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Travels and Travails, Pt 2

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Written by   274
2 months ago

[WP] Humanity is the only species that treat "unrealistic" stories like sci-fi and fantasy as a legitimate genre, instead of just something to amuse children that adults no longer need. Because of this, humanity cracks FTL while species much older than us are still stuck in their home system.

*****

"Uh, no," Faust said. "I saw you."

"Good," she said. "I saw you too. What do you, Alexander Faust?"

"I'm an engine engineer for Boeing-X."

"And are engine engineers in the habit of crying at B-movies?"

"This one is," he said, letting himself smirk. Why was he trying not to smile? "It was a really good movie."

"Based on a short story called Beyond the Blinking Sea by Umberto Garcia. The screenwriters would have needed to try real hard to mess that story up."

Faust felt his eyebrows climb and asked, "How long you staying in Antioch?"

"Until I leave. Open contract. You?"

"Oh, I was born here," he said. "They'll probably turn me into fertilizer here too."

"After you die?"

"Only if I'm lucky."

She glanced up his long, thin frame once, her smile considering. Of course she'd known he was born on station. No way to hide a two-third-g-grown body. His brag wilted like bad hydroponics. Why was he bragging?

"A true-blue corpo," she said, letting the title hang between them. Her voice was neutral, not a condemnation. Just a casual observation, like coffee is black or the sky is digital.

"A Spacer."

The shuttle kiosk had four plexiglass tubes ready to shoot passengers across the station in fifteen minutes or less, depending on traffic. Faust pulled out his hand terminal and tapped it like a magic wand until the reader got a good signal and the LED's on the first tube in the kiosk changed from solid red to blinking yellow. He'd called a tube before realizing he didn't want get in alone.

"Hey, why don't—" Faust began, then cleared his throat and tried again. "Would you wanna ... come back to my place?"

He could see the Okay, why not forming on her lips. It wasn't that time had slowed, Faust knew, but his focus had grown so intense that he could make out every twitch in her eyebrows or cheeks or mouth. His heart pounded in his ears. When she shook her head, it wasn't a refusal so much as her trying to clear her mind. But she smiled. She did smile.

"Why don't you pump the brakes there, Faust."

***

Speed isn't the problem. Unless he runs into something, velocity is just velocity; he could be weightless going almost the speed of light. It's the acceleration that's killing him. Every second, he's going seventy-two meters per second faster than he was the second before. Or maybe more. No, definitely more.

Only the acceleration isn't the problem either. Rockets have had the power to burn at fifteen or even twenty g since the early days of strapping a can to a tube full of fuel and lighting a wick on a dry, sunny day. The power has always been there. It's the sustain that's been a problem eluding engineers and physicists for centuries. The problem isn't just on the ship's side. The human body can accelerate at over twenty g for a fraction of a second. It's the sustain that's going turn him into jelly. He was strapped to a candle with enough fuel to burn for weeks.

There's emergency shutoffs. If the reactor starts to overheat or the shielding grows unstable, the drive will shut down. There's all sorts of redundancies built into ships capable of going nuclear, but nothing was going wrong. And that was the problem. That's what's going to kill Faust.

There's also a manual cutoff on the control panel. The switch is big and chunky. A panic switch. If he could reach it, he'd be fine. But he can't. All the joy is gone now. Instead of glee, there's only panic and the growing, grinding pain. If he can just reach the controls. Or if something, anything, could just go wrong.

Nothing is going wrong. He is struggling to breathe, gasping the way the safety videos on the training feeds instructed him to. He flexes his legs and arms, trying to force the blood through his arteries and veins. If he passes out, he'll never wake up, and there is darkness growing at the edges of his vision. If he can't find a way out, he will die out here. In this chair with his hands pinned against himself, and his face pulled back against his skull. His hand terminal in his pocket feels like someone driving a wide chisel into his thigh. He tries to remember how much mass a hand terminal has. He can't. He fights to breathe.

HIs hand terminal. If he can reach it, if he can pull it out, maybe he can signal to Lane or Klein. Maybe they can make a remote connection and shut down the engine. The hand laying atop his armrest presses down hard into the thin layer of foam, but it's only centimeters from his pocket. He pushes until his bones groan, and his wrist shifts. The friction of skin against fabric rubs away a little patch in his forearm and the blood that comes out streaks back toward the seat like it was afraid of forward, but he does move his arm.

He pushes again. A little more. The blood is a lubricant. The friction is less. His hand moves farther. It takes minutes. His fingernails touch the hardened plastic. He can do this.

Power and sustainability, he thinks, and a moment's satisfaction washes through him despite everything. He's done it. He's cracked the code.

The tendons in his hand ache, but he slips his tingling fingers into the slit of his pocket. He can feel the hand terminal begin to slip free of his pocket, but he can't turn his head to see it.

*****

TO BE CONTINUED

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Written by   274
2 months ago
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