At first it didn’t seem like they were moving at all. The acceleration was so small that they were not even aware of it. In fact most of the crew was still busy with preparing the ship for the voyage and paid no attention at all to the actual departure. Only the first bridge crew concerned themselves with it.
Several hours later, over dinner some Recruit would suddenly exclaim, “Where’s New Virginia?”
The galley was a very inviting place. It was small and cramped, but it was also cozy and warm with a homey feel. It was made even more so by a Beta Patrol member named Charly Obero-Kerr. He was a very tall, very thin boy with a big nose and always a big smile, unless he was bent over a stove, cutting board or oven. Then he had such a look of concentration that no one dared to bother him. He was so dedicated and so good that he was immediately made Master Chef on his first ever flight. The funny thing was that he had never cooked before that flight.
Now he was a permanent fixture in the galley and a welcome one. He was always baking something and the entire mess always smelled like you would imagine an idyllic Christmas homecoming at grandma’s smelled like. For all his attention to detail and dedication to his craft he was a pleasant person to be with, whether you were a guest for a meal or working KP.
All the Blues pulled KP on a rotating duty roster. Charly was the only permanent galley crew. That first night MAV and Jillyn were on KP. Dafyd would have it five days later with Nubia.
The first dinner was leek soup, garden salad, salmon, orzo, broccoli, buttermilk biscuits and cake for desert. The mess was only big enough to hold a dozen people so they ate in two shifts. Jak, the Troopmaster ate with both shifts because he made a speech to everyone.
Just after the cake was passed around Jak stood up and called for attention. Jak was not tall and not bulky. In physical appearance he seemed average and almost a little small. What was not small was his personality. Jak had gotten his citizenship through the Military Service and he had made it a career. He was a very young Lieutenant Commander.
Jak was a fighter pilot. There were no fighter craft in the military, the closest thing was a fast patrol ship called a corvette, which had a crew of five. All the same Jak was a fighter pilot. When he came into a room everyone knew it and everyone had to know it.
The Senior Patrol Leader, an Explorer, was the actual Captain of the ship while underway and the Troopmaster had the option of being referred to as Commodore. Jak took that option.
The first dinner shift was the Alpha Patrol, the Recruits and a mix of the other Patrols. Ana, the SPL had been sitting next to Jak during that shift. When he stood up she watched and waited her turn to speak, as was her right as Captain.
“Welcome Explorers!” Jak said.
“Hi Jak!” Was the response that everyone except the uninitiated Recruits said. It was entirely inappropriate to refer to their Troopmaster in so casual a way, but Jak insisted on it.
“I am extremely proud to be on this voyage with the finest crew of Explorers in the entire system.”
The Explorers erupted in a huge cheer.
“I want the Recruits to know that we expect a lot from them and they will get more than they ever imagined in return. Our voyage will take us around the Earth, the birthplace of humanity and bring us to L4, the birthplace of man’s permanent place in the Solar System. You are going to see and experience things not only larger and more beautiful than you had imagined, but larger and more beautiful than you could have imagined. The blackness of the void, the subtle shades of gray on Luna, the lights of Earth cities in the dark night and the plethora of spabitats in L4 will all astonish and amaze you. This is what Explorers is about, but it’s also about inner growth. You will be relied on and rely on others like you never had before. You will be asked to do things you never thought you could and you will be successful.
There is a reason the government of L5 decided that Explorers is a Citizenship Qualifier. A reason I have known for a long time. The Services are just that, services that serve the community, but Explorers allow you to explore and to grow. The Explorers not only provide services to the community, they provide and train valuable members to that community and that is what a citizen is. That is why Explorers is not only a Citizenship Qualifier, it is the best Qualifier! Bon Voyage!”
As he spoke the energy of the room grew. As the energy grew he stood taller, then he stood on his seat. When he was finished he was standing on the table. Everyone else were on their feet. The cheer was so loud that it could be heard throughout the ship and shook the module.
It took a few moments for the room to settle. Ana let it settle. Jak got down from the table, took a breath and walked out of the room. His departure allowed everyone to sit and breathe again. Only Ana remained standing.
“What can I add to that?” She said smiling. “I want to thank you all again for electing me your SPL and thus your Captain for this voyage. I will make you proud and you will make me proud. Let’s have a good, safe trip.” She bowed and left the room. There was polite applause and everyone started cleaning up their places.
“Hey MAV, how’s KP?” Dafyd said when MAV came out of the kitchen to wipe the tables down.
“Awesome. If you thought you ate well, you should try eating in the kitchen. I think I’m going to puke, but it was great. Charly is the best.”
“I’ll see you later buddy.” Dafyd said. He saw that the next shift was waiting to come in.
On the way out Dafyd passed Athena in the middle of the line. “What did you think?” She asked him.
“The food was great.”
“I know that. What did you think of the speeches?”
“Oh, well, wow. Jak can really stir up a crowd.”
“Jak is a cult of personality. What about Ana? What did you think of her speech?”
Dafyd hadn’t really thought about it. She had spoken in the wake of Jak’s oratory such that Dafyd had to think hard to even remember what she said.
“It was appropriate, I guess.”
“Well, to be fair, she was following Jak.”
“Doesn’t matter. She’s no leader. She’s brilliant at piloting and strategy, but she’s no leader.”
“Why’d you elect her then?”
Athena smiled. “Let me just say that she is very calculating.” She moved into the mess and he moved on to his quarters. One thing struck him more than anything she had said. That was that she had talked to him, really talked to him like a person. He couldn’t remember when he and his sister had had such a civil conversation. He liked it.
The Explorers all shared two large open bay barracks: one for the girls and one for the boys. They were strung thick with hammocks and the walls were full of lockers. They all had stored their gear in the lockers before they even left, but they had no chance to explore and understand the rooms.
When Dafyd arrived Wyly was standing in the middle of the boys’ room with Nubia and Lina.
“Okay. This is the boys’ billets. The girls’ is the same. You each have a locker, as you already know because you stowed your things. There a just a few things you have to keep in mind. These are hammocks, not your beds at home. They will not wash you. You will have to take showers and brush your teeth.”
“Showers?” Jillyn asked.
Wyly took a few steps to the head and opened the door. “This is the head. It has sinks, showers and toilets. We use recyclable nanobots for showers. You step in here, fully clothed and press that button there. It feels just like getting wet and will take about five minutes. When it is done the nanobots will go down the drain to be collected and cleaned of your dirt. You and your clothes will be cleaned. You and your clothes will not be as clean as at home, but clean enough. At the sink you can shave by applying nanoshavers. They are dispensed here and drain there.” He indicated a button over the sink and then the drain.
“You can brush your teeth using the nanobots dispersed here.” He pointed to a device that looked like a water fountain attached to the sink. “If you find you absolutely need to use water for some reason you control it with that dial button above the faucet.”
“What would you need water for?” Nubia asked.
“You might want a drink. Anyway, the billets are for sleeping and changing clothes only. Because we are on shifts there is almost always someone in here sleeping. The lights will always be dim and you will be very quiet whenever in here. If it’s still too much light the hammocks have hoods.”
“Where do we hang out when we aren’t on shift?” Lina asked.
“There won’t be much time that you are not on shift or on duty. It will be better that way, you’ll see. When you are off and have free time that you don’t want to sleep you can relax in the mess or there are several nooks and crannies. Some are bound not to be taken. I would hurry though. People tend to stake their claim to them fast.”
“Where’s yours?” Dafyd asked.
A thoughtful look passed over his face. He looked away a moment and then said, cheerfully. “I’m going to be very busy with our new friend the dosidcus elder. It’s going to take a lot to understand him and I think he has a lot to tell us. When I’m not with fim I’ll be on the bridge midnights in the Life Support Position.”
He pulled out a duty roster. “The duty and shift roster is very complicated. Right now Dafyd is due on the bridge to shadow the Navigator. Fletcher is on shift now. Nubia you’re in Supply with Jenny. Lina, you’re off shift right now. I know it will be hard, but try to get some sleep. You’re on the bridge with me tonight at midnight.”
He looked around. “Everybody has their assignments. I’ll make sure this is uploaded so you all can see a copy. If you have any problems don’t hesitate to find me and ask me. At least on the way to L4 you’re jobs will be very relaxed, unless you’re doing duty like KP. You’re shifts are for learning so don't get all frustrated or concerned. Have some fun.”
He walked out of the room, no doubt to get on his translator and talk with his squid friend. Lina went to her billet and Nubia and Dafyd made their way to the airlock.
They had to ride the tram from the housing module to the Spine. There they would climb weightlessly to the bridge and supply.
They got into the tram wordlessly. They rode silently to the Spine. They exited and before Nubia could push herself up the long corridor Dafyd held her forearm.
“Are you still mad at me?”
“Why should I be mad at you?”
“You shouldn’t. I mean, I just helped. What else was I supposed to do?”
“Dafyd.” She took a deep breath and turned toward him. “I’m not mad at you. I think you see something in me or feel something for me that I just can’t, I mean I don’t see or feel. Understand?”
“We’re friends right?” He stammered.
“Well, why can’t you?”
Her shoulders dropped and she heaved a sigh. “Dafyd.” She pushed off and was gone.
Dafyd watched her glide gracefully up the brightly lit white corridor. Her dark figure got smaller and smaller until she reached the supply hatch and disappeared altogether. He didn’t move.
A head popped out of the tram airlock. It was Lina.
“Oh, you’re still here.” She said surprised.
“I’m just leaving. What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for a private spot.”
“There’s one over there.” Dafyd pointed to an alcove that was only partially taken up by a hatch leading to the auxiliary engines.
“Thanks.” She said and flashed him one of her frightened squirrel smiles. They were very pretty.
Dafyd pushed himself off and was gone. He had pushed off too hard and nearly shot right past the bridge hatch. He reached out and grabbed the recess the hatch sat in. When he did his body kept going in an arc and he slammed, back first into the wall beyond the hatch. He hung there stunned until Ana stuck her head around the door.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes.” Dafyd groaned.
“Aren’t you supposed to be shadowing on bridge right now.”
Dafyd gave another groaning “yes.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
He didn’t bother answering. He was getting tired of the groaning joke. He just slid in past her. He noticed that she smelled very nice. Something like some sort of flower.
He expected the bridge to be hustling and bustling with activity, but in fact everyone in the room was yawning.
“Stop that.” Ana said as she began yawning herself. “It’s contagious you know.”
Ana floated in the middle of the room with ATM COM-san. He was the ATM for the Grays. He was a very dark, very hairy and very heavy man.
Dafyd floated to the Nav position. Fletcher had his feet hooked into the straps on the floor watching the monitors. Fletcher O’Carter-Logan was the Gamma Patrol Leader and he looked like he was cut from the same cloth as Wyly only darker. He was tall and handsome, but where Wyly gave an air of cool confidence and sophistication, Fletcher was hot and smooth. Dafyd knew that Fletcher had about six girlfriends. He didn’t know if any of them were in the Troop, but he knew he didn’t want to know Fletcher’s hiding place. It would undoubtedly be a site of active romance.
“Good evening young O’Wilford-Montgomery.” Fletcher had a clipped accent and bit off his “r”s. His smile was thin, but genuine.
“Hello.” Dafyd said. He was looking for something to hold onto so he wouldn’t float around.
“Here. Slide your feet into this.” Fletcher pulled his feet out of the loops, shifted and put his right foot in the left loop. This left the other one open for one of Dafyd’s feet. When he slid his foot in he became uncomfortably aware of the differences in their heights.
Fletcher began quietly showing him all the functions of the station. In a short while he looked down at Dafyd.
“Here.” He said. He pulled his foot out of the loop and floated up to the other bulkhead. It could have been called the ceiling, because all the other Positions were oriented the other way, but with no gravity there was really no way to tell up from down. Fletcher moved so that his head was even with Dafyd’s, only upside down to him. Fletcher knew his Position so well that he continued to explain things to Dafyd, even though now he had to read everything upside down. Dafyd didn’t feel any more comfortable, but he didn’t want to mention it because he was ashamed that Fletcher was working so hard to make him feel at home.
The active lessons didn’t last long anyway. Soon everything was silent and the yawning began again.
Dafyd looked around. Ana floated comfortably in the center of the room, watching everything. ATM COM slept as he floated. When he snored Ana would nudge him. A Gray sat in the pilot seat. It was an actual seat. Dafyd didn’t know him. He couldn’t even remember his name.
Everyone else was a Gray that Dafyd didn’t really know. Eventually his eyes kept coming back to Ana. When she looked his way he looked away, but otherwise he watched her.
She was average looking, maybe cute, but that was all. She was confident, but she didn’t make him feel any more confident, not the way Wyly did.
“What do you think?” Fletcher asked very quietly.
“Oh, I wasn’t, I mean I don’t.”
“Really. I was just wondering what Wyly saw in her and what happened between them.”
“I’ll tell you, our SPL usually gets what she wants. Last year she wanted to date the SPL. That was Wyly. This year she wanted to be the SPL.”
“So why aren’t she and Wyly still dating?”
Fletcher’s eyebrows did a wave. It looked very strange upside down. “I think that cake is best eaten one layer at a time.”
Dafyd wondered what that was supposed to mean. He looked up at Ana. It was the same time she looked down at him. She smiled. Dafyd grinned uncomfortably and looked back at the monitor. He didn’t think his shift would ever be over.
Eventually midnight rolled around. Dafyd was exhausted and dozing at his Position. Fletcher had started to drift around to the other Positions and chatting briefly with the other crewmembers, mostly the women. He eventually got round to Ana. They floated in the middle of the room together for a while before he floated back down to Nav and told Dafyd to get ready for shift change.
The Nav crewmember that replaced Fletcher was a tiny Blue girl with black hair, dark slanted eyes and a flat, round face named Alpiana Singh-Iraza. She seemed delighted that she got to take over from Fletcher. She laughed at his least joke and touched his arm often. When Fletcher had told her everything for the shift change he touched her cheek and told her, “see you later.”
The rest of the new shift had arrived, except Wyly. Lina floated at the Life Support Position looking lost. She had replaced Robin O’Sullivan-Munoz, a nervous little Gray who left almost as soon as Lina got there.
“Where’s Wyly?” Dafyd asked when he had floated next to Lina.
“I don’t know.” Lina bit her lip.
“Don’t worry. You’re shift will be a new experience in boredom.”
She smiled faintly.
“How did your hiding place work out?”
“Well, I…” She didn’t finish because Wyly had come in. He was out of breath.
“Sorry I’m late.” He told the Senior Officer. Chet O’Cohen-Sato, the Gray that had hooked up Voidcart One earlier. He wasn’t technically the senior officer on shift, Wyly was, but until all the Blues were up to pulling their own shifts, all the Explorers with a bridge expertise would act in those Positions and the non-expertise Position of Senior Officer would be pulled by others. Ana, as the Captain was technically the senior officer of the ship. Chet pulled the midnight shift and Jenny el Chavez Kim was on at 0800.
Chet was now Ana’s new boyfriend. Wyly made him nervous.
“No problem Wyly.” Chet said. He had skin the color of creamed coffee and shaved his head. When he was embarrassed he blushed from his cheeks all the way up his head.
Wyly floated to Lina and put his hand on her shoulder. “Sorry I’m late.”
Lina nodded and gave a quick smile.
“Let me show you what you have here.” He put his hand down and began showing her the Position.
“See you later.” Dafyd said and drifted slowly off the bridge.
Out in the corridor he stopped himself and looked around. On the bridge he was drifting off to sleep, but now he was too awake to sleep.
First he moved up toward the bow. There were plenty of spaces in and around the equipment, but most of it seemed to be taken by people. Some were even occupied when Dafyd floated by. Most notably Fletcher was laid out in the escape pod locker with some girl. Dafyd couldn’t see either of their faces, and he didn’t want to. He backed out as quickly as he could.
He shoved himself back down the corridor. As soon as he got to the tram airlock it opened and Jillyn popped out.
“Hey!” She said and gave him a smile.
“Hey.” Dafyd said.
“Where are you headed?”
“I just got off shift and I was sort of looking for a hiding place.”
“I got off shift a little while ago, but I just got a chance to go exploring now.”
“Well, I gave up for now and was headed down to the billets.”
“Okay, come on, let’s go to the mess.”
Dafyd gave her a quizzical look, but she grabbed his arm and pulled him into the tram.
“MAV is down there.” Jillyn said and then laughed.
“How was KP?” Dafyd smiled despite himself.
“Not bad. Charly is amazing. It was a lot of work, but we sure got to eat well. How was the bridge?”
“Boring? That’s it.”
Dafyd shrugged. “What have you been doing since your shift ended?”
“I took one of those showers. Wow, that was weird, but nice. It feels a little like getting caught in a rainstorm, but you’re not wet by the end of it.”
They got out of the tram and went to the mess. A few people were sitting, talking, playing games or reading. MAV was sitting alone at a table reading a book. The book was stored on his PDA, which was the size of his finger. A cable led from his PDA to the jack behind his ear.
“Hi guys.” He waved to them as they came in. Dafyd and Jillyn sat with him.
“What are you reading?” Dafyd asked.
“It’s a book on robotics. I was thinking about those rogue robots back on New Virginia.”
Charly walked out of the galley carrying three mugs. “Hey Dafyd. How’d you like supper?”
“It was delicious.”
Charly set the three mugs of cocoa down on the table.
“Wait until you taste breakfast. I have something special planned. Now drink this. It’s a special cocoa, chai tea and honey blend. I came up with it myself. Well, got to get started on lunch for the midnight shift.”
He slipped back into the galley.
“Does that guy ever sleep?” Dafyd said.
“I don’t think so.” Jillyn laughed.
“I think he catches naps between meals in the galley.”
They all took long sips of their drinks. It was sweet, delicious and warm. As soon as it hit their throats they felt sleepy.
“Yummy.” Jillyn said licking her lips. He tongue was cute and pink Dafyd thought. “I think I’m just going to come here when I have free time.” She said.
“Me too.” MAV said.
“I think I’m going to keep looking for some place private. Right now I’m going to hit the sack.” He yawned.
“Literally.” Jillyn laughed and started yawning too.
They went to bed. In the morning Dafyd’s PDA woke him. He had clean up duty after breakfast. He and MAV met Jillyn and Lina in the mess. Lina had rotated to breakfast from her bridge duty. Charly’s breakfast was some kind of quiche and it was every bit as special as he had promised.
Jillyn and MAV had cleanup duty with Dafyd. They dusted and mopped all the corridors. Others did the same in each and every room. It was a daily duty on the duty roster.
Lina went off shift at 0800 and went to bed. MAV, Dafyd and Jillyn met Lina at lunch. While they were eating an original kind of patty melt Wyly came in. He grabbed a sandwich and left immediately.
“What’s he up to Lina?” Dafyd asked her.
“I think he’s working with that squid elder.”
“Of course he is, but is he getting anywhere?” Dafyd said.
Lina shrugged and took a big bite of her sandwich.
“Let’s go and check this out.” Dafyd said.
They all went to the research lab. It was in the opposite module from the mess and billets. Dixie Akaga-Juarez was bending over a lab bench with goggles on.
“Is Wyly here?” Dafyd asked.
“Well, good morning to you too.”
“Good morning.” Jillyn said.
“Wyly isn’t here.”
“We thought he was working with a Space Squid.” MAV said.
“He is working with the dosidcus, but he isn’t doing it here. The dosidcus is outside the ship. He is at the port bow airlock.”
“I feel stupid.” Dafyd said as they moved back to the tram. “We were up and down every corridor all morning and we never saw or knew Wyly was there.”
“You were so busy trying not to catch anyone in their hiding places that I’m surprise you could do what you were cleaning.” Jillyn said. Slowly a smile grew across her face until it burst out as a laugh.
“I saw something last night that I didn’t want to and I don’t want to repeat the situation.” Dafyd said.
“What did you see?” MAV asked.
“Never mind. Lina how did your spot work out?”
“Good. Thanks for showing it to me.”
MAV raised his eyebrows. The tram stopped and they got out.
In the recess of the tram door there was a human sized dead space. In it were two people wrapped around each other. The four friends moved passed as quickly as they could.
“See.” Dafyd said.
They pushed up the long corridor, grabbing whatever they could and pushing themselves further. At the end they found the alcove they wanted, but Wyly wasn’t alone. Ana and Nubia were there.
Nubia had pushed herself to the side as much as she could. Her arms were crossed and she looked like she was trying not to pay attention to what the other two were talking about. She looked very uncomfortable and the arrival of the rest of the patrol didn’t seem to relieve her.
Ana and Wyly were so close together that at first Dafyd thought they were kissing. They were actually talking so quietly that they had to hold their foreheads together to hear each other. Their faces were both flushed and they didn’t look happy.
They couldn’t hear a single word, but Dafyd thought he could read Ana’s lips say, ‘that girl.’ She also had a hard time keeping her body language as quiet as her speech. She nearly pointed at Nubia.
Dafyd also thought he saw ‘Chet’ on Wyly’s lips and ‘late’ on Ana’s. He could have been mistaken, but he didn’t think so. The last thing he thought he saw was ‘damn monkey.’
That was the end of the conversation. Either Wyly saw the others arrive or the monkey comment was too much, he pulled away and looked out the window.
Ana turned to the new arrivals. “He hasn’t slept since we left. You’re his patrol, see if you can talk some sense into him.” She left by pushing off so hard she nearly knocked Lina into a spin.
Wyly turned to the patrol. “And what do you want?”
Nubia put her hand on Wyly’s arm. “I’m sure they were just worried about you and wanted to see if you’re alright. Like I did.”
Wyly looked exhausted. “I can’t get anything out of the elder. I’ve been trying everything I can think of, but it always seems like the same thing I got before we left.”
“Like he’s repeating himself?”
“Fe, dosidcus are hermaphrodites. ‘Fe keeps repeating fimself?’ No, it isn’t like fe’s repeating fimself. It’s like there’s a bug in the translator. It never worked so quickly or clearly as it did the other day, when we got attacked. Usually it is so clouded with emotions and other indicators that it’s almost impossible to read, like now.”
He turned to the translator monitor. It was attached to the wall near the hatch. Just outside they could see the elder floating, looking in at them.
The monitor was flashing all sorts of color patterns in several sequences. The translation ran beneath. It was multilayered like a musical score. Speaking words like ‘see dick run’ were mainly on the top line. Emotional words like nervous and angry were mostly on the second line. A third line said things like ‘heart rate good’ and ‘body temperature at normal. A final fourth line was mainly empty except for a few numbers.
“The translation is supposed to be written here. Top line with what we would call verbal communication, the second with non-verbal communication, the third with health information and the fourth with anything left over. Usually it is all jumbled with health on the top line and messages on the fourth line and so forth.”
They saw the words ‘what is for lunch’ pop into the bottom line. The answer seemed to appear in the top line with ‘seven.’
“See what I mean? That’s normal. Now if I send the same messages that I did the other day I get the same clear responses I did that day.”
“But that day the translator spoke out loud.” Jillyn said.
“The translator takes all the lines of information and interoperates them into a speaking voice that is supposed to portray what it would sound like if a human was sending the same information. It’s usually all garbled so I don’t turn it on. That day we were so busy and tossed around I turned it on so I wouldn’t have to read the screen myself. It usually sounds like this.” He hit a few buttons and a male robotic voice turned on hysterically.
“Here! Robot here! One follow come with us. Here!”
“I don’t know.” Wyly bent over the monitor and typed in a question. He spoke as he typed. “What robot?”
“Robot, bad robot!”
Dafyd looked out the window. The elder’s eyes were rolling around wildly. Fis colors were bright and distinct, but they were flying around fis body.
“What part of the ship?”
A garbled sound came out of the translator.
“Too complex a question.” MAV said.
“Here with us.”
“What is it doing?”
The dosidcus hesitated. The colors faded a bit and then flashed brightly. “Waiting.”
“The robot is waiting?”
“How many robots?”
“One here. Many there.”
“There? Where is there?”
“Not here.” Wyly slapped his head.
“Ask fim how fe knows the robot is waiting.” MAV said.
“How do you know the robot is waiting?”
The dosidcus hesitated again. “Do not understand. I know.”
“What does that mean?” Nubia said.
“I don’t know.” Wyly rubbed his face.
“Wyly you haven’t slept in two days.” Nubia rubbed his back.
“You know this is a lot like de-bugging a computer program.” MAV said. “I’m pretty good at that.”
“Wyly, why don’t you get some sleep and MAV will work with the elder.” Dafyd said.
“But there’s a robot here somewhere.”
“It’s waiting.” Dafyd said.
“I can run an external diagnostic on the ship.” MAV said.
“You can?” Wyly said.
“I’ve been studying.” He gave an embarrassed smile.
“He’s really good with technology.” Dafyd said. “And if we find this robot we can go out and get it.”
“No you can’t.” Wyly said. “You guys can’t do evas and you can’t go out in a voidcart.”
“We’re not back at New Virginia. We are still accelerating. If you went out in a voidcart, unless you matched out acceleration, not velocity, acceleration, you’d drift off behind us. It would be like jumping off your bicycle while it was rolling downhill.”
“Anyway. The first thing is to get you some sleep so you can help us.” Nubia said. She pulled him out of the alcove. “Dafyd help me.”
Dafyd grabbed one arm and Nubia grabbed the other. MAV bent over the monitor.
“I’m not an invalid.” Wyly said, smiling at Nubia.
“We just don’t want you to get away.” Dafyd said.
“You can be a slippery character. You might just slip away and find some other work to do.” Nubia said. “That’s why Dafyd is going to see you right into your hammock.”
They got him all the way back and Dafyd put him to bed. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Nubia waited outside the billets for Dafyd.
“Let’s go see what MAV found out.”
They sped back to the airlock to find the other three still around the monitor.
“Any luck?” Dafyd asked.
“No.” MAV sighed.
“He can’t find the robot.” Lina said.
“And he hasn’t gotten anything more out of the squid.” Jillyn added, rubbing MAV’s shoulder.
“I can’t get any further than Wyly did. I was just reviewing his notes. He’s actually very good, when he isn’t half unconscious. He already tried everything I would have. I think these dosidcus not only communicate differently they think differently than we do.”
“Are they smarted than us?” Nubia asked.
“No, just different. They process information differently. I think they don’t break things down into small elements.”
“Like words and letters?” Dafyd said.
“Yeah. I think their thinking process is more contiguous. It has fuzzy boundaries. That’s why you can’t break their communication up into separate bands like you could with humans. That’s why the four lines keep getting jumbled.”
“So where’s the robot and what are we going to do about it?” Dafyd said.
“I don’t know. I can’t initiate a scan from here; only review previous scans and diagnostics. I did a check of all of that and found nothing.”
“We have to initiate a full search from the bridge. Who’s in Life Support right now?”
“It would have to be Life Support and Flight Engineering both to get the full sweep. We’ll have to talk to the senior officer.” MAV said.
“That’s Jenny right now. I was with her yesterday. I’ll talk to her.”
“I’ll stay down here and keep working at this.” MAV said.
Dafyd and Jillyn stayed with MAV. Lina and Nubia left for the bridge.
At four MAV had to pull a shift in research so he took the input for the translator with him. To the elder the holographic projection would remain in place and fe would notice no change.
Dafyd and Jillyn had to leave for their bridge shift. They found Nubia floating in the center of the room with Jenny, Ana and SOC the Senior ATM. They moved toward Nubia.
“Any luck with the search?” Dafyd asked.
“No. We did diagnostics on all Life Support and Flight Engineering systems. We also did a search in all areas, internal and external. We didn’t find any evidence of a robot.” She leaned forward and whispered in his ear. “You should have seen what we did see though.”
Dafyd thought he knew and blushed deep red. He was also flush because he could smell Nubia’s fresh sporty scent.
“Why would the squid elder say there was a robot here if there isn’t?” Jillyn asked.
“That’s what I’d like to know.” SOC said. She, like MAV was a computer geek. Her job was Robot Programmer for New Virginia. “I would also like to know just what those robots were doing. Given that MAV-san was correct in his analysis that they were not municipal robots, which I’m sure they couldn’t have been.”
That would have made them “her” robots and Dafyd was sure she would never admit or allow that.
“Where did they come from and why were they at New Virginia?”
“That’s what Wyly is trying to find out with the dosidcus.” Dafyd said.
“I don’t think he’ll get very much out of that squid, even if they are as intelligent as Wyly claims.
Dafyd got the impression that if it were up to SOC-san all the dosidcus would be replaced with robots.
COM.S came in chewing a brownie.
“Brownies for desert tonight.” He smiled. “Did I hear that there was a report of a rogue robot on board?”
“Yes, but we’ve diagnosed all systems and scanned all areas and everything was negative.” Jenny said.
“I’ve spent enough time on this.” SOC said. “Ana, I would recommend that you run the same scans and diagnostics on your shift. It’ll be good practice for the shift and we can keep an eye on those…”
“Indiscretions. Yes, that was my idea too.” Ana competed the thought. SOC grunted and pushed out of the room. Jenny left too.
Jillyn and Dafyd moved to their Positions. Each day was a rotation so Dafyd was in Life Support and Jillyn was in Navigation.
Dafyd noticed that his sister was still floating at the Nav Position. She and Fletcher were talking quietly with their heads together like Wyly and Ana had. Fletcher was animated and anxious. Athena showed no emotion.
“Hi Athena. Hi Fletcher.” Jillyn sang cheerily. They both looked at her like a turd in a punchbowl. Her eyebrows shot up.
Athena smiled and pulled her foot out of the loop. “Nothing. Hi, yourself Jillyn. Where’s my brother?”
“There.” Jillyn pointed. “Life Support.” Athena moved to him without even saying goodbye to Fletcher.
“Dafyd.” She said.
“Yes?” He turned to her. She put her forehead against his.
“No matter what Fletcher says tonight, you know me. I’m counting on you.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m not saying anything. That’s the point. I know that you know me and I don’t need to say anything. Just remember that.”
She smiled and kissed him on the forehead.
Girls were weird. He thought.
Orama Rangi-Yang was in Life Support. She was a big boned Polynesian Gray who could only be described as a woman. She had a ready smile and a quick wit. She maintained that space travel was just like Polynesian sea travel and it was therefore in her blood. She was too eager to explain everything to Dafyd. Between her in-depth lesson and the diagnostics and scans the time flew until supper.
“Supper time.” She exclaimed. “Go ahead. I’ll take the second rotation.”
Dafyd was happy to see that Jillyn was on that rotation too.
“So, how is Fletcher?” Dafyd asked.
“He’s okay. He seems to know what he’s doing, very capable. I’m learning a lot.”
“I mean, what does he seem like as a man?” Dafyd asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean, well, I mean, what has he talked about socially, let’s say?” Dafyd wasn’t sure himself what he was asking about. He assumed that Fletcher had hit on her. He wondered if Fletcher were the kind of person she would consider dating. He wondered if she thought about dating.
“He keeps talking about your sister.” Jillyn said. Dafyd nearly smacked into a wall.
“My sister? Athena?”
“I thought you only had one sister.”
“I do. I, what did he say?”
“What didn’t he say? He keeps going on and on about her. It’s enough to give a girl a complex.”
“Bad? Bad things?”
“No. Good things, great things. Why would I get a complex about him talking badly about Athena?”
“I don’t know. Wait, did he say that they did anything?”
“No, but I get the strong impression that he would really, really like for something to happen.”
Dafyd stared at the wall while they waited for the tram.
“Is that bad?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
Supper was lentil soup, Caesar salad, a pot roast beyond anything they had ever tasted before and brownies the size of their heads that were covered in fudge and oozed fudge when you cut them.
They found MAV eating and reading his book.
“MAV, how can you read during a meal like this?” Dafyd asked.
“Hi guys. I was reading up on dosidcus. Wyly let me download a book. It’s fascinating. I think they could actually be more intelligent than humans.”
“Well, don’t study too hard. You already know more than anybody on the ship about nanotech, you don’t have to be the smartest about squids too.” Dafyd laughed.
“I’m not a GE brain.”
“I heard they’re psychic.” Jillyn said.
“Me too.” Dafyd said.
“Hi. Can I sit here?” Nubia asked when she walked up behind MAV.
“Sure.” MAV said and he squeezed in a bit to give her more room.
“I can’t believe they couldn’t find that robot.” Nubia said before a fork full of salad.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about that. Do you remember what the elder said about the robots when Wyly first asked fim about them?”
“Fe said that they were attacking.” Nubia said.
“Fe said, ‘robots kill valgae?’” Jillyn said.
“I mean when I tried to find out if they were from New Virginia.”
Dafyd put his hand to his head and thought. Suddenly he dropped his hand. “Of course. The elder said ‘robots come from away.’” Fe meant the Outer System.”
MAV nodded vigorously. “I checked and double checked on that today. What the elder actually said, with all the rows in place had to do with fear, not only of the robots themselves, but also of where they come from. Where they come from is something farther away than squids know or go.”
“Where’s that?” Nubia said.
“Where are there no squid?” MAV questioned knowingly.
“The Outer System. They don’t use them out there. There’s not enough energy to keep them alive.”
“So that must mean that when fe says ‘robot is here’ fe means that one is left here in the Inner System.” MAV said.
“Wyly destroyed two, but there must be one more active. Maybe it’s on New Virginia.” Dafyd said.
“Then we’re safe?” Jillyn said.
“Yes, but New Virginia might not be.” MAV said.
“You know, Orama has family that are very high up in the Life Support system back at home. I’ll tell her to have them do a full diagnostic like we’ve done and report it to Exterior Patrol.”
“Excellent.” MAV said.
“There aren’t any squid on Earth either.” Jillyn said.
“Or Luna.” Nubia added.
“Regardless. That still means that the robot isn’t here, here, on this ship. We’ll let NV know all about it and enjoy the ride.”
“I’m going to enjoy this brownie.” MAV said.
After lunch Dafyd asked Orama to tell New Virginia what they figured out. She thought this was a good idea. She put it up to Ana. She thought they had probably done that already, but it wouldn’t hurt to warn them of the crew’s concerns. She told the Explorer at the Communications Position to transmit anything Orama asked.
Orama recorded a message for her aunt and forwarded it to Coms.
The Life Support lessons resumed.
As pleasant as Orama was, Dafyd almost hugged Lina when she tapped him on the shoulder to let him know that his shift was over. Wyly was floating behind her talking to Ana.
“Dafyd I think that was pretty good thinking of you guys about the robot. You’re probably right. Thanks for making me sleep. I needed it badly.” He smiled and Dafyd returned it.
Dafyd left with Jillyn.
“Hey. I was talking with Fletcher and he told me a great idea for a hiding spot. Come on I’ll show you.” Jillyn grabbed Dafyd’s hand and pulled him out into the corridor.
When Jillyn touched his hand Dafyd’s heart started thumping in his ears. Why was she taking him with to a hiding spot?
“Where is it?”
“You know how they unfurled the sails from canisters at the bow?”
“Well there are airlocks to each canister from the inside. They aren’t used for anything and nobody goes there. They aren’t even on the charts because you’d never keep anything in there whatsoever except the sails. They have to be kept clear in case you need to stow the sails. As long as the sails aren’t stowed their empty and they’ll never stow the sails when we’re underway.”
“How do they know no one is in there when they do go to stow the sails?”
“There’s an alarm on the airlocks from the inside. If anyone opens them the alarm goes off.”
“Then how would we get in there?”
“Fletcher told me how to disable the alarm.”
“What? That would get us in trouble.”
“Well, it isn’t exactly disabling the alarm. That’s why it works so well. You don’t actually disable the alarm. You just delay it. Instead of making the alarm trip when you open the inner door, you set it to trip when you start to open the outer door. It’s safe because the alarm would go off and the door wouldn’t open if you were in there and you reset it when you aren’t in there.”
“If this is such a great hiding spot why doesn’t Fletcher use it himself?”
“He says he took so many girls there that everybody knew where it was and knew that he was in there. It really wasn’t secret anymore. Also he inherited a much better spot…”
“I know where it is, don’t tell me.”
They reached the airlock. Jillyn smiled and squeezed Dafyd’s hand. She started working on the computer.
“Jillyn?” Dafyd said.
“Why are you taking me to your hiding spot?”
“What?” She looked up at him surprised. “There are eight canisters. We can each have one. What’s the big deal?”
“Oh, yeah, eight. We each get our own, yeah. Well, naturally. I mean, of course we each get our own, what else? I mean we couldn’t be sharing one, why would we?”
“Boys are weird.” Jillyn said under her breath and finished with her re-programming.
“Here we go.” She said and pressed the last of the controls. The door on their right slid open silently.
They looked inside. There was a soft light and a cylindrical room just long enough to lie down in.
“Perfect.” Jillyn said. “Now mine.” She touched another control and the door on the left started opening. This one made a hissing noise.
“What’s that?” Jillyn asked.
“Don’t know.” Dafyd leaned over and looked in the partially opened door.
The robot was there.“Robot! The robot is in there! Close the door! Close it! Now!”