ll get to it before we go.”

All right. Hurry up and get back here, would you? I need someone who can beat Tari at chess. She’s schooled me about a dozen times so far. I think she’s cheating.

I am not!” Tari protested. “You’re just not paying attention!

“Now, now, children. I’ll be back in a little bit to supervise.” Turning her attention to the datapad for several minutes, she finished her review of the film, noted a D-minus-minus rating, and translated the whole thing into English, Greek, Japanese, French, and Velorian. As an afterthought, she left a series of wholly random pictographs, hoping to drive whoever was tasked with translating the ‘unknown’ languages out of their minds.

Not that her bare-footed footprints leading to the craft but not away from it wouldn’t have the same effect, but it was the principle of the thing.

Tapping the completed pad against her hand, she peered around the landing site. Simply placing it on some piece of equipment would be fine, presuming human explorers came back to the site to visit. She needed a guarantee, a way to be certain someone would come looking.

The only way to make sure is if they happen to be alerted somehow that there was something here of interest… So! Let’s paint a big target on it.

Popping into the pad’s operating system, she quickly rewrote the communications routines to broadcast a weak repeating signal of the first hundred prime numbers on a wide span of regular Terran frequencies. With a radio telescope, someone might find the signal and realize its artificial nature; should anyone actually visit the moon again, they’d certainly pick it up. The long lunar day would keep the pad powered with no trouble for years to come. And then, as soon as it detected it had been moved, the signal would stop.

Which would also conveniently let her know that someone had come looking.


“Where did all the air out here come from?” Tari queried. “Check, by the way.”

Jadyn growled, examining the board. “What the Void… I could have sworn that bishop was over there…”

“Are you going to complain, or are you going to play?”

He snorted, sliding a rook over to protect his king. “Happy?”

“Not yet. You didn’t answer my question.”

“Hm?”

“The air?”

Jadyn frowned, looking up. “That’s a fine question… Wonder where she pulled it from.”

“Who pulled what from where?” T’bia queried, coming around the ship. Peering over the chessboard, she laughed. “Good Light, Jay…”

“Quiet, you. Where’d you get the atmosphere to fill the shields?”

“Dirt and ice.” She sat down, watching the game progress in the kitsune’s favor. “Ice can be split into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter I tucked away in the ship. I used the replicator system to tear down some of the compounds in the lunar soil to make nitrogen and other inert gases. Replicators were powered down for basically your whole stint on the planet, so they didn’t need to regenerate.”

“And what are you going to do with all this air when we’re done?”

T’bia shrugged. “Like I’d think that far ahead.”

“You always do,” Jadyn countered, giving her a sideways glance. “Recycling it, I’d expect?

“Of course. Going to salvage what I can for our use and let the little remaining boil off.” The skunk looked at Tari, smirking. “Why, what a creative and judicious move.”

“Why, thank you.” The vixen smiled innocently.

“Hm?”

“Nothing, Jay. Hurry up and lose. I want a turn before we call it a day.”


“Tari?”

The vixen glanced up at her cabin’s open door, smiling at T’bia. “Come in… What’s up?”

“Curiosity. Your chess games earlier with Jay… How many of those did you actually rearrange the board when he got distracted by something? Other than the one I watched.”

Tari laughed. “Only a couple after he accused me of cheating. I started out playing fair. He’d be a good player if he got some more practice in.”

“There’ll be lots of time for that in the next couple of weeks.” T’bia glanced over her shoulder. “Woo! About time.”

“What?”

“My main processing array is back online.” The skunk rolled her shoulders and stretched lightly. “Much better… Mmh. I’ll let you get to sleep. Big morning tomorrow. Do you need anything from Terra before our first sojourn here comes to an end?”

“Can’t think of a thing. If I can’t remember, I must not need it, right?”

“Wish Jay would think like that when he packs.”


Jadyn sat down in front of the pilot’s console, adjusting the seat and activating the helm displays. “You sure you want me steering this thing?”

“So long as you don’t park diagonally in a parallel universe, I’ve got no qualms.” The skunk smiled, seating herself in the copilot’s chair. “I can always correct your mistakes before you kill us all too badly.”

“I’m not that bad at piloting…”

T’bia grinned, not answering as she looked to her console. Jadyn shook his head and began entering the Displacement warmup sequences. A soft tremor vibrated his seat and the control consoles as the system came online. Frowning, he turned to an adjacent console and pulled up diagnostic readings.

“You tweak something since I’ve been gone?” he asked.

“No… The reaction is off-balance after having been shut down for our work. I’ll tweak it as we get up to speed.” Another tremor shook the ship. “Correction, I’ll do it now and fine-tune it as we get up to speed.”

“Thanks. Thought you took care of it after we brought the core back online.”

“Powering internal stuff doesn’t scrape the top of what that thing has to put out for getting us beyond lightspeed.” Her console beeped a few times as her fingers danced over it. “Should do it. Goose it once.”

“All right.” Jadyn punched in a few more commands, watching readouts on the sensor panels around the cockpit spring to life. “How’s that?”

“Good… There we go. Shouldn’t really need more tuning than that.”

He nodded, looking at the window. Tari’s reflection off the forward viewport revealed she was staring intently at the starry backdrop outside. “What’s on your mind?”

“Just excited about this.”

“No reservations?”

“Well… A couple, but they’re nothing.”

“I’d be concerned if you didn’t have any.” He chuckled, loading the return flight plan from the datastores. A star map of the Terran system came up, then zoomed away as a red line tracing their course zipped off in several apparently random directions before taking an abrupt turn towards another distant star cluster. It chirped softly and zoomed in on the Velorian star system, the course twisting through two checkpoint stations, the orbiting Council station of Terac Lun, then entering the planet’s atmosphere and descending to the surface where his cabin sat. He confirmed the path and loaded it into the autopilot. The image shifted back to their current position along the route shortly thereafter.

“Can I ask you two something?” Tari said.

Jadyn glanced up at the window, looking at the kitsune’s reflection. “Sure.”

She smiled widely. “Are we there yet?”

“You evil, evil little girl… So all kids do that…”

“Apparently… I was hoping it was unique.”

“I’ve seen a lot of similarities in a lot of unique places with a lot of different species. This trip was the first time I’ve seen a magical race living among a race that thinks all that not their kind is Other, capital ‘O’, and less than they are. Even intraspecies, just by colorings…”

“They’re getting better. Some of them are even learning from the mistakes of history instead of repeating them.”

“In time I’m sure they’ll progress to space travel. Kind of a scary thought, knowing they’ll be out here someday…” Jadyn sighed, looking out the window. “Well, let’s do this. Aerin: engage cloak.”

Cloak protocols enforced.” The overhead lights shut off, leaving the cockpit bathed in the blue-green glow of the walls’ backlighting. A brief haze passed over the viewport outside as shields were tuned. “Cloak online and functional.

Changing the layout of the console with a few taps, he took manual control of the engines. The moonscape pulled away as the Serin lifted off; he circled around the satellite, bringing Terra into view. Tari gasped as her homeworld filled the window before them.

“That’s… That’s Earth?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Jadyn smiled lightly, gazing out at the deceptively tranquil world before them. The shadow of night covered much of the North American continent; electric lights spiderwebbed the coastlines and spread inward, tendrils of light spreading out between the major cities of the east coast. Things were progressively darker westward into the central plains where they had left the surface only days before, a few hot-spots of light here and there. It was an amazing view, he had to admit.

“It’s… It’s beautiful from up here,” she whispered. “I’ve seen pictures and that, but… It’s much more impressive in person…”

The console beeped quietly. He looked over the readout for the item calling for his attention. Most of the sensor text was in blue and scrolling by with updated readings, but one small sentence was imposed in green near the bottom:

I still say you’d make a lovely couple. She nicely contrasts you. Yes, yes… We don’t hardly know her. I mean, your colorings. She’s white, you’re dark.

He smirked, tapping in a response. Would you give it a rest? We’re friends, that’s all. No more.

Yet, T’bia countered. As I said before… You’re doing it. Most of the time you grab something at random to wear if you even bother at all. The only time you take more than four seconds to decide what you are going to put on - or not put on - is when you have company that you like. And by like… Well, I don’t think I need to explain myself there.

Jadyn glanced at the skunk. Eyes shut and fingers laced behind her head, her feet rested over the console before her. Bee, if I didn’t respect you so much I’d shut you off.

A grin spread over her muzzle, and her reply instantly came on screen: If I didn’t respect YOU so much, I’d turn myself off!

He cleared the display to bring up their current position, glancing over the course programming to confirm everything was well. “Tari?”

“Hmm?” Her head swiveled to look at him. Rather, the reflection of him that she was seeing.

Jadyn stood up, grinning lightly as he moved out of the chair. “Stand up.”

A look of curiosity spread over her face as she got up and moved towards him. Her eyes lit up with childlike excitement as he gestured for her to take his place. “No kidding?”

“Bet you never got to fly a plane when you peeked into the cockpit. This is easier. Besides, she’ll probably trust you more than me at the controls.” He thumbed at T’bia. She glanced over at him, smiling wryly, but made no objections to the swap.

“Wow… Okay…” She sat down slowly in the chair, settling into it and looking at the plethora of information before her. “Umm… Maybe it’s too much to hope for, but could I get this in either Japanese or English, or something else from Earth?”

The display flickered into some characters Jadyn couldn’t understand. Tari jumped when she looked back at the screen. “That was quick! I didn’t expect Japanese to be programmed in, really…”

T’bia chuckled. “Ask and Ye shall receive.”

“Things tend to be pretty flexible around here. You couldn’t at least set English, Bee?”

“Much more fun to watch you cope.”

“Pfft. Fine then.” Jadyn observed the layout was the same, even if it was in a language that was illegible to him. “Okay. This area is your solar system, with the orbits of each body in orange. The violet dot is our location. When we get past here -” He traced a speckled line on the grid. “- a green light will appear on the left side that says something like ‘run’ on it. All you have to do is touch it.”

“That’s all?”

“Most of the course is set by the computer, just so we don’t plow through the heart of a star or something worse.”

She nodded, tracing the line. “What’s the speckling?”

“Minimum safe distance for Displacement,” T’bia volunteered. “It’s how far out we need to be to minimize the chance of someone seeing the acceleration flash. A sonic boom you see instead of hear.”

Jadyn looked up at the window, giving Terra a last glance. “Well, let’s head out. Tap the yellow indicator. Should say ‘autopilot’ or something similar.”

“Okay.” Tari scanned the console, reaching out and lightly pushing down on the light. Terra swung out of view as the ship spun on its axes, the starscape sliding past as the Serin adjusted course. A distinct rattle shook the cockpit as the view stabilized. “What was that?”

“Just… Gah!” T’bia yelled. “The damn reaction’s still not tuned right.”

“Even computers aren’t perfect,” Jadyn whispered to Tari with a grin.

“I guess not…”

T’bia snorted and got up from her seat. “I’ll be in the engine compartment. Go ahead with FTL when the autopilot is ready.”

Jadyn watched as she left the room. With concern in her eyes, Tari glanced up at him. “Did I say something wrong?”

“She’s just self-conscious about the ship and its systems. As far as she’s concerned, the fact that everything has been so troublesome is a failure on her part. On occasion she’ll admit that she knows that she isn’t perfect and that we’re fighting an uphill battle… It doesn’t stop her from trying.”

“She mentioned that a day or two back, not being perfect.”

“Hope you got her to put it in writing.” Jadyn smirked. “The Serin wasn’t meant to stay in service this long, especially without a proper refit -“

The console chirped again - distinctly different than when T’bia’s message had beeped across - and the course execution light blinked green. “Now?” she asked.

“Not… yet. We’ve got one last turn.”

Stars slid past the window as the ship was reoriented to the proper direction once more. The light finally came on steady and chirped again. Tarioshi looked up over her shoulder, seeking confirmation.

“Whenever you’re ready to be the first Terran out of your star system, Tari. Excluding dimension crossings and such, of course.” He reclined into the chair T’bia had vacated and watched the kitsune’s tails swish excitedly behind her.

“Okay… Here goes.” She pressed on the green square, its color distorting like a ripple disturbing a still pond. A long tone played and every source of illumination in the cockpit went out, save for the controls before her. She barked in alarm; he touched her arm in gentle reassurance.

“It’s okay. If you hear me scream, you can officially panic.”

“Oh, that’s certainly reassuring…”

An electric blue haze passed over the field of vision outside the window, not unlike that of the shields, passing to transparency nearly as quickly as it appeared. The stars outside flickered momentarily before the entire cockpit was pulsed with a brilliant blue strobe of light. Jadyn found himself slammed into the seat by the force of the acceleration - which, by all measures, should never have happened. He heard the vixen scream again - this time out of sheer excitement. It was a bit like a carnival ride…

The ship felt like it was going to shake itself apart as the force simply increased in intensity. Once, it fell away, then came back in a second stage that was stronger than the first with another pulse of color as they broke past the light barrier. The forces faded after a quarter-minute when their velocity stabilized. He stared at the window while blood flow was restored to the reaches of his body, thinking about what had happened. There was only one explanation.

He glared at the console nearest him, entering a brief phrase: Warn me next time.

The panel surface quivered as if laughing. Aww… It was just a single inertial dampening node that I tweaked, here in the cockpit. You’re no fun. Next time, how about I do it backwards?

No, he keyed in, smirking despite himself.

The console shut itself off in silent protest. Stars outside the window stretched into rainbow streaks, visible through the faint haze of blue energy surrounding the ship. Backlighting came up to its normal dim green to illuminate the area.

“That was GREAT!” Tari exclaimed, shaking with adrenaline as she touched the glass. “That was… unbelievable… Wow…”

“You okay?”

“I’m wonderful! Thank you!” She pounced and clamped into a hug around the fox.

“I’ll take it you enjoyed that jump.” Jadyn laughed, returning her hug lightly.

Tari released him after a moment, visibly burning with embarrassment. “I… I’m sorry. I just -“

“No apologies. I would have done the same thing.”

She blinked at him. “Really?”

“Uh… Yeah, sure.” Jadyn smirked, glancing over the controls briefly. Everything was in the green. “Someone went out of her way to make that more exciting… Normally you wouldn’t be able to tell we’d crossed the light barrier if you weren’t looking outside.”

She nodded, glancing at the window again. “So what do we do now?”

“We find things to take up two weeks of travel.”


 

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