Monday, May 05, 2014

Shadows of Broken Shapes

McLan Docking Station is old but that does not make it slow. In its time it had been on the edge of the known universe, a stopping off point to unexplored frontiers. The frontier has moved on; McLan had remained. The shield generators burn energy, golden and silver light flaring through space. We used to circle a sun; as of two minutes ago the Docking Station no longer does, hurling freefall into space, the entire top half simply gone.

I help coax the antigrav engines to full power with a mixture of antiquated apps, jamming together old linkages and dumb luck. No mechanic ever underestimates the power of dumb luck. I can hear the station shudder, stresses creaking through its frame. It was built to survive, but this was long ago – and against enemies that could be fought. Engines whine, the sounds causing people around me to grab their heads as they struggle to patch systems together. I alter my auditory systems, fire up another set of linkages, kludge together ancient shapes and forms into something modern.

The station ceases spinning. People stumble, collapse, pull themselves together and begin running tests, shouting for orders that will never come. I can feel the station shuddering through my chassis, vibrations making every limb ache. I am the only transfer on the McLan, a human body places inside a body no longer human. A cylinder on treads, a viewscreen for interaction with others, a projection of a human-self when I need to use one. I haven’t used it in some years. I hurl out the exit of the engine room, ignoring shouts of surprise and people leaping out of my way.

I don’t do this often. Transfers are old tech. Relics, behind my back. But I have served on the McLan for a long time: docking bays, maintenance, engineering. And I have served on other Docking Stations before and planets before that. And, once, I saw footage of a hingari craft. I know what is coming. I override door commands and send out messages on the infoweb even as it falls apart.

Brin and Orien are waiting outside the quarters Orien and I share. Both are old now, as humans get old: Orien is more synthetics than flesh, and Brin just flesh held in statis fields. Young, until the field breaks, and then nothing at all. Her eyes are wide and I shove them both in, slam the doors behind us.

“The top half of McLan is gone,” I say, manifesting my projection so they can see how scared I am. “A galaxy-class starcruiser fell out of hyperspace, missing us. Trying to dock again, as it did once before.”

“The Seeker SK4209,” Orien whispers.

“The newest model of it. A hingari ship followed. Dropped down into normal space. The gravity field ripped a star apart, hurled us off course. McLan is holding together, but it can’t hold long. The hingari ship burns in normal space, leaving behind alien shapes, shadows etched into the fabric of space behind when it goes.” I turn to Brin. “You once moved through the Ashel quadrant to the Deli system. You disrupted space; the hingari craft is doing the same.”

“And if I do that, we get away.”

“If we reach another Docking Station we can warn them. The infoweb is down, hyperspacial links shattered. We have to try something!”

“I don’t have it in me to survive this,” Brin says, very softly.

I move toward her, and Orien’s hand catches one of my limbs in a tight squeeze. “Send us. And others after, as you can. They’ll listen to us, if only because Dar will shout at them until they do.”

“I haven’t heard you shout in a long time,” Brin says. “Not since that incident with the third engine coolant system –.” She breaks off, closes her eyes. “You always knew I could do this, didn’t you? You never said.” She looks so young, despite old eyes.

“You wouldn’t have wanted me to.” I turn my projection off, and every system I can spare, watch Orien as he does the same.

The stasis field keeping Brin young shudders, holding – somehow, holding – as she disrupts space itself and hurls us into a vortex of her own making.

It hurts. That’s probably an understatement, but I don’t recall most of it. I shut down almost everything I am for part of it. I survive. I am kind of amazed I do.

I wake. It’s slow, hard, but I flick my viewscreen on. Take in a dozen armed humans and more weapon systems than is comfortable. I’m in a quarantine cell; Orien is in the one next to me. He isn’t dead. That keeps me awake.

“This is the Docking Station Alpha 11?” I say, and my voice is thin, scratchy. I’m operating on backups of backups, systems almost drained. “I need – I need to charge. Data upload. Plea –.”

I shut down my vocal system as a weapon pulses through me. I steal some of its energy, despite the pain. Force an infoweb connection and hurl the information into every open and closed system on Alpha 11 a

nd I come to. Charged. Not in pain. Someone’s quarters. Orien is pacing the small room, limping badly. Whoever charged him forced an upgrade on some of his apps and linkages. No one altered me, though someone tried to.

“Sit.” Orien looks over at me, grins, and sits down in the one couch in the room. I begin fixing links, altering apps, shifting modules in his body.

“Someone assumed you were a hingari weapon,” Orien says after a good ten minutes as I’m finishing up double-checking my work. “We did come through a spacewarp and apparently that such things can be done is somewhere beyond top secret, so they assumed it was an attack.”

“And McLan?”

“I don’t know. They refused to say if anyone else made it off.” He pops open my chassis gently and checks a few systems over, closes it. “You turned a weapon they hit you with into a power source?”

“I got the idea from Brin.” I extend a limb with a rag on it, turn on my projection and grin.

Orien shakes his head, but takes it and cleans my body off. We both have our rituals to help us hold together. He’s a bit better after, puts it away and sits on the couch. We wait in silence together for almost an hour before a tall, tired man comes in, the door sealing shut behind him. The pause between the door opening and closing allows infoweb access; I scan the man, download data and close the connection in a moment.

“Commander Garison.” I add his ID numbers. “I’m Dar. This is Orien.”

He blinks, then: “The door.”


Orien shoots me a look; I don’t normally show off what I can do, especially not to strangers. Garison pauses, then says: “Wall.”

The wall flickers to reveal star charts, zooms in on the system McLan is in and there is – nothing. No stars, no systems. No data. Just a hole too big to think about. Hingari craft bruise the nature of the universe, leave gravitational indents that persist for millennia to mark their passage. Not even that remains. No shapes, no shadows cast on walls. Nothing to cast them with. Just a piece of space so empty not even datatrails haunt it.

“I imagine you can explain this,” the commander says.

I move closer. I don’t need to, but I do. Extend a limb to brush the wall. To be sure it’s real. My limb trembles a little against my will. Orien hasn’t moved. I look back at him through my viewscreen. “You knew.”

“That she’d kill herself if she survived that? Yes. This – this I don’t think even you expected, Dar.”

“Can I upload data?” I say to the commander. He nods, and I toss some of the info on Brin up. “She is – she was – a splice.” I pause, gather myself a little. “She could produce disruption fields and knew how to use them on any source of energy, which includes actual gravity, not just the artificial kind. There are not many splices like her made since someone accidentally let the nature of said splice be known to some interested parties.”

“You being someone,” Garison says.

“I asked Brin; she agreed. A disruption field on her scale can warp space. Hence our arrival and attempted warning about the SK4209, which was stupid enough to flee a hingari craft into normal space. Whatever they did pissed the hingari off enough to send a craft in. The gravitational fields it generated ripped the McLan in half and destroyed the system proper.”

“There would be debris.”

“There would, but the hingari got too close to McLan. Perhaps they were going to attempt to repair it or remove witnesses; I have no idea. Brin – disrupted their craft. Surpassed mere matter and energy and disrupted information; I imagine she uses her stasis field to allow that, and the hingari ship simply being near her boosted her splice. I have no idea if she destroyed the craft, but she definitely damaged it and the result wiped a piece of the universe entirely of information in the process.” I smile grimly. “Which I imagine you figured must have happened, even if you had no idea how.”

“We were hoping to be wrong, yes.” He doesn’t say what the Seeker SK4209 was doing, or about the hingari. Just turns and heads back to the door. “We will see about planetfall for the both of you and compensation for our mishandling of your arrival. Contracts will be drawn up so this data is never revealed.”

“All right,” Orien says quickly before I can comment. I might have a habit of really not liking contracts, but right now – right now Brin is dead, and mourning never gets easier no matter how many times you do it. I stare at the wall, at the empty place where McLan used to be, and wonder if, where I to open myself up, there would be a hole in me that felt like the hole in the universe where a friend had been.

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