Transitions, Part V: An Erik McKetten Tale
Cat stepped over the limp form of Lena. He opened the drawer Signy indicated and sure enough, amongst other odds and ends, there was a spool of wire. He pocketed the spool and was pushing the drawer closed when the ship lurched, sending him against one of the cargo doors and the contents of the drawer spilling to the deck plating.
“A little stiff on the stick, Signy?”
“I’m sorry, Cat, but I have never flown before.”
Cat’s head snapped up. “What? I thought you said you could fly?”
“I can. Your father loaded the program, and it was thoroughly tested by Thane Myron in the BSVC labs. But I have never personally used it.”
Cat started to pick up the drawer’s contents.
“The thruster routines are of a generic design. I assume they are based on the original Janus A.I., which ran a much larger, and less sophisticated, ship than I am. I am modifying the thrust ratio tables now.”
“Okay. Try to take it easy.”
“I will endeavor to eliminate future discomfort, Cat.”
“Wait – you said you are modifying it? Does that mean you can change your programming?”
“The ability to adapt to new situations quickly and intelligently is one of the hallmarks of artificial intelligence, Cat.”
“That’s a little terrifying.”
“Perhaps that fear is what prevented further development into A.I. after the Artemis.”
Cat put away the contents of the drawer while Signy left atmosphere and entered orbit. Then he removed the spool of wire from his pocket and approached Lena.
“I hope I didn’t hit her too hard.”
“My analysis suggests she is sleeping, Cat, and otherwise uninjured.”
“Her vital signs were quite abnormal when she was awake. Chronic insomnia is a possible side effect of narcotic abuse. She may simply be recovering from a poorly maintained sleep cycle. Do you maintain a standard sleep cycle, Cat? I have chosen several articles on the Spectrum on the benefits of a regular sleep cycle, and the detrimental effects of an abnormal one, if you are interested.”
“No, Signy, that’s fine.”
He put his hands under Lena’s armpits and pulled her from the crew passage and into the cargo hold. Her eyes remained closed and her breathing regular.
“Yeah, she’s definitely out.”
“In a deep sleep, Signy.”
“Of course. I have received permission from control to leave orbit for the jump point. Shall I proceed?”
“Yes, Signy, go ahead.”
He brought Lena’s hands together over her stomach and unwound some of the wire. He wondered how to best bind her hands.
– – – – –
Erik didn’t know how long he was in the park, face down and weeping, but when one of the armored soldiers picked him up and bound his hands behind his back, Breida was an unknown, hellish landscape. The Great Hall, and the buildings surrounding it, were rubble. Flames and choking black smoke filled the air. There were few alive not wearing the armor of UEE Marines, and those people were bound and defeated.
The UEE machine was efficient, even to the inexperienced eyes of a ten-year-old. The captives were lined up in front of large troop ships that landed after the attack wound down. Erik was ushered to the line by a large man in powered armor. The Marine removed his helmet, and Erik expected to see a monster underneath. Instead, he saw a young man with a sweaty face and tired eyes. The man smiled at Erik – a smile wistfully devoid of hope. Erik wiped the tears from his own eyes and tried his best to smile back.
“What’s your name?” The Marine asked.
The Marine chuckled, “No need to ‘sir’. I’m nobody special. My name is Johann.”
“What is going on? Why did you tie my hands?”
Johann frowned. “Not my decision, kid. I have rules I have to follow.”
“But what’s going on?”
Johann shook his head. “I don’t know. That’s the honest truth. I was just told to do this.”
“Oh.” As the son of a Thane, Erik could understand that.
Michael stood in front of Erik in line. Michael was a few years older than Erik, and the son of another Thane. They moved closer to the ship and began to see what was happening. Each person was asked a few questions and then scanned with a Glas. After the scan, they were either loaded onto the ship or moved off to the side. Erik didn’t know why, but he knew he didn’t want to be taken on one of the ships.
Michael stepped up.
“Name?” A woman in a crisp military uniform asked. She stared at her Glas.
“Mike.” Michael’s voice was raspy from the smoke-filled air.
The woman glanced up, annoyance dancing across her face. “Full name.”
The lady scanned her Glas.
“Michael White. Son of Thane Andrew White. Hold still, please.” She held the Glas up and let it scan the boy. “Okay. Take him.”
Two Marines grabbed the boy and escorted him towards the ship.
Erik stepped forward.
“Erik.” A lump formed in his throat.
“Erik…Khan.” The other name appeared in his head before he knew he was saying it.
She scanned the Glas. “There is no Erik Khan here. Who is your father?”
“Lito Khan.” Erik made up the name.
She scanned the Glas.
“Lito Khan. No record found. Why aren’t you two listed?”
Erik shrugged. “We don’t live here. We live on my dad’s ship.”
“Right. Okay. Hold still, please.” She scanned Erik. “He can go.”
Johann was waiting for Erik with his arms crossed.
“That isn’t your name.” He stated.
“Yeah it is.”
Johann raised an eyebrow.
“Why were you running towards the city center when we found you? Wouldn’t you be going to the hangars, where your dad’s ship would be, if you lived on it?”
“I got lost…and my dad was in the Great Hall.”
“I bet your dad was in the Great Hall, but I don’t think he was some freelancer down visiting.”
Erik could hear his own heartbeat. Johann saw the fear creep into the boy’s face.
“Okay,” Johann sighed. “It’s not my business, either way. Whatever your parents did – it isn’t you. Get out of here.”
Erik ran for home.
– – – – –
Cat stopped, stared at Lena, and wound the wire back up.
“Signy, open the bed.”
The retractable bed unfolded from the bulkhead in the crew passage. Cat hooked his hands under Lena’s arms and lifted her. He couldn’t stand up all the way while holding her in the small ship. He put her back down and moved around to her feet, lifting them and dragging towards the bed. That didn’t work either. He’d have to climb over the bed and then try to pull her up. Not enough leverage.
“Cat, may I make a suggestion?”
“Go for it.”
“It appears you are trying to move Miss Lena onto the bed. Might I reduce the gravity for you?”
“Yes,” the laugh grew in volume. “Yes, Signy, do that.” He was losing himself to the laughter.
“Is something funny, Cat?”
“Just me, Signy. Just this whole situation.”
Cat felt lighter – much lighter. He was able to effortlessly lift Lena and maneuver her to the bed. He set her down on it, gently, and climbed over her sleeping form and into the pilot’s seat.
“Alright, Signy, you can turn the gravity back on.”
“Are you going to bind Miss Lena?”
Cat shook his head. He idly wondered if Signy could see the head shake, or know what it meant when he did so.
That answered his question.
“She’s not much of a threat to us in space, is she? Even if she overpowered me, which I doubt she could do, you wouldn’t give her control of the ship, would you?”
“No. She is not on the list of authorized operators.”
Cat ran his hands over the various displays in the cockpit.
“Over here, on your left, I have the Glas configured to display your engine status on the top and hull integrity on the bottom.”
Cat looked around, half expecting to see his father standing over his shoulder. Save for the sleeping Lena and the silent, but omnipresent, Signy, he was alone.
“What does the display tell you?”
“Engines are operating at eighty-eight percent efficiency, and cruising at one hundred percent output. Hull integrity is ninety-seven percent.” Cat whispered.
“I would recommend a maintenance check as soon as it is convenient, Cat.”
“And, on this side, the ship status window on the bottom with subsystem information on the top. If you target another ship, their information will appear here instead of ours. What do you see there?”
“Overall ship status at ninety-eight percent. Thruster number four isn’t registering. Thrusters two and five are reporting fifty percent efficiency. Reactor output is eighty-percent, maximum is ninety-five percent of normal. Multiple warnings on electrical subsystems.”
“As I said, I am overdue for a maintenance check. According to maintenance records, I am twenty-one years overdue for the manufacturer suggested overhaul.”
Cat smiled. “I understand, Signy. I’m just talking to myself.”
“In the center, of course, is your navmap, sensor package, attitude and heading indicators. And what do they tell you?”
“We are approaching the jump point. Intercept in fifty seconds.”
“Correct, Cat. I am preparing to activate the visual screens.”
“No, Signy. I want to see. I’ve never actually seen Interspace.”
“Cat, I would strongly advise against that course of action. UEE scientists, medical doctors, and psychiatrists all warn against the possible negative side effects of directly viewing Interspace.”
“Don’t Jump Point Merchants view it without restrictions?”
“They do – researchers believe a small segment of the population can parse Interspace into something the human brain can understand.”
“Well, only one way to find out if I’m part of that segment, right?”
“Cat, should you experience a negative reaction to direct interaction with Interspace, the best treatment available will be through the UEE – who, I should remind, you are trying to avoid right now.”
“Understood, Signy. The order stands.”
“Very well. I will have the emergency beacon ready should it be needed. I assume you still want me to navigate Interspace?”
“At least that decision is rational.”
Cat started. Signy sounded like his mother when she was frustrated with him. “Signy,” he looked towards the nearest speaker with a raised eyebrow, “was that exasperation in your voice? Are you capable of being…snarky?”
“I am not certain I understand the question, Cat. I suggest you prepare yourself. Entering the event horizon in ten seconds.”
Just as he was instructed in the UEE, Cat activated the safety harness.
“Event horizon in five…four…three…two…”
“Crrrrrooooosssssiiiiiiinnnnnggggggg.” Signy’s voice slowed and stuttered.
Cat closed his eyes and then opened them just in time to watch the universe vanish in a rainbow explosion of light, color, sound, and fury.