One hundred forty-four

One hundred forty-four

Captain Tchulik Chresti was on the communicator. “I’ve got all of you at weapons consoles in your cabins, except for little Janet, who is up here with me. Don’t worry, she’ll be useful. But remember that this is a hyperspace battle. Were it just a 4D spacetime battle, it would be occurring over hundreds of thousands of years, going across a good-sized galaxy. But what that means is don’t try to second-guess your targeting systems. Forget about leading or anticipating a target: fire where it shows when it shows. You’ll pickup the rhythm soon enough. Captain out.”

The bigger viewports of the bridge were still luminous white while the smaller ones were flashing all sorts of colors and shapes. Jeanette said to the Captain, “You’ve done this before.”

“A couple of times--but this is my first stint in the captain’s chair. I just gave your friends the lecture that got given to me a long time back.”

“What do you want me to do?” Jeanette asked.

“I wasn’t lying just to pacify your father, my dear. Your hands have been linked to the controls of the X-O’s chair, and you’re going to have plenty to do. Fortunately we’re not going to have to win any battles with this little ship--or even differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys. We just have to stick to the path and get through.”

A translucent white cube floated in front of her face. There was a red arc through it, and a green dot near it..

“I’ve been steering us through a patch of high energy flux that’s shielded us from detection for the most part, but all good things must come to an end. We’re coming out into a very nasty firefight, and we’re going to have to dodge, weave, and fire back. What you have to do is try to keep the dot--that’s us--on the line--which is the path. The thing is, your controls won’t maneuver the dot the way you want them to. You’ll have to compensate and get us there. Your inputs are only part of the instructions going to the drives, but they’re the part that machine intelligences suck at. I am right now sucking at explaining this: do you understand?”

“I understand,” Jeanette said firmly. She had logged more hours on racing games--including 3D ones like pod racing--that she felt she could do it. At least she wouldn’t get confused by unresponsive controls. “I can do it.”

“So that’s one of us confident, at any rate. Coming up on breakout in twenty seconds.”

Everything got complicated.

The bridge became a fireworks display, and the cube in front of her cleared, to be littered with gleaming dots and expanding spheres that could be nothing but explosions. Her dot drifted from the path and seemed to be veering towards a big expanding sphere. The controls, just like the Captain said, didn’t handle like control gloves, and she found herself leaning and grimacing as she tried to stop that frustrating pull.

She was beginning to figure out what did what, but the dot crossed the edge of the sphere, and the whole ship shook. The chair gripped her and stabilized her, and she pulled away and out. She felt guilty and responsible, but yelled at herself that yes she was, and so what?

But, as in any game, having evaded--just-- the first obstacle, the second one showed up. This time a cluster of dots came forward, and the arc of the path ducked below them. She started to pull down, and again it was way too sluggish.

The dots suddenly acquired green dots on top of them, and the Captain called out “FIRE! FIRE!” And the whole structure inside the cube veered and whirled. She had to pull now in an entirely different direction, and she wobbled randomly and had to reorient again before she was once again moving towards the path.

She felt she was beginning to get the hang of maneuvering, even with larger and larger groups of ships. She also noticed that more and more targeted ships vanished from her cube, and was beginning to feel satisfied. She told herself not to feel that way, but couldn’t help the warmth and the confidence in the motion of her hands.

Suddenly the cube was almost half-filled with a dark mass. They were right upon it, and all her maneuverings didn’t do a damn thing avoid it.

Then the cube vanished and  there was a long quiet feeling of nothing.

She felt a wash of relief, and a feeling of waking up--but when she tried to talk, she found she couldn’t talk or move.

With a jolt, she was back in the world of noise, motion and light, and Tchulik was swearing. “Hot and cold damn, I didn’t want to do that: jump a universal boundary with all that flux around us. But I had no choice! None1”

“Captain, I’ve lost the track of the path.” The cube was configured differently and there was no red arc.

The Captain swore repeatedly, and the screens across the bridge moved and shifted. So did the structure inside her cube. “I didn’t want to jump universes in the middle of all that, but the damn thing gave me no choice!” It was minutes before a blip of red showed up in it, but the second it did, she was pulling. It didn’t respond in the previous fashion, and didn’t seem to want to move at all. She kept twisting her wrists and moving her fingers until it began to budge. There were blossoming explosions around her, and he pulled and pushed to avoid them, and it seemed like it was slipping away again. She was breathing heavily and perspiring.

The cube went all wiggly, Jeanette looked around, and saw that it was the entire bridge, and even her. She ignored it and repeated her motions until she felt like she was going to throw up. It began to subside with agonizing slowness. When it was done, they were on top of the arc.

“What was that?”

“Absolutely no idea! But we won’t survive another one of those!”

The cube froze.

“Hang on, everyone. Trying something!”

All the smaller screens on the bridge went red. The ship lurched sideways, and then backwards. Jeanette choked down vomit.

The Bridge went dark.

“I think we’re through,” Captain Tchulik said.

“How can you tell?” Asked Jeanette, looking at the dark viewscreens.

“The viewscreens are on,” said the Captain dully. “Welcome to the Wild Reach.”


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