73 \ 161

The thirteen-year-old boy had thought that sitting in the pilot’s seat of Drift 9 would feel less dramatic, but with the captain on his right, feeling the pedal sliders under his own feet gave him a case of the wide-eyes. For her part sitting co-pilot, Wendel Harper understood completely. “Go ahead,” she said.

He did. Drift 9 sailed toward and through the flotsam terrain ahead, which had enough space between for a fulfilling sense of dimension and speed. They promptly brushed a slowing factor.

“Okay,” said Wendel with a collected manner as she gestured toward his main navigational screen, “read your routes. Under our own impetus, even small gravitational fields engage atmospheric immersion controls, which I am not yet teaching you.”

Toller leaned in to focus on the navigation screen, which reminded him again of a multi-rotational sports diagram. “So, don’t bump the edges like that.”

“Correct. Move between the shapes.” Settling back in, Wendel raised her hand to offer him the road. He took a very conservative elongated sinusoid path through a wide, soft corridor into another vast ‘meadow’ (pilot lingo for a clear space). Once in the open, Toller whirled the ship around before stopping it, as he’d seen Wendel do a few times already.

Her laughs echoed beyond the stillpoint. He was good! He would not be baggage. “That was really well done. Since you’ve been reviewing your orientation calls, angles, degrees, and rates, I’d like to hear how you’d announce that maneuver to your crew and teammates.”

“You didn’t announce it…” Toller tried to pinpoint a specific instance.

“We can’t always, but do it now.”

“180-to-fullstop, tilt negative-60, minus rate 7.”

Wendel approved the boy’s announcement with a nod. “Everyone has different protocols. Learn how to be understood in as many or through as few protocols as possible. Sometimes Leiv and I will just use poetry to announce to each other.”

“How do you do that?” A little winded from his own boldness, Toller leaned back to relax in his chair with the ship at peace.

The captain-copilot also took a moment to relax. “Mostly, we understand each other’s language; we like each other’s taste; and we use embedded pointers from our years of horsing around together.”

Leiv appeared in the hatch. “I hear the call of poetry,” he smoldered to his lady love.

“You heard right,” she replied in an exaggerated purr.

He began. “D’Orann: Ask me where I dance, and I’ll say up.”

“Orak’x: Reaching a conclusion offers no conclusion.” Her reply was ready as soon as he completed his initiatory line.

“Srevz: Long winds carry scent of a treetop reaching toward me.”

Rotating from the co-chair and reaching over to Toller’s side to shift control command, Wendel remarked, “These are all Jennian poets.”

Striding across the cockpit with added flair, Leiv reached in to romantically cradle Wendel’s head. “Then let us tango in Jennian style.” She succumbed to a complementing swoon, then winked at Toller as she came out of it. “Straps,” was all she said next. Toller clipped himself in, Leiv scrambled into the fold-down, and Wendel proceeded to demonstrate their style of tango with her ship.

She mused to her companions while guiding them through a graceful corkscrew-vertical-bust-vertical. “Understandable to each other, unpredictable to others – inspired movement can be lifesaving. It somehow slices through chaos fractals; nature likes poetry too, it’s less likely to hit you with rocks. This kind of concerted unpredictability is our friend if for some reason something is out to get us.”

Advertisements

72 \ 160

The old pin-and-tumbler lock snapped open when they used the key they’d been given. Together, the two of them elevated the roll door with an upwards shove. One end of a roller conveyor met them at the front, and at the other end in the back stood stacks of wrapped spools. The soft, flat material beneath shone matte silver.

“How exciting,” said R. Arriba to T. Vadr.

“Just what we’ve always wanted,” he replied. He walked in and began loading the conveyor, spools dancing toward the entrance. Without damaging them, his partner chucked them through the entry lock, into the currently vacant tech room of their ship. They whistled while they worked. Soon, the room was crammed with silver rolls except for a squeezethrough passage.

A fraction of the spool stock remained. They closed the door and left the key in the lock as requested, and with no one else still in sight, they took off. “So Vadr, what’s next on the list for the Homeboy Shopping Network?”

Looking over from the pilot’s seat where he was taking his turn, he didn’t need to check a list. “First, we’re going to another planet. And, maybe we could start calling each other by first names now that we’re not in the military.”

“The words ‘not in the military’ give me a cringe from my military parents, who still might not kill me on sight. You know – I’d be dead, and they might prefer it.” Out of the copilot’s chair, she patted one of the soft spools as she paced around. She spoke towards the front, her amplified voice feeding to the pilot through the ship’s auditories. “Since you’re used to calling me something different anyway, forget about what the R used to stand for. Call me Random.”

“You’re Random, that you are. You can call me Toledo, same as it ever was.”

“Understood. So Toledo, what planet are we supposed to go to?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just any other planet.”

“Let’s go to Florin. We were never sent or allowed there. What follows?”

“More suprises.”

“I’m starting to like surprises.” Their masked priority codes meant they endured no delay going inter-federet. At Florin, they did a swoop-through for new coordinates. Both of them stepped out to plant feet on dirt. This was their resistance to a creeping feeling they discovered as newly dark agents: an inclination to stay aboard the ship, in safe haven, and only aboard the ship. Despite overcoming a barrier, it made them glad to step upon a planet. The time of day was morning. There were birds in this parking lot, and Toledo Vadr imitated their whistle very well.

Spools still aboard, they received a relay notice to some truly unremarkable, unforgiving corner. Random Arriba and Toledo Vadr went along their way with efficiency. As they neared range, they got flight control instructions through a strange signal with a scrambler codekey. They aligned to a specific plane with precise orientation, and moved forward through time at a certain rate. At a particular distance, a piece of space folded inward and widened panel by panel, revealing a landing room. They glibly negotiated the entrance with raised eyebrows.

The technology inside was impossible to read. The military technician duo had never flown into a room within a patch of empty space. Nor had they seen a ship interior, if a ship this was, that contained this many glowing and moving elements. Everything in sight emanated with vibration, including the beings approaching to greet them.

The pair kept their cool, though Random’s face looked as though she were fully encountering the afterlife. They were met by some humans, accompanying another kind of people they had never before seen! This much could be discerned in the moving light. The other kind were amazingly similar and amazingly different, assumably the architects of this space. The two ex-military personnel felt an unexplainable guilty nervousness upon encountering these non-humans – as if they may have known all along, or ought to have.

Random and Toledo were very open to whatever they were allowed to safely learn from this experience. They caught each other barely suppressing giggles of astonishment. This was all made easier by the presence of humans in the receiving group. All together, they transferred the shipment into a moving cube, which also appeared to move in many other dimensions. It was just a cube, yet so much more. Visual information seemed to come from sources that were everywhere.

Random dared to speak to her friend. “Toledo, have you ever been to an Aquari spectropera?”

“Yes, actually,” he dared to reply. Their voices carried with surprising clarity despite an amount of background noise. They were not interrupted, but they felt observed.

“Is this like a spectropera?”

“Not at all.” They watched some crew secure and send the load in tow, gesturing with many layers of indicative moving light.

“So that’s not what I’m looking at right here?”

“Pretty sure no.” The secured cube floated serenely away.

“There is a lot of stuff going on here,” Random stated calmly. One of the elongated humanoids turned and nodded at her. The group led Random and Toledo back to their ship, which was now positioned to leave.

A human spoke. “What you have seen is real. You have no reason to be afraid. See you next time.” Random Arriba was handed an info chip, and they were clearly expected to get onboard and leave.

Once comfortably seated, Toledo Vadr turned to his friend now at her turn in the pilot’s seat, already interpreting the chip readout. “What are the orders?”

“Aww, man,” she moaned, “we’re going to toiletsville.”

“What place is that?” he asked, trying not to feel alarmed.

“Well, the official name is not toiletsville, but it’s where they make toilets. We’re going to pick up some toilets!” She made a noise of faint enthusiasm.

 

71 \ 159

Beware thee that known element loosed to unknown ends. That once bound to a purpose, now free to its own. Beware the turncoat turned, the greater danger when wounded. Beware thee pursuit, furthest reaches within reach, the unexpected recovery. Beware the unstoppable force, reflected toward what direction? Glancing from golden shields to blind the vision, beware thee.

70 \ 158

Betide thee thine errors, your mystified inquisition, your missteps. Betide thee thine forbidden glimpses. The circles of the target have not yet aligned to provide the clear shot. Till then, I spin the dials of the mekani, taking the shifting tunnel to my destination at your doorway. The winds of change betide thee, the plasticity of space, and the shooting star at dawn’s arrival.