Chapter 14: Collision
We left our heroes at Jumping Jacks, Inc., on Hellene, getting ready for a return to Destine. Robbie has been chatting with Edvard, trying to induce a sentiency crisis, but Edvard isn't having any so far.
Tom, meanwhile, is considering ways of attaching Brunalf's witchflying egg to the nose of the Munch, as firmly as possible. He ends up harnessing the egg with a stout chain, the other end of the chain held to the Munch by means of an artificial-TK tractor beam, which isn't even very illegal.
Since we are planning on capturing and interrogating prisoners, we also get some large, sturdy cages and a book on interrogation techniques. We also verify that the autodoc has no qualms about making sedatives for Terran mammals, birds, or reptiles. (Draconians ought to succumb to one or the other of those, if they succumb to anything.)
Tom inquires into the Munch's cloaking technology, which is, after all, a century in advance of Hellene local, and so ought to outclass Destine as well. Edvard feels sure his cloaks are more than adequate. Braeta agrees that they are, technically, but reminds us that this might not matter to the extrasensory powers of the nephilim. We can psilence the Munch, but nephilite powers have never been really tested against ESP in any systematic way.
Okay, then, how about taking the opposite tack and deliberately warning the Destinos? This, Tom suggests, might not cause timelock; it might just mean that more people escaped than otherwise would, still producing the results we observed. Braeta says she's no expert on timetravel, but speaking as a veteran of mythology, it sounds like tempting Fate to her. Okay, then, we'll just aim to show up at the time of the incursion and hope to be missed in the excitement.
Preparations made, we launch outward and backward. Our plan is to arrive in orbit around Destine five minutes before the scout gates open, zap down using the projective teleport, nab a scout right after he walks off our retrocognitive records, then, zap back to the ship to interrogate and then head off for the main invasion. On the trip, we run some practice sessions with the teleport.
Eventually, the hour approaches for dropping out of hyperstate. Everyone dons weapons and armor. The away team will be Dafnord, Kate, Markel, Brunalf, Robbie, and Katrina. Tom and Gannar will run the teleport. Salimar will assist with interrogation. That, anyway, is the plan...
We drop out of hyperstate in the outer reaches of the Destine system and raise our cloaks. Almost immediately, alarms go off. Before we can say "Huh?" all the pinhole generators go off-line and shut down. The ship then lurches, gravity fluttering, and twists around in a way that sends all of us tumbling.
Edvard explains to Robbie that he is avoiding collision, but has no time to say with what. Dafnord and Markel scramble for the spacesuit lockers. The cat jumps into his egg just in time to a severe veer that sends the egg rolling across the deck. Fwoosh. It's the infamous collision-safety foam again.
We hit something. Hard. The lights go out briefly and the ship wobbles. Lights come up, and Edvard is still with us, though several people are unconscious by now. Dafnord demands to know what we're avoiding. "Exo-geometric object," says Edvard, which sounds multidimensional but might just mean "something outside." Dafnord, however, uneasily pictures a cage of astronomical dimensions, thrown up around a whole solar system by the dragons...
Braeta, on the bridge, announces that most systems are under control, unlikely as that may feel. Power is the most critical problem, because our gyrations are using it up quickly and Edvard took the pinhole generators off-line for safety's sake.
"How long until we're out of collision danger?" asks Dafnord.
Well, that answers that question... Everyone is unconscious except Dafnord, Markel, and a foam-packed cat. The gravity is off. Even the dragon and gargoyle are out. Salimar is all over the place. "Life support not currently active," some machine announces, just for good measure.
We begin pulling ourselves together. Brunalf de-foams and is sent to the engineering section to help re-start the generators. "Collision hazard has passed," Edvard announces. However Brunalf finds that the batteries are nearly drained. In fact, we can't re-start the generators AND keep the computers going. Edvard executes an orderly shut-down and leaves our lives in the paws of a cat. (But at least this cat doesn't take orders from the Philippian Navy.)
Dafnord goes to the bridge, where Tom, Gannar, and Braeta are floating unconscious. Out the forward viewer, he sees a dark egg shape, just before the viewer goes down as part of the power cycling. The egg shape was tumbling slowly and did not look like any of the draconian ships we've seen.
Reflecting on this, Dafnord hauls Braeta through the zero gravity to the autodocs in the lab. the big one is out, so he puts her in the little field autodoc -- though its sleeping-bag-like treatment bay is a tight fit. By the time he has all this settled, Brunalf has one of the pinhole generators back up.
Dafnord finds Robbie and re-boots him. By now, Gannar is recovering consciousness. Dafnord is not heavy on telepathy as a rule, but he exerts himself and soon has the few conscious parties on a telepathy net. "Is this fear?" Gannar asks. (His experience of emotion is limited.) "No, it's anxiety," Dafnord tells him. "Calm yourself and breathe slowly." Gannar obeys and goes to help Brunalf in engineering.
Dafnord then feels a trembling and hears a soft, metallic bang. Are we being boarded? He and Robbie go to the main airlock, and Gannar sends his remote security platforms, too. There are more faint bongings. Meanwhile, Markel is able to wake up Kate.
Peering out the airlock porthole, Dafnord sees that the strange ship is right THERE, maybe moving slowly, maybe even scraping our hull. So, no attempted boarding, it seems.
Robbie takes Katrina to the autodoc just about the time full power comes back and Edvard gets back on line. Edvard confirms that we're in physical contact with "the artifact," which is apparently a ship with a high artificial gravity field. This must be why it's sticking to us.
Is it occupied? "Probably. 80% chance." Damaged? "Yes." Course? "We're both adrift." Are we being boarded? "No."
In fact, the other ship is probably much worse off than we are. Edvard pronounces us essentially undamaged, but the aliens are losing air and leaking radiations all across the electromagnetic spectrum, including gamma rays.
Now that our power is back, we push away, then return on a more controlled path so Kate can examine the ship with her clairvoyance. Brunalf, meanwhile, looks out a porthole, looking at those things that only cats (and fays) see, that tell him about the accessibility of witchpaths. He looks hastily away from the alien ship, though. Bad vibes.
An infrared scan shows heat glowing out of various largish cracks in their hull. They are, on the whole, slightly larger than us. There are no other ships nearby, though there is a Destino ship several astronomical units away, probably on course for that colony in the asteroid belt.
Kate hasn't been lucky with her clairvoyance. Tom wakes up, gets updated, and tries for himself. He successfully maneuvers his second sight through a hatch door, into a room that looks badly crushed, but also looks like it never had any 90-degree angles to begin with. Soon, he comes on what appears to be a smashed critter. Deep-space roadkill. It's a mossy yellow mess, leaking green and orange. His viewpoint moves into a crumpled corridor, then hits some form of psi shielding. He drops the effort.
Robbie sends out one of his roving eyes. It enters one of the air-leaking fissures and promptly loses contact. Probably got its electronics scrambled by radiation. Well, he has another...
Dafnord has been mopping up Salimar, meanwhile. Once she is conscious and, uh, together, we pass on the data acquired, but it's no alien race she can recognize, at least not yet. We try hailing it in Earthron and KaiSenese, but with no results.
Dafnord finds a hatch hanging open. Tom sends out his clairvoyance again, and sees slightly less damaged rooms, clearly designed by people with no use for right angles. He bumps into the psi-shielded area again, and tries to maneuver around it. This takes him through a wall, into a room full of weird machinery, where his second sight blurs. Moving away from there, he finds a "cabin" (?) full of smashed furniture and, apparently, another victim. Mossy yellow mess. Bulky. Stretches of greenish skin. Tendrils.
More exploration reveals the psi-shielded volume is an odd shape, sticking out of the ship altogether in spots. Eventually, Tom comes on another cabin, this one full of translucent somethings that once contained some delicate structures, all smashed now. And there's another victim. This time, he gets a glimpse of limbs. Still no ID from Salimar, though. And it's dead.
Then Edvard announces there is a 75% chance that systems are coming back up on the alien ship. We try a few more hails -- once even in Quenya -- and give up. We move to a safe distance, in case something in their boiler room blows.
Now, pause and consider. How likely is it to accidentally run into another ship in the fringes of a star system? The odds against are literally and exactly astronomical. And we were time-traveling. Tom says it smells like timelock to him. Dafnord agrees. So does Kate, and offers to throw coins.
This is a timelock detector, invented by Chris long ago. The theory is that, if you are really, seriously willing to abide by the results of the coin-toss, it is -- to speak a bit anthropomorphically -- easier for Time to hand you an unlikely coin-toss than to hand you the kind of bizarre luck that constitutes a timelock. Luck like colliding with another ship in deep space.
So Kate tosses, and seven out of nine coins come up heads. Hm. She tosses twice more and gets exactly the same result. Okay, we believe. We will NOT try to show up when the scouts come through their gates. What now?
Tom suggests we try the next round, showing up for the main invasion. Kate suggests intercepting the refugee ship we saw, in retrocognitive vision, leaving the asteroid colony.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.