Gold Coast: Chapter 4-A

Jan 26th, 2011 | By | Category: Gold Coast, Kymria

Pebble in the Sky

Part A

Drifter

Lisha

Lisha drifted slowly towards the Pebble; naked in the vacuum of free-space. Normally, this was her favorite part of the job; the long trajectories between stones. She’d only been out for 5 hexes, and resented having to go back so soon. Her ‘claimers were still good for 3 hexes–plus the grace–and worst of all, she hadn’t found anything worth reporting on any of the stones in the area. This session was not going to be paying any debits.

Pushing the ever-present thoughts of debt out of her mind, she ran through a systems check. She had skipped them while drifting between stones. The link from Kern had used up most of her drift time–and a quite a few more of her credits. Prices for i-linking through the Fleet relay had just gone up. She’d either have to cut down on her link-time with Kern or convince him to move into the system with her. The Pebble had a good enough i-link to connect to his ship without too many problems.

The system check finished its cycle, giving her an all-clear. Too clear. There was no reason to return to her ship with the gauges that high. No good reason at least. She sighed, an odd gesture in the vacuum of space. Her air ‘claimer accepted the gesture silently. It took more strength to push air through the prosthetics than it did through nostrils. Out of habit, she reached back to stroke the length of the thin tubes running from the back of her jaw to the air ‘claimers on her shoulders. It was a gesture she had picked up when she was first Changed. The thought that these thin tubes were all that allowed her to breathe was ever present in her mind. Somehow it was odd that all the other aspects of the Change didn’t bother her. The waste ‘claimers, not eating for over 8 hexes, the odd vision from the eye-caps, the modifications to her feet, even the xenoderm, its mottled red and black hugging her gently from every direction; none of these had as much effect on her as those two tubes. Even after 22 years with the Guild of Free-space Operators, she still felt calmed only after stroking the length of those tubes, reassuring herself that they were still there, that she was still able to breathe.

22 years. Had she really been living in vacuum for 22 years? It was hard to think about living any other way. Hard to think what it was like before the Change. What it was like to have real skin rather than the xenoderm. Or to have hair. That had been one of the things she missed the most at the beginning. Her hair had been long and thick–she took great pride in it. But the xenoderm didn’t grow hair. That was one of the reasons she found Kern so attractive. Like most Hrazelle, he had spent the extra money to get his tail rebuilt; each long synthetic hair woven into the xenoderm by hand. Several years later he had gone one step farther and had his mane rebuilt. A Hrazelle’s tail was integral to his sense of balance. Losing it would be like shortening one leg on a Kymrian. But the mane? That was pure vanity. And arrogance. He was betting that he would make enough credit to pay off the mane as well as his other debts. Being a Drifter paid well, but the costs were correspondingly high also. That arrogance was another reason she liked Kern. He was still young enough to be arrogant in the face of all this unforgiving vacuum and raw glory of the universe staring you right in the face. “Know that when you look into the Abyss, the Abyss looks also into you.” That quote was forged above the main airlock for the Guild station. She hadn’t really understood it until several years after her first Drift. It was virtually impossible to look into the Abyss and still believe that you, as an individual, had any significance whatsoever. And yet Kern was still arrogant.

She sighed again and thought about linking to him. She’d been spending a lot of time talking to him lately. Maybe after this assignment, she’d search him out and spend a few days with him. Some wild passion might work the knots out of her mind, relieve the tension, and wear her down enough to where her mind could just relax. She used to be able to do that between stones. Several hours in free trajectory had a calming effect on the mind. With a thought she pinged the Pebble; at this velocity, it was still 5 hours away. A full half-day drift.

A smile crossed her face as she remembered. Her gauges still read over 30%. That’s a lot of delta sitting in that tank. Carefully, she aligned herself, pinged the Pebble again, and opened the valves. Liquid helium escaped the tank into the jet tubes running through her body, emerging at either side of her ankles. The helium, heated slightly in its travel, expanded rapidly into a gas. That gas had only one way to expand–out the small jets. Newton’s 3rd law kicked into effect, and Lisha accelerated rapidly towards the Pebble. She continued to vent the propellant until the gauges blinked yellow. 10% was enough to correct her course later on, and she could set the Pebble to match her velocity when she got close.

The odd thing about velocity in free-space was the lack of speed. Speed required a reference, wind blowing across your skin, trees flashing past the window of the car, even the hum of a track or a road beneath you. In space, there was only nothing; light years of it. Nothing doesn’t make a good reference by which to feel speed.

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