Chapter 1: Liftoff
On the island of Anguilla, Blaise Benson was on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. In all pursuits of science, it was a delicate precipice to balance not to complete that breakthrough, because that was where the money ended. It was also imperative that the illusion of being of the verge of the scientific breakthrough had to be maintained as well, lest the dreaded spectre of results begin to emerge.
It was discovered by none other than Blaise himself that most millionaire investor tycoons were suffering from a genetic disorder that not only made them act in irrational manners that appeared to make them likeable and charismatic, but also gave them irresistible urges to bestow large grants on underlings to carry out their eccentric projects. Blaise had promptly destroyed all evidence of his work once the tycoon gene was discovered, in fear that it would instantly dry up the funding of projects going nowhere that was his livelihood.
Blaise was never at a shortage of work, which worked to his advantage as it provided the two most important things to him: a never-ending stream of income for which he did not have to work hard, and the means to travel. It had been his sole purpose in life to enjoy the fruits of project management, then move onto a new and exotic locale. This also served his purpose as the people he worked with on one project or another had, by that time, gotten enough of a picture of what Blaise was like and had run out of patience with him.
At the moment he was working at the portable lab on the beach, he looked at his clipboard and checked the box to signify inactivity of his culture. The latest trend in alternative fuels was to isolate this rare species of blue-green algae and attempt to re-sequence its genetic structure to produce mass quantities of rocket fuel. For the one-hundred and thirty-seventh day in a row, the algae refused to conform to its expected work schedule. It was the only life form that Blaise respected.
There was a knock at the door, and Blaise rubbed his eyes and turned to look. “C’mon in.”
An island native dressed in smart white shorts and a red dress shirt came through the door, holding a take-out cardboard tray. The young man had a wide smile for his favourite customer, who expressed all of the ideal characteristics of American tourists: a gregarious demeanour, an aversion to making requests of staff, and not realizing that the tip was already included in the price.
Blaise lit up his face. “Ah, Freeman! Come on in. I see you got me lunch.”
Freeman made his way into the trailer and laid out the feast. “As you requested, sir. Your jerked lobster hoagie, the finest plantains, and of course, your margarita in a polystyrene cup.”
Blaise rubbed his hands together as his eyes grew wider. “Freeman, you’re a lifesaver. No one should have to do a job this mundane while sober.” He pulled the plastic lid from the cup and took a sip. A look of pure satiety gleamed on Blaise’s face. “Have to keep our sodium levels balanced in this climate. Here, boys, have one on me.” Blaise tipped a small amount of the drink into the algal tank, then pointed at Freeman. “Salinity test,” he blurted.
The abrupt stomping and scuffling of symbolic work boots jangled Blaise’s nerves instantly. The pain in the back of his left eyeball was burrowing its way to his brain already. The door burst open behind Freeman, causing him to jump forward.
There stood a five-foot-two ball of fury and career ambition named Miranda Haswell. She was appointed as supervisor of the rocket fuel project, with Blaise as the only subordinate. It was the lack of any fruitful results that caused Miranda to cast her wrath on Blaise. While Blaise was a prodigy of work avoidance, he was merely in the penumbra when compared to Miranda’s level of management-speak deflection.
“Benson,” she hissed through her daggery teeth. “What are you wasting time on now?”
Blaise kept his tone and demeanour even. “Miranda, I don’t remember summoning you. Freeman, did you draw a pentagram on the floor without me knowing?”
Miranda pointed her mannish finger toward the algal tank. “And why have they not been reproducing?”
Blaise snorted. “Stop pressing your face against the tank and they might.” Freeman bit the inside of his cheek to stifle a laugh. “It’s algae. They’ll split when they need to. I was just about to share the results of my latest stimulation test.”
Miranda folded her arms. “You do know why I’m here, right?”
“Because your dad owns the company that’s sponsoring us?”
“No,” she hissed out. “Why am I down here right now?”
“Because all you could pass in college was marketing and the least harmful thing you could do to the company is to manage me?”
Miranda exhaled hard out of her nose. “I am here because we have to discuss your attitude. We’re not going to get results unless I see more enthusiasm out of you. Just look at your body language.”
Blaise almost tipped out of his chair. “My body language?” he asked in disbelief. “Have the algae been complaining? Look, I like you, Miranda--”
“Okay, so you do pay attention to me. Anyway, here’s the corporate structure—I do all of the work, you get to take credit. Now I have noticed that this is precisely how every business works ever. You haven’t noticed anything because you are in marketing.”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked Miranda indignantly.
“Well, picture someone who went to study business administration on the practical side or economics on the theoretical side. See, you took marketing because this analogy has already confused you.”
Miranda pushed her lips together. “Enough of your verbal vomit. Get me a report on your findings. I have to give something to the board for Monday.”
“Want me to misspell enough of the words so they think it’s from you?”
Miranda stared ice at Blaise before pivoting on her foot and storming out of the trailer. Blaise began to rub his temples, pressing his eyes shut until he began to see stars.
“Is she always like this?” asked Freeman.
Blaise raised his arms as if his head was exploding. “Freeman! I’m sorry. Let me pay you.” Blaise jumped out of his seat and produced several bills out of his wallet. The denominations were immaterial to him as he handed them over to Freeman. Freeman gave a head nod of thanks and made his way out of the trailer.
Blaise sat back down again and took a sip of his margarita. He looked over at the tank again and raised his glass as a sign of optimism. The dull hum of the lights and computer server started to burn Blaise’s ears. It was all he could do to try to escape this ideal tropical paradise.
As soon as he lifted the polystyrene cup to his lips, the trailer was bathed in a blue light. The shaking and rattling of the entire trailer caused Blaise to drop his cup to the floor, splashing the linoleum with tangy margarita. Blaise gripped the handles of the chair as it began to slide away from his desk.
It was obvious that something was sailing past the trailer, but Blaise could not make out its shape through the window. He jumped up and ran over to get a good look. There was a loud crash, and Blaise was shaken so hard that it threw him to the floor. He touched a pool of the margarita with his hand, thinking that he had been injured at first. Without thinking, he dabbed his palm to his mouth and licked the sweet and salty mixture.
Rousing off of the floor, Blaise ran out of the trailer, taking a look around. He was stunned that no one else had emerged from the village to explore what had happened. He ran at the beach, shuffling goofily under the fine grains of the sand. The strange blue light was still lighting up the twilight sky, leading the way to whatever made the impact. Blaise was almost out of breath by this point, wishing that he had grabbed the all-terrain vehicle. It was also at this point that he realized that he did not once question why he and Miranda needed an all-terrain vehicle when their entire operation consisted of one man staring at a tank all day while one woman supervised. This mundane contemplation was enough distraction to take his mind of of his hemorrhaging lungs.
Once he had cleared the smoke and the sandy haze, Blaise almost ran into the structure. The strange blue light pulsed around the entire structure. He stumbled back as he took in its enormity—possibly one hundred metres across. It was like no piece of technology he had seen before. The structure was too large to be seen from a decent perspective to get a sense of the design.
Blaise was compelled to examine the inside. He started to touch the cool metallic surface for a doorway. He balled up a fist and knocked, hearing only a dull thump returning. The armour did not act as any normal metal that Blaise had ever encountered before.
A bright light suddenly emerged from the side of the craft ten metres from where Blaise was standing. Bracing for a charging army, he mustered his fighting stance of crossing his arms over his face and one foot raised in the air. All that emerged from the craft was a ramp, which rudely pushed itself into the sandy beach. Green track lights were leading up into the ship.
Blaise lowered his arms and made his way slowly to the doorway. Peering inside, he issued the standard greeting:
His generous offer unanswered, Blaise decided to enter the ship. Once inside, the ramp retracted and the door sealed in behind him.
Blaise made his way down a dark hallway. Many of the lights were flickering, no doubt as a result of what must have been a severe crash. Most of the internal monitors and structures appeared intact, although he was unsure of their purpose.
Stopping him dead in his tracks was a metallic arm that reached out, blocking him in the hallway. The end of the arm had a spherical monitor with flashing lights and a warm glow around its perimeter. A hard light shot out of the end, scanning over Blaise. His fillings began to hum in his back teeth, and he had the distinct smell of ozone in his nose. He decided to sit still before his brain was lobotomized.
The beam lasted for five seconds, then stopped abruptly.
“CREW DESIGNATION CONFIRMED. LANGUAGE PROCESSOR RESET. PLEASE CONFIRM VOICE IDENTIFICATION.”
Blaise scrambled for something clever to say. “Huh?”
“VOICE IDENTIFICATION CONFIRMED. ACTING CAPTAIN STATUS PROTOCOL ACTIVATED.”
The arm disappeared back into the wall where the void sealed shut. Blaise decided to make his way forward down the hall for better inspection. The air inside the ship felt cool yet reviving, as if the oxygen levels were only slightly higher to give an uplifting sense of the ship. The hallway led directly to a brightly-lit room. Blaise looked around and felt a few of the panels, which were sleek and inviting to the touch.
One in particular caught his attention, which was elevated higher than the others. There was a rectangular clear plastic box approximately twenty centimetres by twenty centimetres. There was a strange translucent goo inside the box resembling toothpaste. As Blaise was leaning over the panel, his hand slipped on the smooth surface, plunging directly into the goo mix.
Once he began to move his hand out of the mix, the spacecraft began to tremble. The sickening sensation of lifting up rapidly caused blood to pool into Blaise’s feet. He grabbed onto the side of the slick panel to regain his equilibrium, afraid to remove his hand from the goo.
“Uh, hello?” Blaise called out frantically. “Please don’t take off with me in here!”
He gazed over to one of the panels, recognizing the blue sphere with the white dancing clouds. With a quick motion, Blaise yanked his hands out of the mixture, and the ship began its deceleration. The goo was sticky enough to keep Blaise’s fingers stuck to one another. He began to flick his wrist in a disgusted motion.
Unknown to Blaise, in another wing of the ship, a gentle whirring and buzzing was activating the automated crew. With a rapid sweep, the storage door for robot components flew open. The metal claw holding onto one of the service androids pushed one of the units forward, shoving it cruelly into the hallway, as if birthing a metaphor for which no proper context could be found.
The claw let go of the metal frame of the android, retracting the power coupling and shrinking back into the closet. The android’s eyes lit up into a piercing blue. The slender, curvy shape of the torso was coloured with a black top and a smart white smock. The body straightened out as the head swiveled around to examine the immediate surroundings. Programmed by gyroscopic dexterity and through millions of calculations per second, the android’s first steps were not so much an event as the carefully crafted means by which to conduct locomotion.
Stepping forward, the android made way for the control centre to report for duty. The computer had given physical and communicative specifications on the new captain, and the android was ready to serve.
After a methodical walk down the hallway, the doors glided open. The android paused as the emptiness of the control centre, anticipating that there would be a full crew compliment manning the stations. Strutting into the middle of the room, the motion of a figure at the main console caught the android’s attention.
Most noticeable was the figure’s penchant for pressing random buttons on the console. The android recognized a key button, one that would have catastrophic consequences based on the status of the ship.
Booting up the language pack provided, the android mustered a warning: “STOP!”
The inertia of lack of foreboding caused Blaise’s hand keep moving towards the button, as all of his efforts in concentration focused now on the glistening figure in the middle of the room. As he pressed the button, an ominous countdown began from five. Blaise shifted his body toward the metallic form, still fixated on how or why it was there.
Blaise, the new companion, and the ship were instantly crushed into a one-dimensional singularity.
“Look, I’m sorry. Let’s just fire it up and try again.”
The android continued her fevered swishing and stroking on the touchscreen, desperately trying to salvage any of the astronomic navigational charts.
“Bloody gone, all of it! This should be a completely incorruptible computer system.” The android tented her fingers on her forehead in exasperation. “Something in the crash must have caused it to become lost.”
“What, we can’t just jump back to where we were?” asked Blaise, his feet pooling blood and his stomach making a lovely balloon doggy.
“This is not exactly the same predicament as sitting on the remote. We have no point of reference as the coordinates for space are not defined by any one known location. Once you activated the hyperjump, we appeared randomly in some unknown sector of the galaxy.”
Blaise contemplated his predicament and formulated a plan. “WAHHHHH!”
The android stared at Blaise with her glowing blue eyes. “Perhaps if you did that underwater for about ten minutes or so, I can concentrate.”
Blaise paced around nervously. “Okay, we just have to figure out exactly where we are in space, then we can just fly to Earth! How big of a galaxy can it be, anyway?”
“Approximately 80,000 light-years. The top speed for normal flight for our vessel is less than the speed of light. So I’m guessing that the best-case scenario has us arriving at Earth with the remains of you able to fit into an envelope.”
Blaise blasted air out of his nose. “You really think we went all the way to the other side of the galaxy?”
“I had contemplated that a completely randomized jump through space might move us two metres to the right.”
“Can’t we salvage any of it? Sometimes that data stays on there, like my junior high school principal found out unfortunately.”
The android banged her graceful fingers on the screen a few more times in desperation. “It’s hopeless. It’s almost as if the data were removed purposefully.”
Blaise grimaced. “Ugh. You say ‘data were’ instead of ‘data was’? Gross.”
“I don’t think you appreciate the seriousness here. We are utterly stranded out in the ether. How do you propose we get you back to your planet?”
Blaise started to pace around the room, tenting his fingers behind his head and pointing his elbows as if to guide him to a solution. “I don’t...I don’t know. Yeah, I’m used to living my life by the seat of my pants, but this?” Blaise thrust a finger at the main viewscreen. “What is that, anyway? The star is blue. My planet is supposed to be blue.”
“That will certainly narrow down the planet search, at least. Maybe I can type in ‘blue planet’ and we’ll be whisked back.”
Blaise held out a contemptuous hand to the android. “And you, why do you care about getting to Earth?”
The android shrugged both shoulders. “I assumed you wanted help.”
Blaise stood in amazement for a while. It did not occur to him that the robot would actually care for a human, and to a lesser extent for him. “I didn’t know it meant something to you to help me. What is that, like the three laws of robotics that Asimov wrote about?”
The android sniffed, which was amazing as it had no nose. “Those are at best a guideline. As a matter of fact, if you touch the hyperjump controls again, I will break all three laws simultaneously.” The robot pivoted from the control station and rose to converse with the fleshy man. “If I did not know better, you aren’t as panicked about leaving your world as most other people would.”
Blaise squinted in muffled agreement. “Yeah, I guess you could say I didn’t have a lot going on back there. You know the worst part? I haven’t had a permanent place to live in three years. It’s been nothing but tents, furnished containers, and Coast Guard vessels. Other than learning more than a dozen new words for the female reproductive system, I didn’t really get much out of the voyages.” Blaise pondered. “I guess when you’re a student of biology, it can come in handy.”
The android tilted its head. “Then why do it?”
Blaise rubbed the back of his head. “I couldn’t settle down. Something about staying in one place skeeved me out.”
“Is this why you flung yourself several thousand light-years into space?”
Blaise rolled his eyes. “Any luck on getting us a new navigation system?”
The android focused back on the screen. “I can compute a spatial projection. The star out there can serve as a navigational datum for the rest of the galaxy. There will be several jumps necessary to triangulate the coordinates back to your planet. What was it you called it again?”
“Earth,” Blaise said.
“Wonderful,” the android replied. “G2V star on the main sequence, absolute magnitude...” The android typed vigorously on the pad with a methodical drumming. “Luckily we have a wealth of information available.”
Blaise took a sudden interest. “Yeah? This thing has a lot of stored information?”
“The data banks were erased, but the scanning computer was able to derive Earth’s data banks.”
Blaise leaned in intently. “Which data banks?”
“All of them.”
Blaise nearly choked. “All...all of them? You mean we have everything that humanity has ever recorded ever?”
“I had been using it for trying to locate your home planet, but if you were hoping to break out the earliest version of Pong...”
Blaise raised his hands. “Don’t let me stop you.”
The android pushed the console away and turned to Blaise. “The computations are already set.” The robot rose from the chair. “I apologize for my shortcomings.”
Blaise was baffled. “Hey, you’re doing fine so far.”
“No, I mean that I am inadequate for the position. You see, I have looked at my uniform and determined my role on this ship.” The android lowered her head. “I’m a service droid. My role is basic cleaning and other maintenance. I’m...I’m little more than a janitor.”
Blaise clicked his tongue. He ambled over and put a comforting arm around her cold shoulders. “Hey, lighten up. Come on, you have a lot going for you. You got that cool British accent, right? I already feel about 30 IQ points dumber than you just for that!”
The android’s gears let out a soft groan of ambivalence. Blaise decided to redouble his efforts. “What if we gave you a name? So you’re a janitor, eh? That’s it. We’ll call you Janet, then.”
Janet looked over at the human, her eyes brightening. “You have given me a name.”
Blaise gave his patented charming smile and shrugged. “Have to call you something.” He removed his arms from her shoulder and clapped his hands together. “Well, enough captaining for today. I’m going to check the quarters for the largest room.” He stopped to ponder. “Do you sleep?”
“I enter a memory dump for approximately six hours.”
“Sounds like a typical day at work.” Blaise yawned. “See you tomorrow.”
“Ah, the captain has arisen. What do you make of the ship?”
Blaise rubbed his eyes and blinked intently. “Wow, this place is great. I mean, I went from the hallway to my room and back again, but it looks fantastic. It’s like an Apple Store but without the useless store clerks. Did you take your dump today?”
“Me too. Good way to start the day. I at least hope that was a toilet. It said thank you and disintegrated it, so I don’t know.”
“I have found several instruments that might be of some use to us.” Janet held out what appeared as a titanium boomerang with several glowing lights. “This will implant a universal translator at the base of your mandible.” She stepped towards Blaise.
Blaise gritted his teeth. “Is this going to hurt?”
Janet whacked him with the device just under his ear. “I don’t know.”
Blaise winced and sucked his teeth. “Yeah, it hurts! That better not scar. Everyone will start to think I had a facelift.”
“I doubt that they will think that. If you were going to choose a face, why that one?” Janet placed the implanter on the desk with indifference. “Has there been any sign of the other androids?”
“Yeah, I had Rajit working on getting the controls to something more palatable to me. Cookie is making me breakfast. We can get Earth food on this craft?”
“Yes. The food synthesizers were able to mimic most of the dietary selection of your home world. Cookie has a wide assortment of recipes.”
“Yeah, how about that? We have a computer that can synthesize the ingredients but it can’t make me an entree?” Blaise raised his hands up in befuddlement.
“The computer is not intelligent like we are. It does not have the capacity for the subtle touch it requires to blend a lukewarm margarita for you.”
“Walk with me,” said Blaise. They exited the control room to make their way to the cafeteria. “I’m hoping while we’re out here we can at least get along. You have to defer to the captain on a lot of things, right?”
Janet nodded. “I am required to fulfill my duties to the best of my abilities. That does not obligate me to be civil or polite.”
Blaise glanced her over while walking. “If you weren’t doing this, what do you picture yourself doing?”
The human and the android walked into the cafeteria. Seated at one of the long white tables was Rajit, the maintenance android. He had a smart pair of orange overalls painted onto his panels, with a blue shirt moulding showing a snappy collar. He was adjusting a device with another device.
Cookie was in behind the counter of the food preparation area, humming a tune, or it might have been a coincidental perfect tune hummed out for her hard drive. Her outfit resembled a slimming and smart apron with a flirty skirt. It actually resembled Janet’s outfit quite closely. To Janet’s consternation, Cookie’s outfit made her appear slimmer and perhaps taller.
“Hey crew, glad you’re all here,” Blaise bellowed, throwing his arms out in a show of middle management obnoxiousness. “I’m Blaise Benson, your captain. I don’t know where we are and I don’t really understand any of this technology. This is basically like sticking a Neanderthal behind the wheel of an Audi. Saying that out loud kind of reminds me of being in Boston, actually.”
Rajit raised his arm, and Blaise pointed to prompt him to speak. “Excuse me, captain,” Rajit said in his rhythmic Indian prosody. “What is it we are meant to do out here?”
Blaise arched up his eyebrows. “Ah, yes. We should have a mission while we’re here. Okay, most important thing is to get me home.”
“Why?” This came from Janet.
Blaise pondered. “Well...it’s my home and I want to return.”
Cookie piped up her with her own refined and peppy French accent. “This seems like a giant waste of all of our time. Perhaps we can capture another planet like Earth using our superior technology.”
Blaise craned his neck. “Wow, going right for the dream. You certainly don’t talk like a typical Frenchman. Any other suggestions?”
Janet now raised her hand. “Perhaps some predetermined rules to govern our behaviour while we are out here. I suggest a total non-interventionist policy in every scenario, distress call or no.”
Blaise rubbed his upper lip with his index finger. “I actually like the conquest idea better. Any reason at all I should ignore the distress calls?”
“It is a possible tactic of pirates and scavengers in space to feign injury or mechanical failure,” said Janet. “They might attempt to hijack this ship.”
“Good point. This ship already has one hijacker as it is!” Blaise decided to sit down across from Rajit, and he waved over Janet and Cookie to do the same. “I think we can help each other out. You know what I see when I look around this room?”
Rajit shook to life. “Come on, man. You have four beings with no practical command experience. I was basically born today and I am as experienced as you.”
Blaise snapped his fingers and pointed at Rajit. “Okay, but we can build off of this. I’m learning a lot already, like I’m the only one who can operate the ship. Why is that, anyway?”
Rajit replied, “It was to keep us androids in our place. Humanoid lifeforms only. We are still able to pilot the smaller spacecrafts.”
“Oh, right,” said Blaise. “We have a couple of extra vessels available to us.”
Janet said, “Yes, they have no basic amenities for life support such as food generators, and are only capable of sub-lightspeed. You won’t be able to use it for escape purposes without being in the general vicinity of a habitable planet.”
Blaise clicked his lips. “Pack a lunch. Got it.” He wanted to switch topics. “Any weapons on this ship?”
Rajit appeared to have anticipated this. “None on board, hand-held or mounted on the ship. The ship hull is composed of a high-density alloy fused by quark bonding. It can take punishment.”
“Nice. How much?” asked Blaise.
“Well, the one successful crash test we had was into your planet. Since it appears that everyone on board was dead afterward, I should probably consider some seat belts.”
“Janet,” Blaise inquired. “Do you recall scraping off a bunch of alien-flavoured salsa off the wall?”
“That’s the interesting thing—there is evidence that this ship had a full crew, just no evidence after the crash,” Janet replied.
“Well,” said Blaise, clapping his hands together as if to tie up the conversation. “I say we wait here until we can do the next hyperjump, and it should be smooth sailing.”
“WARNING: INCOMING SOLAR EJECTA.”
Blaise chewed his lips. “I bet those stuck-up geologists don’t have this ever happen to them.”
On the bridge, the robots were scrambling to get an analysis.
Janet turned from her panel. “It’s the nearby blue star. We are still a safe distance away, but the surface of the star is experiencing its own seismic activity. Giant star fragments are being hurled away from the surface faster than a tech billionaire throwing away a 40-year-old wife.”
Blaise paced back and forth frantically. “How long until I can push the red button of doom?”
Rajit interrupted Blaise. “Please treat all of these buttons as if they will blow up the ship from now on. Thank you.”
“I calculate seventeen Earth hours until the ramscoop will collect enough star material. I also calculate that the star ejecta will impact in twelve hours,” reported Janet clinically.
Blaise stared wild-eyed, then started to chuckle. “I don’t suppose we can just fly on out of here in any conventional sense.”
“No,” Janet stated firmly. “I doubt that you will be able to master the Jell-O interface within the time needed. However, if we were to deftly navigate the fragments, we can manage to avoid catastrophe.”
Blaise pushed his lips together. “Yeah, I’m not going to get to be an expert with the blue goo in that time. It’s hopeless.”
Rajit raised his hand. “What if we gave you an interface that you can work with?”
Blaise rested his hand on his chin, then his eyes widened. “I have an idea. Let’s go to the manufacturing wing so I can draft it.”
After a lengthy time of conferring, Rajit decided that the parts could be manufactured and assembled within the time needed. “Meet me in the control room in two hours.”
Blaise busied himself with scarfing down what he was sure would be his final meal. He was impressed with Cookie’s ability to reproduce the wings of his university pub. After sucking the last of the precious marrow from the bones and drinking the remains of the blue cheese dressing from the paper cup, Blaise wiped his mouth and made the march to the control room. His mind was on the failure that would inevitably happen, that the simple maintenance android could not get the parts to work together. It was that painful dread that Blaise felt, knowing that each and every project he seized upon was doomed to fail, as if he had set out to sabotage his own plans.
Blaise stopped. “I want this to happen,” he said to himself. He suddenly broke into a run. The automated doors whooshed open to the bright light of the control centre.
He was not to be disappointed. Blaise slowly strolled in, mouth agape and wide-eyed. Rajit stood next to his creation with his back to Blaise, almost unable to take his eyes away from what he had laboured on for all of this time.
The interface was ready. Gleaming chrome, sleek designing, and a crisp paint design on the fuel tank all paid off to make the most wonderful piloting system that the galaxy could conceive. Rajit had managed to make a refit, floor-mounted motorcycle replica of the 1954 Harley-Davidson FL Hydra-Glide. Blaise’s eyes gleamed with the striking yellow paint, which Rajit had to have mixed to give it more of a glossy coat.
“So what do you think?” Rajit inquired, admiring his own handiwork.
Blaise slowly allowed himself to slide over the seat, caressing the body and keeping his eyes glued to the frame.
Janet tittered. “Two days in space and he’s found a new girlfriend.”
Rajit stepped towards the apparatus and pointed at the various features. “Throttle on the right. Don’t crank it too hard or you’ll flood the fusion tanks. Gear shift is the left handle. Take it easy on the sub-light speed or you’ll ruin Newtonian physics. Left handle cranks us up and down. You can pop this wheelie 360 degrees, man.”
“We don’t have any weapons,” interjected Cookie. “But if we ever do, we can do the shooting.”
Blaise shook off the yellow gleam of the new paint job. “What’s the ETA to the stellar debris?”
“Two hours left. I suggest you and Rajit work out the finer points of hog-riding in the meantime,” reported Janet.
With what short time he was given, Blaise practiced with the finer points of the controls, getting a familiarity with the feel of maneuvering such a large craft.
“Stellar debris interaction in five minutes,” announced Janet. “Let’s try to keep the interaction to a minimum. The debris will still be at 8,000 Kelvin. It will be your responsibility to navigate the debris and keep us functioning. Our navigation computer can calculate the optimal trajectory for you to fly through. Your heads-up-display panel in front of you will show the rings to fly through.”
Blaise revved the engine, slipping on the interactive sunglasses to initiate the HUD. “Let’s do this.” He cranked the throttle and shifted into the sub-light. Though the change in inertia of the ship made it difficult to detect, Blaise still felt that pull of the thrusters lunging the ship forward.
At this time Blaise was used to the concept of moving the motorcycle up and down. When the first large portion of the stellar debris drifted towards them, the movement over it felt natural and easy enough. Blaise relied on the computer’s guidance for the better part of the journey.
“Clearing up to 75 percent of the stellar debris,” reported Janet. “The navigational system is working.”
Blaise suddenly winced when he saw the larger particles flying together at them. “Do you see that?”
The glowing blue boulders hurtling at them all at once gave few options for movement. Janet frantically tapped at the console. “Attempting to calculate for ideal direction. I have to account for the gravitational pull of the debris.”
Blaise rubbed his temple. “No, we have to go right for the middle.”
Rajit almost jumped out of his chassis. “You will bust us up into space jelly!”
Blaise took a deep breath. “The debris is going to collide all at once right there at the centre. I can pop us right through if I ease on the brakes. I used to do this through traffic all the time.”
At what seemed like a perfect convergence, the multiple large boulders of debris, several times the size of the ship and glowing in hot masses, managed to bump together all at the same time. The ship, with just the perfect amount of momentum, squeezed its way through the small gap that the collision left. After a few smaller maneuvers, Blaise was able to steer through the remaining debris.
Janet piped up with her report. “We have cleared the debris field. Congratulations, captain. You figured out how the ship works after all.”
Blaise heaved his chest. “Yep. Not bad for a species who can barely cure baldness. I guess we can hang out here for a bit?”
“The debris has passed. We are at minimal danger until the hyperjump system is fully charged.”
“Awesome. Hey, what say we name the ship?” ventured Blaise. “I have a feeling we’re going to be on here for a while.”
Cookie raised her hand. “You got to name all of us. May we have a chance?”
Blaise gave a half-smile. “You have a suggestion?”
Cookie mused, “Well, I have read a bit on computer programming from your Earth history. I was attempting to code your motorcycle to the flight computer, when I ran into an unknown error. It seems that the program made a self-referential closed circuit called an---”
“Infinite loop?” interrupted Blaise. His smile widened. “Okay, Cookie gets it! Tomorrow we will christen the Infinite Loop. Janet, does the astronomy computer have an estimate on when we’ll reach the Sol system?”
Janet tapped on her console. “Best guess is five years, two months, ten days, barring we do not accumulate any new star chart information in that time from other sources.”
Blaise scratched his chin. “So you’re saying we’re on a five year mi--”
Janet pointed a warning finger. “Watch it.”
“Okay, fine. Take us into hyperjump when ready.”