Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act I

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Imago

Last Time On Imago…

Gable laughed again, making the hologram flinch. “Losing the world changes a man, what can I say? You’ll have plenty of time to reconcile that on the way to Linka Station.”

The hologram’s lips formed a thin line. “About that, Captain… I attempted to warn you…”

What?”

I suggested we bloom directly to an inhabited planet or station because the fuel situation is dire. Xenon gas reserves are at five percent of capacity. That is not enough to hard burn to the nearest station and while having enough fuel to brake before life support through the ship begins to fail.

My recommendation is to settle into orbit around Hotor and activate a distress ansible—however it is highly likely that this course of action will result in your apprehension by Saadis Mor.”

And Now, The Conclusion…

“I am sorry.” the hologram said.

There was a certain earnestness in those words that Gable had never detected from an AI before. Earnestness, a tinge of fear and… anticipation? That’s when he remembered how earlier it had mentioned reviewing the ship’s archives concerning his past exploits. It was expecting something from him even while its own analysis was saying the situation was hopeless.

He sighed and looked down at the console in front of him. “You’ve got so much data on me: what do I always say in this type of situation?”

“When ordinary measures don’t suffice, extraordinary steps must be taken, Commander.” the AI said with barely-contained enthusiasm. Gable made a note not to try and make contact with any sectors that held the AI’s core programming; it would be less like machine telepathy and more like actual telepathy. “As such, I’ve already compiled a list of our resources and am sending it to your console.”

Gable looked down, and sure enough, a new tab had been created giving a rundown of the Supreme Eye‘s manifest. The xenon gas batteries, which powered all the ship’s electrical systems and the drive engines, were down to three percent. The fuel in the maneuvering thrusters was still within optimal operational levels. The emergency power bank was… missing. A quick check revealed that Saadis Vinto had been in the process of replacing it with something that could interface with his ny-jani cloaking device.

Nothing else would help get the ship moving. There wasn’t anything significantly massive enough that its removal would improve the ship’s braking range.

Before he could ask, the AI had already sent a star chart of the Grauss System to the console. Hotor was the seventh and final planet in the system while Linka Station was in orbit around the fifth; the aluminum-rich rocky world of Karris. At certain times, Farn, the sixth planet, another gas giant, would be in the proper place to provide a second sling-shot boost to a ship arriving from Hotor’s direction. This was not one of those times.

If the xenon levels were higher, the answer would have been attempting a slower slingshot off the gas giant and just accepting the longer trip to the station. With the xenon batteries as depleted as they were, Gable calculated (without looking at the AI’s numbers) that life support would fail two days out from their destination even with the fastest possible slingshot trajectory the maneuvering thrusters could give them.

“Alright.” he said after some consideration. “Hotor’s a gas giant in a former Imperial sector. That means condenseries and everything that goes with it. What do we know about Hotor?”

The AI sent him another tab, but this time decided to give voice to the information. “Grauss VII, Hotor is the largest planet in the system. Its primary value is helium, nitrogen, and krypton gas. Secondary explorations include xenon and neon as well as particulate crystals of savorium-550. There are currently eighty-six condenseries in operation in the planet’s atmosphere. Seventy-four are manned continually. Sixty-eight are subscribed to the Grauss VII local ansible.”

“Is the ansible public?” Gable only asked because there was an off chance. There was a lot of money in selling ansible bandwidth to distant outposts like anything on Hotor.

“No.” said the AI. “Grauss VII’s local ansible is controlled by Serril Advance Communications. A preliminary ping returns the subscription rate of two omi-plour per billing cycle.”

Gable watched the screen as blips appeared on an around a graphical representation of Hotor representing condenseries, the ansible node and various satellites. “Ny-ja, I wish I had kept hold of those omi-plour I took from Saadis Mor. What’s this?” His train of thought switched tracks as he spied two small markers almost on top of the Supreme Eye‘s location.

“Those would be the Voidhoppers, Commander.” said the AI. “They were within the aura of the bloom field when we escaped. One was damaged beyond functionality by venting plasma. As for the other; they are old models and had no time to shut down the appropriate systems, their weapons and engines will have been knocked offline by the aura. They are no longer a threat and will fall out of orbit in a few hours.”

Humming thoughtfully, Gable pulled up the information tab on the Haummer-Rymer Model Eleven ‘Voidhopper’ aerospace fighter. “Thirty-six hour life support?” He noted, quirking an eyebrow. “Why?”

The AI approached to look over his shoulder. “The Model Eleven was designed before bloom technology was commonplace. They were deployed from carriers for long-range sorties from lunar range. This made the carriers vulnerable and the fighters likely to become stranded in orbit. Thus, the life support system was made as robust as possible to maximize the chances of successful pilot retrieval.”

After a second, it turned toward him and said, “The Voidhoppers use outmoded hydrogen batteries that are incomparable with The Supreme Eye‘s power systems. They would only yield a few hour’s worth of operable power in any case.”

Gable only shook his head. You’re good, I’ll admit. That learning programing of yours obviously picked up a lot from the ship’s archives, but you still aren’t thinking the way I think.” He took a breath to tamp down hope. “But that might not actually help. I’m almost afraid to ask, but did Saadis Vinto remove any of the magnetic webs from the docking bays?”

The hologram managed to give him a curious look. “He had no reason to. You wish to bring the Voidhoppers in to dock?”

“Repair bay, actually.” said Gable. He was rewarded with the sight of an AI-controlled hologram actually doing a double-take.

“Of course, Commander.” the AI said after a second. “Prepping two power interfaces in repair docks Gamma-1 and Gamma-2 and cycling the magnetic web. Do you wish to open channels to the Voidhoppers?”

Gable nodded. “Open video channels and send them to this console.” The words were barely out of his mouth before two video tabs opened onscreen, each bearing an icon indicating that a hail had been sent and the system was waiting for a reply.

After a few moments, the tab on the left resolved to reveal the face of the second Voidhopper’s pilot.

It was easy to tell a Carrig, even one wearing a helmet and framed so only the face was visible. There were only three known sapient insectile species and of those, only one was vaguely humanoid: the people of Notusthaum IV, aka Carrigianalthaum.

She—for only female Carrigs had pronounced mandibles—had a face covered in red chitinous exoskeleton, mandibles edged in blue-black bio-metal, and segmented green eyes set into deep hollows. There was an egg-shaped metal plate set between the chitin plates around her throat, a steady blue light indicating its operation. When she spoke, the voice came from the plate rather than her mouth.

“You will not raise Chchakkaz.” Aside from the pronunciation of her wingman’s name, her ‘voice’ was the standard synthetic voice most translator devices used; androgynous and with only the bare essentials when it came to emoting. The Carrig were fully capable of learning other languages, but their means of vocalization couldn’t replicate most languages, let alone the former Imperial or Zact core languages. “He is dead and beyond his words.”

Gable inclined his head. “I would apologize, but you and Chchakkaz were the ones attacking me and even then, it was the plasma that did the deed, not my fire. Who am I addressing.”

If the lack of apology bothered the Carrig, she didn’t show it, though the set of the teeth in her vertical maw was a sign of suspicion in her species. “Sentry pilot Ckliika. Saadis Mor’s private security force, Zero-four-eight-two. Who is she addressing?”

Name and serial designation. A veteran then. As the Carrigs sold their services to both the Empire and the Zact, so Gable couldn’t tell if that helped him or not. Of course, he couldn’t even be sure which side he should be hoping she’d fought for.

“Adrian Gable, rightful owner of this vessel that was stolen by Saadis Mor and given unlawfully to Saadis Vinto. More importantly, right now I’m your lifeline. Tell me, is your craft capable of powering out of Hotor’s gravity well on its own? Or really, settling into a stable orbit?”

Ckliika rattled her mandibles at him. “No. She will lose orbit within twelve hours. What does he propose?”

Giving the Carrig his most thoughtful expression, Gable craned his neck back and stared at the ceiling of the bridge. “None of the local condenseries is going to send anyone to help you. All their crafts are short-range maintenance skiffs or long-range haulers not built to maneuver in the gravity well. That makes me the best how you have.”

No response. Ckliika only stared at him.

“I on the other hand have docking bays equipped with magnetic webs just for this situation. I can bring you in… but that puts me at risk.”

“Risk?” Ckliika asked, incredulous.

Gable nodded. “You work for Saadis Mor. As you can imagine, Mor and I are not friends and even the act of taking you with to Linka Station is putting my head on his block. The moment we’re in ansible range, you might rush off to transmit my location to that ny-jani bastard.”

Ckliika clacked her mandibles together. “She has nothing to offer but her word, which means nothing to him. Why would he even make this offer?” She obviously wasn’t the only one to wonder this; Gable took note of the AI watching him carefully as well.

He drew in a long breath, then slowly let it out. At the same time, he deliberately let his expression soften. “Truthfully? Because I need your craft as much as you need to be picked up.” If the look of shock on the hologram’s face wasn’t something he didn’t think it should be capable of, Gable would have found it amusing.

Onscreen, the Carrig tilted her head and emitted a curious trill that her translator didn’t bother with.

“We’re low on xenon.” he admitted. “Under normal environmental conditions and other power requirements, we’d run out short of Linka Station. However, if we get your Voidhopper into the repair bay and you’re willing to share the cabin, I can power down the life support to the rest of the ship and have enough xenon to reach the station alive.”

He made an expansive gesture. “It’s really the only way either of us is going to get out of this alive.”

The Carrig let out a little growl Gable couldn’t place as she considered. Finally, she snapped her mandibles to make a single, heavy sound. “Very well. She will not betray him. She will allow hm to share her cabin—but there is a condition: if she is to live weeks with spaceling stink, he will bring Chchakkaz’s fighter aboard as well.”

“It looks to be beyond salvage.” Gable warned, perusing a scan he’d received of it. The engines were… gone: a small debris cloud swirling in the gravity-eddy caused by the presence of the damaged ship and nothing more.

Ckliika narrowed her eyes. “ Chchakkaz is her brother. He requires the tenaid.”

Tenaid. Funeral, Gable recalled. He couldn’t argue with that.

“Alright then. On your word then.” With that, he nodded to the AI. “Deploy magnetic webs and bring those fighters into the repair bay.”

The hologram gave a smarter salute than most of Gable’s former crew ever could have. “At once, captain.”

***

The doors to the Gamma repair bay slid open, revealing the five small the mid-sized docking bays arranged around the four-pronged dish of the magnetic web. The web was designed to allow The Supreme Eye to bring in craft too damaged to come in under their own power—or in this case, unable to rise out of local gravity wells for proper rendezvous.

Tracks mounted to the inside of the dish aligned the four superconductive prongs, manipulating the shape of the magnetic fields they generated into long, narrow bands that were blocked on the back end by the EM-scattering materials of the dish. The result was a reasonable facsimile of a directed magnet that could be directed at specific targets to pull them in.

Anticipating Ckliika’s wishes, the AI locked onto Chchakkaz’s Voidhopper first. The cloud of debris, having less mass to get moving, came first, peppering the web’s protective screen before bouncing off and settling on the wall of the bay. The Voidhopper followed slowly after it, the web angling and repositioning to guide it into the Gamma-1 repair dock. The power interface didn’t bother to engage; the ship was beyond saving and powering it would be a waste.

Ckliika’s ship was next, and Gable was waiting in the umbilicus, now dressed in a long-haul suit. The brown and gray utilitarian assemblage was designed for long-haul transport crews whose sparse resources meant they needed to retain their heat as much as possible and wouldn’t be seeing a real bathroom or shower for weeks.

“Greetings, Ckliika.” He said as he climbed down into the pilot’s cabin. There was a heavy canvas satchel slung over his shoulder. “I come bearing nutrient-dense survival rations and aqueous gum.”

The Carrig turned her entire head around, the chitin around her neck creaking. Her glare told him that a light tone wasn’t welcome. “Sit.” She ordered, indicating the auxiliary pilot’s console behind her. “And be quiet, spaceling.”

Gable looked past her to find that she’d focused her ship’s main view on the other Voidhopper and instantly felt like a bastard. He ducked his head. “That was… insensitive of me. I’m sorry.”

Scrambling into the seat at the auxiliary console, he pulled out the heavy bracer that served as a remote command console for The Supreme Eye and activated it, projecting a miniature console screen in the air. Just let me send a few last orders and you won’t here anything else from me in a long while.” To the projection, he said, “Gable to Supreme Eye AI interface.”

“For simplicity’s sake, Commander, you may wish to address me by a simple designation. Naming me is part of the customization process, but if you prefer, you can use my product name: PHotonic Organizational and Engineering Bio-mimetic IntErface – or ‘PHOEBE’.”

“That’s a reach.”

“It was concocted by the Mushan Corporation’s marketing department and is highly inaccurate. My functions go far beyond organization and engineering tasks, I am not merely an interface, and I am neuro-mimetic, not bio-mimetic. However, it will suffice and I am programmed to be content with any designation given to me.”

Gable glanced up at Ckliika and found that the Carrig had turned to face forward again. It was safer—or safer—to be a bit flippant again. “So someone could call you Shoonga, and you’d have to accept that?”

“And happily.” said the AI. “But as you have not designated me as such, I would ask you not to, Commander.”

“Right.” said Gable, trying to get comfortable in the chair. “Then we’ll just go with PHOEBE. In that case, PHOEBE, please power down all systems not necessary to maneuvering, core computing or this linkage.”

“Doing so now, Commander. Power conservation mode nine-one-two initializing and will be fully committed in two minutes, seven seconds.”

Gable nodded. “Good. And as soon as that’s done, I want you to calculate a slingshot vector for Linka Station and execute it.” Settling the satchel on the floor between his legs, he then rummaged through it before coming up with a heat-retaining blanket to supplement the long-haul suit. “And once you do that, take over environmental control of this craft and set it to the minimum for spacelings or Carrigs–whichever is highest.”

He pulled the blanket over his shoulders and fixed his eyes over Ckliika’s shoulders, on the damaged Voidhopper—now a coffin. “And now we wait…”

Series Navigation<< Imago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act IIIImago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act II >>

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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2 Comments

  1. Much as I enjoy the main Descendants and Rune Breaker series, I do appreciate the occasional change-up. And this is a good example of your range.

    I know you’re over-scheduled, and you have many stories which we want you to continue, but I hope you’ll consider a new genre: horror.

    You have an excellent understanding of and feel for monsters, you’d know how to use a classic w/out it being cliché, and you can create characters (human and otherwise) we like enough that if they get threatened we’ll feel fear for them.

    Many of your stories so far have had horror elements, such as werewolves, kaiju, and serial killers. Cowboy King and Malady Place were cousins to the genre. But I’d like to see outright horror.

    Just a suggestion.

    • Sorry to tell you, that’s not going to happen.

      I personally don’t like horror. I know its weird, but I don’t like to be scared and anxious for the adrenaline rush like most people. In fact, I’m a big fan of not having adrenaline rushes at all. So I can’t really get into that kind of thing.

      Like you said, I do have and like elements of the genres, but I don’t see myself writing anything like that straight out. I seriously had to take a break after writing Vorpal: Gyre and Gimble because it was too close to my line. The best you can probably hope for is Cowboy King, honestly. Sorry, but it’s just not in me.

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