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The Gate

    The lift opens into the flight controls. Several stations around the perimeter of the room offer different functions. Two are identical flight consoles, either of which can be primary or secondary. An engineering station allows monitoring of operational status of all systems, and a science station has extra displays and feedback for the ship's scanner array. A station labeled "Security" offers views and access control for the interior of the ship as well as external views, and control of the ship's light micrometeor shielding. A communications station has extra displays, as well as headset jacks and video pickups. The whole room is only dimly lit, with indirect floor lighting, and lights outlining the walkways, each station's lights being individually controllable by the operator. All of the stations can perform all of the jobs, although they are optimized for better response to one or another. Doors around the edge of the deck are labeled "Medical," "Offices," "Security," and "Conference."

Twelve hours later, after a cycle of ship's night, and a little more exploration, the crew collects on the bridge again, this time to start the longer leg of their journey. The message light is blinking on the communications console. Kerry keys up the message file. "Betcha they want us to take something out to LA after all."

Douglas settles into the engineering console, doing a check of the systems from up here before descending to the engine spaces. "Most likely. Then again, I don't know how common orbital traffic is." Sakura stands next to the science station, looking attentively at her commander before she decides whether or not to sit.

Kerry skrees, "You weren't on the bridge last night when we talked to Owen. He said he'd try to dissuade them, but... so let's see if it's the boss again or if it's junk mail."

Douglas says dryly, "Oh, wonderful. Need I say I think we should refuse any sealed packages?"

Owen Carter's recorded face beams out of the monitor, and manages to be both conspiratorial and casual at the same time as he says, "Hello, Indigo, this is Aurora base. We've got a bunch of departments demanding to ship stuff with you to Los Angeles. We told them we'd ask you to stop and wait for the cargo if you called in before you departed. We didn't tell them we wouldn't warn you not to call in." He winks and adds, "Have a good trip, Indigo. Luck." He signs off.

Kerry chuckles. "I like him."

Douglas blinks, then grins wryly. "Same here. He seems a good person to have watching our backs on the ground."

Vash says, "At this point I don't think that cargo is a very high priority for us. Acts of 'terrorism' notwithstanding, it's a delay at the very least."

Kerry grins. "So, we don't call in. Gotcha." He starts working, setting up the course away from orbit and toward the Gate.

Vash settles into the station, "If they decide to make an issue of it later, they can take it up with me... after we come back."

Sakura settles herself down at the science station and starts running through her procedures. The computer accepts Kerry's course without a complaint, and runs a long set of interlocking systems checks, which flicker across all the consoles. Shortly a status report of "Ready to launch" appears. Kerry skrees, "And I think we are green for go. Any negative indicators?"

Sakura says, "Science is green, sir."

Douglas looks up from the Engineering board, and says, "Engineering is green."

Kerry keys up the guard frequency for the orbital traffic control. "Terra Control, this is TAG Indigo, ready to proceed on our filed flight plan."

The comm chirps, and orbital control replies, "Roger, Indigo. Please stand by for clearance."

Kerry skrees, "Standing by."

In its own time, control replies with, "Launch vector cleared, Indigo, you are cleared. Control out."

Vash nods. "Alright then... helm, when you're ready."

Kerry nudges the power controls gently up from their stops to the first notch, and all four of the crewfurs gently settle into their seats as gravity returns. He sighs... "And now we have weight again until we reach the Gate. Oh, well... it was fun while it lasted."

Vash grins a little. "Newton apologizes for the inconvenience." Sakura laughs softly, covering her mouth with her paw.

The ship responds smoothly to Kerry's control, neither leaving him disappointed with its response, nor being surprisingly nimble. Power builds through the ship as the bat brings it up to cruising speed, a subtle thrumming through the decking and superstructure. Douglas says, "Shall I go in back and prep the gate drive?"

Vash shrugs. "That's up to you, Douglas. We have some time yet, but if you feel there's anything extra that needs done, please."

Douglas nods, keeping himself strapped in. "All right. I'll monitor things from here, then, for a bit."

Indigo moves out of orbit, her drives increasing her speed by 10 meters per second every second, a full kilometer per second faster every two minutes. Even so, it's nearly two and a half hours before the ship passes the lunar orbit. Kerry stays at the pilot's station for the first four hours, making sure that they are well beyond local Earth traffic before turning things over to the automatic systems. "And we are off."

Vash unstraps himself and stands, stretching. "Excellent. I suppose we have some time to kill now."

Kerry skrees, "Want to send a message back to Owen?" Sakura unstraps from her chair and turns so that she can see what's going on.

Vash says, "I suppose we should."

Douglas says, "We are sort of past the point we can turn around and grab some company cargo."

Vash says, "Yes, but we need to at least keep him abreast until we reach the Gate."

Kerry skrees, "And it's safe now."

Douglas says, "I know. I was saying that if we contact him now, there's no chance of us being asked to haul some cargo."

Vash grins, "Or at least, no chance of our actually doing it."

Sakura says, "It would be polite of us to contact him..."

Kerry looks over to Vash. "Shall we, then?"

Vash nods, and reaches out to the console to start composing the message. While waiting for the acknowledgement, he turns from the pickups, asking, "Does anyone have anything to relay to the Ground?"

Kerry skrees, "Nothing in particular."

Vash says, "Douglas? Sakura?"

Douglas says, "Nothing from me, thank you."

Sakura says, "No, thank you."

Vash nods, "We'll keep this brief, then." He turns back to the pickups. "This is Montoya. Indigo is underway, ETA at the Gate is 18 days. Everything is green here. Contact you again when we reach the Gate."

The reply comes back from Owen textually, "Acknowledged."

Nine days after departure, somewhere beyond Saturn's orbit, Kerry gives the deceleration warning and then cuts the power to the drive. "We are halfway, folks. Turnover!" The ship is moving at almost 7750 kilometers every second now, covering the distance from the Earth to the Moon in only a minute.

Douglas acknowledges Kerry's announcement, looking at his terminal in the engine room. Hmm... my own navigation calcs are a bit off. That's to be expected, I imagine, I'm not nearly as good a navigator as he is. He reaches over and clicks the intercom. "Pilot, I'll use this time period for a bit of off-power maintenance of the drives. Half an hour, tops."

Kerry skrees, "Take all the time you need, Doug. Let me know when you're ready."

"Acknowledged, and thanks." Doug shuts off the intercom, and turns to the reactor. All right, Indigo, he thinks. Let's see how the week and a half have treated you... A typical turnaround inspection of the drive systems fails to reveal any sort of malfunction; the drives are normal and healthy.

A nudge from the attitude jets starts the ship turning ponderously on its own axis. Since there's no emergency, Kerry lets it take its time, finishing the slow rotation fifteen minutes later. Kerry spends the rest of the allocated turnover hour flying in the shuttle hangar. Free-fall flying, admittedly, but it's the closest he can come to flying under his own power. Vash remains on the bridge, looking at the Security terminals, and thinking. Sakura will spend the turnover time in the medbay if she's permitted. Vash doesn't see why not. Douglas finishes his examination of the drives, satisfied for the moment that they seem to be working well, not that he expects them to go bad on him.

The computer chirps at the preprogrammed time and Kerry sighs regretfully. Time to go back to gravity. He heads back to the bridge and keys the five-minute warning. "Get ready for acceleration again." Sakura settles back into her chair and brings her station up.

Kerry nudges the throttles back to the one-gravity setting and weight settles down on the ship again. Vash sits back in the captain's station and folds his hands. He makes a face and shifts in the seat a little, feeling his organs reconfigure themselves. Indigo is now backing down on her drives, slowing at the same rate as she had formerly been speeding up. This direction is a little more dangerous, as it is difficult to see micrometeors through the drive distortion -- but the drive itself tends to break up anything that is too small to see. Indigo continues her flight to the outer reaches of the solar system...

As the Indigo passes each of the space stations the computers exchange electronic messages, coordinating flight plans and times. As the ship isn't stopping there's no delays there. The comm system chirps as Indigo approaches the Gate, on the very tail end of her deceleration. Her course has brought her in close to the traffic pattern around the alien device, although out of the pattern of normal commerce. Kerry brings the ship to relative rest at the standard 100 kilometers from the Gate. He keys up the comm as the engines are shut down for only the second time in the trip. The comm is Los Angeles station, sending a confirmation of arrival and asking if there's anything the ship needs in the way of provisions or fuel before they make the transition through the Gate.

Vash says, "Think we should top it off, Kerry?"

Kerry skrees, "We're okay on fuel, and they won't have anything fresher than what we've brought with us. Tell 'em thanks, but no thanks. "

Douglas says, "They seem very interested in getting us to dock... then again, they're probably just being courteous."

Vash nods, "Indigo here. Thanks, Los Angeles, but we're good to go here. Standing by."

Kerry skrees, "Mind if I make a call while we're here, Your Nebulosity?"

Vash says, "You have the com."

Kerry swings the maser around to the Russian station. "Zhadrazvut'siya, Sibirskaya Stanshiya. Shto Kiska?"

The reply comes back briefly, "Hold," and then a number of sharp pops come over comm as the tired comm system at Siberia transfers the link to Kiska. She comes on the line with a simple, "Kiska here. Go ahead."

Kerry grins at the pickup. "Kiska! It's Kerry. I see you're still out here."

Kiska's voice comes back, loud and pleased, "Keeroschlee! You not on board that Indigo ship, are you?"

Kerry skrees, "Actually, yes. Going to try to figure out what happened to the last one. Wish us luck?"

"Ya, Kerry, wish you luck, and drink a wake for you if you not come back," replies the bear.

Kerry nods. "Well, can't argue with that. Kiska... I'm on a tight-beam here... anything you can tell us about that Texan ship that went through a few months back?"

Kiska's voice comes back across the comm, "Oh, I rememberink them! Very, very sad. You rememberink this now too! You my favorite leedle batty, I will be brokenhearted if you not return! You take better care than last sheep, da? Crazy Texas humans all... they always only have one uplift to care for them all, no wonder they not come back, and uplift on first sheep come back poor and broken from worry! Texans never learnink."

Vash frowns. Broken from worry? Broken from mortal terror... Kerry grins. "Well, it might be over-reacting, Dama Medvedya, but we're all uplifts here, and four different kinds. I think we'll be able to handle it if anyone can. I'll stop in and drink a glass with you for old time's sake when we get back, da?

Kiska's laugh is just short of a bass bellow, "Da, you do that, tovarishchee, and no hearts will be breakink! Am thinking you much better company than mad coyote or collared lamia anyway! And bring your friends too, da? Friends of yours are friends of Kiska's!"

Kerry sits bolt upright, almost dislodging himself in zero-gee until he corrects. "Collared lamia? Kiska, are you talking about Zil? Dr. Sidhe?"

Kiska's voice is cheerful, "Not sure, tovarishchee! Knowink only that sound of voice in background was hissing like split-tongue people which we never foolish enough to make in Mother Russia because they so bad at cold." Kiska snorts to herself, making the radio echo startlingly, "Texans... bah! Heat make them all crazy."

Vash's expression darkens. Collars. Heartless birote... Kerry mutters under his breath, a glass-breaking accompaniment to the bear's bass rumbles. "Did she come back with them? And if not... was she dead, or did they leave her there?"

"Nyeh, none return yet from that sheep. Anyvay, must return to duties, and you must through crazy Gate be goink to follow crazy Texans." Her chuckle is low, rumbly, and rueful, "Poor batty! Am vishink you best of luck, and signing off. Dosvidanya, Kerry-shchee of Indigo!"

Kerry skrees, "Take care of yourself, too. We'll be back, so keep the vodka cold, da?"

Kiska barks a laugh, "Alvays fresh rotgut for you, Kerry!" She signs off properly, still chuckling.

Vash says, "A girlfriend, Kerry?"

Kerry spreads his wings and stretches. "Of a sort. A lamia I met a few years back, carried her and a group of Texans out here when they first set up Dallas Station. I'd heard they claimed she went nuts, but it looks like they might have collared her after they shot her... either way, she'll be on the other side of the Gate. Maker knows what the idiot Texans were thinking; if she gets loose from the collar she'll probably kill them herself even if nothing else tries. And if she doesn't, I will."

The comm goes off again, with local flight control demanding to know what's taking Indigo so long, they're blocking the flight paths. Vash says, "I can't really say that I blame a Texan uplift for anything they might do." He looks as if there's more he could say about that, but he lets it lie for now.

Kerry glares at the comm. "Keep your shorts on, Flight Control, this isn't exactly a routine evolution here. We're almost ready."

Vash says, "Let's discuss this a bit later, you and I, alright?"

Kerry nods. "I think we should, if Zil is on the other side of the Gate." He continues the checks for the Gate Interface engine.

The Gate engine seems to be ready. It's drawing power, and causing a slightly eerie harmonic to reverberate through the decking in direct counterpoint to the steady and familiar feel of the grav-drive. Powering it up seems to have no other effect here in normal space. Kerry skrees, "Well, the thing checks out... let's go." He nudges the drive, shutting it down again when Indigo is up to about 200 km/hour, drifting toward the Gate cautiously.

Vash says, "Vaya con Dios, Los Angeles. All stations, prepare to enter the Gate."

The gate looms before the Indigo, kilometers wide. A signal from the comm system transmitting a particular set of bits at a particular frequency activates it. The dim pattern of stars behind its kilometers-wide opening blurs and is hidden from view, only solid blackness showing. That and a few untranslated indicators flickering around the outside edge of the circular opening belie the fact that the gate is open and running, although scan will pick heat and EMI from parts of it's superstructure.

Vash says, "All stations, strap in."

Sakura is still strapped in as she says, "Sir! The scan shows nothing beyond the gate..." She pauses, frowning a little at the readings. "Apparently, the universe ends in an impenetrable wall of... blackness."

Vash tries to smile winsomely. "Well then... it shouldn't jolt us too hard when we fly into it."

Kerry frowns at the readouts, making course corrections as the ship drifts toward the Gate. Steering jets nudge Indigo a little to port, re-centering her on the Gate's exact center. Sakura says, "I have a thread of contact from the beacon on the other side, but that's all."

When Kerry touches the controls for the grav-drives to adjust course, for the first time, the ship doesn't respond properly. Rather than a tiny course correction, all the lights on the bridge go out for a moment, until an emergency lamp comes on. The consoles stay up, but many of the controls appear dead. Sakura frowns at her consoles again. "Sir, I'm down."

Vash looks around. "Albondigas..."

The viewscreens show the almost palpable wall of blackness that is the open gate approaching, as the ship continues to drift towards it. Vash says, "Stay secured, regardless... we're about to strike it anyway..."

Kerry swears in several languages as he tries to activate the forward rocket thrusters. "This is not what we intended, at all."

Vash says, "Off the record, Sakura... I hope you're wrong about the universe ending on the other side."

Sakura says, "I am too, sir."

Kerry's wing-hands are dancing over the controls, with no really obvious effects except his increasingly high-pitched comments. After a minute or so, he unbuckles and moves to the adjacent station, trying again there. It soon becomes obvious that the main engines are dead and the controls to the attitude jets are gone as well. Moving to the manual override station, he tries again.

The Indigo's forward rockets finally light, the computer having demanded extra validation for manual override. They slow the ship, but not enough, and it passes through the gate, sliding effortlessly out of the known universe, and in to someplace else. The forward rockets say they're still firing, but it seems to be having no more effect. Kerry shuts down the rockets, since they seem to be through the Gate anyway. "##ee*!#. That was different. Was there anything in the data we had that indicated a power failure was likely?" Sakura checks her station for power. Kerry flits over to the observation window to look out. "Let's see where we are..."

Vash says, "Ay, caray! Nothing!"

Sakura says, "Sir, just about everything is down, but I have optical and radio and I continue to track the beacon."

Kerry skrees, "Where's the beacon? Ahead of us?"

Sakura says, "It is ahead of us, yes. Though you may want to correct the course slightly. I have the coordinates here..." She transfers the coordinates that she has to the pilot's station.

Kerry skrees, "Weird... this is almost like electricity doesn't work here. The reactor's running but the power isn't going anywhere."

Sakura gives Kerry a baffled look, "Really? How odd."

Vash says, "Not going anywhere? It's not leaving the core?"

Kerry skrees, "Well, we're not getting any electricity out of it. The backups are working, though... oh, for the luvva little green lizards. Idiot engineers. We gotta reset the main breakers."

Sakura says, "Could you walk me through it on the com, Sir?"

Kerry nods. "Or you could stay here and get us moving when the power comes back on."

Sakura says, "As you wish."

Vash unstraps himself and stands, "You'd better stay here in case one of us actually needs you, Doctora... no good to have you off in the bowels of the ship if something happens. Kerry, can you walk me through it?"

Sakura says, "Of course, Vash-san."

Kerry skrees, "Shouldn't be tough. Both sets of engines are shut down, it's just a matter of opening the breakers again. Keep the comm open and I'll tell you what to do when you get there."

Vash says, "Back before you know it."

The lift seems slow in arriving, and when it finally does it is only dimly lit. It wends its way down to Engineering and opens in the central area. The engines are dead and quiet, although the reactor seems normal, as Kerry suggested. Vash makes his way around to the side, toward one of the control terminals. He touches the com, "Kerry... can you hear me?"

Kerry skrees, "Loud and clear. You remember where the main breaker panel is from the simulator training, right? Four sets, one for each of the main subsystems, spaced equally around the reactor compartment. The idiot computer popped them open. We need the Charlie breakers reset first."

Vash nods, looking around, "Ay, I read you. Stand by." He grumbles and scrambles up the walkway to the far side. "Charlie... Charlie... leche! Who the fuck is Charlie?!" He actually has no problem finding the panels, nor flipping the switches in the proper order. As he does so, the systems around the ship light up again, and resume normal operations. The engines come back on line, and the computer shows all as green.

Sakura looks over her consoles, forehead creasing. "There's still nothing on the sensors. Nothing at all... except that beacon." Kerry waits for the breakers to be reset and checks that everything is back to normal -- or what passes for it in the inter-Gate space -- before attempting to move the ship. When he is satisfied, he nudges the ship towards the next beacon.

Vash touches the terminal again, "Looks good to me, Kerry, everything okay up there?"

Kerry skrees, "Looking good, Vash. I think we're ready to roll."

Vash says, "I'm returning to the bridge, unless there's anything else."

Sakura says, "Everything looks fine for me."

Kerry skrees, "C'mon back, then. We're moving again, toward the first beacon."

Vash says, "On my way."

Vash emerges from the lift, scratching the back of his head. As the ship nears the first beacon, the second appears on the scanners, giving Kerry the next target to follow. It takes several hours to move between beacons. Hours of quiet tedium pass. Eventually, Sakura and Douglas meander off to do other things, as they're not pressingly needed on the bridge. Vash unstraps himself and stretches out. "Kerry. Shall we pick up that earlier discussion now?"

Kerry sighs and stretches his wings again, flitting around the bridge for a moment before settling back in to watch the instruments. "This is one weird place." He nods. "Sure, why not?"

Vash says, "So... you want to tell me about your friend?"

Kerry skrees, "Zil? I guess so. It's not that long a story. It was about five-six years back, right near the beginning of the thaw in Texan-US relations. I was a major, flying one of the old River-class transports out to what we called the Artifact back then."

Vash nods. "I know the name."

Kerry skrees, "Anyway, I got called on to take a personnel module out to LA for transfer to Dallas -- Texans. Five people came on board, to use a sixteen-person carrier. Four humans, who each insisted on using an entire stateroom for themselves... and Zil Sidhe, a lamia. I ended up having to let her sleep in the crew section, 'cause those... bigots refused to let her either sleep in the same room with one of them, or to have a room to herself if it meant two humans would have to share -- couldn't let an uplift have more space than a human."

Vash quirks an eyeridge. "Yeah?"

Kerry skrees, "Yeah. Anyway, Platte wouldn't make but half a gee, so I had four weeks to get to know her. Nice snake, really. Language expert and space-happy to boot. I offered her asylum, but she was too timid to take it at the beginning -- I think she was afraid we'd ship her right back to Earth -- and when they'd stolen her work on translating the Artifact, they set her up as violently insane and tranqed and collared her when she did try to defect. I tried using my connections to find out what had happened to her, but until today when Kiska said she'd heard a lamian voice on the second Texan ship, I hadn't found out a thing. Even this isn't a sure thing, but I suspect it's her."

Vash nods slowly. "I'm inclined to agree with you. But... you know that if she is out there... and alive... that TAG may, no, probably will force us to return her to the Confederacy. And I don't really know how much I can do to stand in their way."

Kerry skrees, "Why should they? And for that matter, what business is it of theirs? We bring her back as a refugee, we turn her over to the scientific and diplomatic staff on LA. The US still accepts uplift refugees, after all. The Texans can bitch all they want, but it won't do them a bit of good. Can't see the company caring about sending her back."

Vash sighs. "Keep in mind TAG may not wish to embroil itself in a political shitstorm. And we've already got problems with the bureaucracy. They may do it simply to be malicious. Or they may do it to try to score points with the Confed." He holds up his hand, "But. Look. If she's alive, and if we find her, she stays with us for the trip, okay? And, for what it's worth, I'll help you get her back to the US however I can."

Kerry skrees, "Fair enough. But, like I said... if we bring her back to LA, ain't a thing that the company can say about it. By the time they'd have jurisdiction, she wouldn't be with us any more."

Vash grins crookedly. "I hope that's the case. For my part, I'll look at it as a chance to poke the Texans in the eye one last time."

Kerry chuckles. "Amen to that."

Vash says, "I kinda owe them. On the other hand, I don't know many uplifts that don't."

Kerry looks at the blackness beyond the windows. "Oh, yeah. Definitely true, that is."

Vash says, "Shitty circumstances to come into the world into."

Kerry skrees, "Especially for them. Did you know that the lamia are parthenogenetic?"

Vash folds his arms, looking out at the void. "No, I didn't. They're nonstandard genotypes, though, aren't they? Some crazy old rich puta's pet project?"

Kerry skrees, "Something like that. Each of them can have one daughter-clone, and that's it. Fairly long-lived, I gathered, but they can't increase their numbers. Zil said that of the original 250, only 90 lines were still intact."

Vash says, "I didn't know the attrition was so sharp."

Kerry skrees, "Well, that's since the War. A lot were lost right then, I suspect. And I suspect some of the 250 are still around, but the breeding member got killed."

Vash nods. "Enough of them, I suppose... I get the impression that I'm supposed to hate them. The snakes, that is... lot of old family history there. Older I get, though... the less I blame Texan uplifts for anything they did."

Kerry nods. "Yah. Not their fault they were told to do what they did. I really do not like the Confederacy humans."

Vash says, "You were in the military before the thaw, right?"

Kerry skrees, "And after, for a while. I was still in until just a couple years ago. Made lieutenant colonel before I was retired... at least I got my pension."

Vash says, "Yeah, me too... my brothers too. So you know the non-aggression state wasn't, always... you regret anything you did?"

Kerry skrees, "Anything I did? Not really. I regret a couple things I didn't do, though."

Vash nods. "Yeah. Me either. Though I know of some people I'd like to say I'm sorry to, before I'm done."

Kerry shrugs. "Not likely, in my case. Maybe I'll see them again in Valhalla." He turns his attention back to the beacon. "Depressing place, Gatespace. I hope we're through it soon."

Vash says, "I suppose that having an extended family alters your perspective. I keep thinking everyone's got parents someplace. Of course, it wouldn't do any good to apologize to them... under the circumstances..." He sits up a little and nods, rubbing his eyes. "Yeah. It's too quiet." A moment later he says, "Couple hours yet until the next beacon. You wanna go hit the rec deck?"

Kerry skrees, "Not till Sakura is back up here to spell me. I don't trust the automatics on this job."

Vash nods, "True. I suppose I'll wait, myself... it's not like we're going anywhere."




Last modified: 2001-Aug-19 22:40:38

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