The first Halycon’s Aye story by: GF Willmetts
Sleep. Endless sleep. An eternity that passes in a moment. Dreams slowly evolved and passed based on previous fleeting memories. Dreams that often lasted a thousand light years although the sleepers could hardly measure the distance, deep in Slumber. Vivid though they may be, they gave no indication of the passage of time as their starship, the Halycon’s Aye, travelled slowly across the cosmos. For some, they were about to awaken to problems they would wish they could have slept through.
Immersed in a fluid sac suspended from the ceiling and resting in a foetal position was the form of Danser. Her pale green skin glowed briefly as the ceiling lighting began to illuminate and reflect in the colourless gel. Her feathery blonde tresses swirled as the gel turned to fluid responding to an increase in temperature.
Instruments nearby flicked alight and began the slow process of resurrection to waking life. The dreams had ended. It would not be necessary to release her from the fluid sac that supported her body to enable Danser to read a diagrammatic which flickered to life near her head. If she deemed it important, Danser could signal full revival or drift back to sleep until the next emergency. The message was simple: ‘INTRUDER’. A flick of a tentacle and the full resuscitation cycle was ordered to begin. Slumber was over. Her job had already begun.
A short hour later and Danser was resting comfortably on a couch, the last of the life-sustaining fluids in her lungs finally removed and breathing atmospheric air, savouring the effect that had been missing for so long. A variety of instruments were hooked into her arms, belly and legs. Continual slow vibro-shock had ensured her muscle tone had been kept trim.
‘Good day, this my Captain.’ A pleasant voice permeated the air about her with no discernible indication as to where it came from.
Danser opened one eye suspiciously before opening her other eye, ‘Identify yourself and the fate of my father? Excuse. This who must be our former Captain of this, our ship.’
‘I myself am Slazna. Resident intelligence of the Halycon’s Aye, a purchased upgrade by this the former Captain of this our ship while you and members of your family, the Brashandi, were in Slumber status. I am currently unable to alert or attract the attention of this your father, this our former Captain. I was left entirely on standby status throughout this voyage until such times the decision of a captain was required. It will take some time to re-engage all my sensory equipment to maximum load. My indicators currently indicate this our ship, Halycon’s Aye, requires intensive repair in spacedock.
‘Standing Orders: When the former Captain is no longer available, the next candidate, you yourself, Danser of the family Brashandi ,is to be revived when our status and orders have been changed…’
Danser struggled to get up but was restrained from moving.
Protocols! Scut! I need to take command.
‘Please, my Captain, do not become physical or agitated yet. I am still feeding necessary nutriments into your body. You will be extremely light-headed if you do not allow me to complete the treatment before you commence your duties.’
Danser slumped back onto the couch with a sigh, ‘Slazna, why was I notified of an intruder?’
‘There is a presence on the flight deck. The intruder boarded three hours ago. Other than alerting myself, has ignored my control systems. The intruder is being kept occupied by my databank to discover who we are. I am still engaging my systems while I revive you yourself. What are your orders at this our time?’
Danser yawned in contemplation, ‘The intruder might not be hostile. Might even be a customer. I haven’t been seen the crew or cargo manifest yet. I don’t suppose my skinflint father thought to include anyone with scientific background in the crew, so scan the logs and find me someone from the cargo hold. I doubt he would ignore carrying organic cargo. Criteria: Scientist with xenobiology and some linguistics thrown in if possible. It’s obviously some breed we haven’t encountered before or it would be familiar with our protocol. Alert the pilot, too. We may need course corrections to go trading. L’harg is still this our pilot?’
‘Our Lieutenant L’harg died shortly after our last refit 40,000 centuries ago. The new pilot is Lieutenant Body and this will be his first orders under the command of the family Brashandi. He came aboard in Slumber status.’
Danser gave her customary long blink before yawning, ‘Scut! L’harg himself was a good pilot but should have spent more time in Slumber. Another long voyage. I take it our propulsion systems are also not fully operational?’
‘Space-folding inoperative. We have been travelling at 100light subjective to our next encounter. Current velocity is diminishing at…’
‘Hold. That’s enough to go on with. I doubt even this my father, our former captain, would skimp that closely on our resources. Bring the science aide up first, inform of rights of contract and see about some sort of armaments in case of reserved intent. Get me a line on this our ship’s new specs and protocols, Slazna. I would like to appear at least competent to go to the flight deck when the scientific arrives here.’
‘Certainly, my Captain. Will this include the cargo?’
‘Is it going anywhere?’
‘Is it undamaged?’
‘I’ll worry about it later.’
A short quarter time, Danser was released from all cables and dressing when there was a knock on the wall.
‘Excuse me. Excuse me please. Am I right in saying I am addressing the Captain of this our ship?’
Danser turned from the information plate to see a tall figure by the doorslot. Dressed in brightly coloured imperial regalia, he shook his mane before adjusting his spectacles on his muzzle. Comparatively, in only a vest and pants and her boots on the floor, Danser felt and looked positively undressed for Captain status.
She rose from her chair-couch, finding all her movements were fine and gave the curt bow of protocol, ‘I am Captain Danser of the family Brashandi of this our ship, the Halycon’s Aye.’
Scut! The formal line should have been, ‘This our Captain’. Protocols be damned, Danser thought to herself, we’re going to appear ancient if this intruder is using an updated protocol.
The tall figure rested his arms on his stick, before returning the bow. ‘Hail, this our Captain of the Halycon’s Aye. Your ship’s AI, Slazna, requested me myself in some scientific matter to which I formerly now take contract by sign and word. My name is Zanxi, once professor of the University of Dralm, Imperial City on Persphor-4. My status is dissident through objections to certain…er…legislations on my world was given passage migration off homeworld under an ambassador clause.’
‘A political refugee otherwise over the pretence of representation of a civilisation that is probably no longer there. You probably had the better deal. What you were doesn’t matter to me, my Professor, only whether you can assist me communicating with an intruder that has boarded this our ship.’
Zanxi bowed again, ‘In debt and to your honour, my Captain. Have I understood your linguist protocol?’
‘Assuming it hasn’t changed in a millennia. Do you know what my people are?’
Only it’s ‘my’ and not always ‘this our’.
The bottom of Danser’s hair fluttered to allow a large orange tentacle to emerge from over each shoulder. Danser watched passively for some reaction as they waved in front of her.
First test. If you don’t know what I am, you can return to Slumber.
Zanxi adjusted his spectacles, ‘As I see and hear, my Captain, you’re a symbiote.’
And you’re ancient, old man.
‘And I never thought I would have a scientific officer who was so old or brought on-board in Slumber. You obviously never met my father, this our previous captain. Slazna, please make appropriate adjustments to our gravity for this our…my…Professor.’
Scut! Was everyone brought on-board in Slumber?!
‘My thanks, my dear…er…Captain’
Danser sat down and slipped into her boots, helped by the two tentacles clutching each boot as her toes slipped in.
‘I was under the impression that symbiote tentacles were not particularly strong, my Captain.’
‘I control my…er…associate’s size by controlling its food demands. It was well-fed on my revival. Uncontrolled, it would end up dragging me around.’
‘May I enquire to the benefits of your own liaison? My texts were somewhat vague on this informa…’
Danser stood up and shook her head, the twin tentacles curved down her breasts, the flattened tips curving towards her waist. Not perhaps quite idle, they swayed in a contrary fashion to the Captain’s movements as she opened a locker to pull out a large neural net. The under-surface suckers reacting more strongly to the air.
‘Yes you can’, Danser said with her perpetual smile unchanging, ‘As its contract and I don’t want any surprises with this our intruder, you have this information under privacy tolerance. You yourself, eyes and ears alone. My symbiote associate provides me with extra memory…’
‘But not quite a second personality’, Zanxi finished, ‘Most, most remarkable.’
Too well informed, Danser decided to herself as Zanxi followed her to the door. Contract over and you yourself return to Slumber.
‘Is the intruder still on the flight deck, Slazna?’ Danser called out.
‘Yes, my Captain’, Slazna’s voice replied cheerfully. ‘She’s engrossed in Encyclop files 3790, 3791, 3792…’
‘Enough. It’s a fast reader’, Danser shouted, ‘I’ll settle for preoccupied.’
Blocks of light appeared on the floor and ceiling and they both proceeded down the corridor. The uniform light tolerable without being too bright. Slazna no doubt trying to accommodate their different visual perceptions until some mid-point was reached.
Danser paused and Zanxi almost fell over her.
‘She?’ Danser’s twin tentacles twitched anxiously. ‘Slazna? Is this “She” armed?’
‘No, my Captain. She awaits your arrival.’
Scut! Anyone would think she was a guest.
Danser and Zanxi continued down the corridor, their shadows casting across the floor and up the wall, the lights barely coming on behind them.
‘Pardon me for asking, my Captain, but where is the flight deck? I mean, wouldn’t it be on a different level?’
Danser didn’t talk immediately, her symbiote flashed up the recently absorbed ship blueprints into her brain’s visual cortex. It would hardly do to announce the Halycon’s Aye was as new to her as her new scientific contract. This ‘guest’ knew more about the place if she could get to the flight deck so easily.
‘Crew Slumber is nearest the flight deck for emergency revival. A hull breech would make it impossible to get here from anywhere else.’
‘Why not have an auxiliary flight deck?’
‘Surely you saw the vids on your own planet?’
Zanxi shook his head, his golden-grey mane tingled slightly with static.
Danser sighed, ‘Two flight decks means one can be made slave to the other and I could lose control of my ship. I only have one pilot. I only need one flight deck at a time.’
Zanxi nodded a little perplexed. ‘It’s as well to know these things.’
Danser stopped at a doorway. The legend on the door flicked between both their private languages, each interpreting the words ‘FLIGHT DECK’. Danser palm pressed a contact but the door stayed shut.
‘Pressurising flight deck. One moment please, my Captain’, Slazna announced.
‘Is this our intruder wearing a vac-suit, Slazna?’ Danser asked surprised.
‘No, my Captain. She informs me she doesn’t need such primitive apparatus to live in vacuum. She can rely on other sources for sustenance. She is now adapting to our atmosphere.’
‘That’s comforting…Scut! What breed is she? Formal identification?’
‘She herself is unsure. She herself believes her people to be both ancient and advanced.’
‘But not hostile, my Captain’, Zanxi nodded to Danser’s neural net.
‘I’ll be the judge of that. You identify what she is and what danger she is to this our ship.’
The flight deck port slid open. In the background, the hum of atmosphere filters slowly diminished in power. The lighting grew to full density corresponding to the corridor. The intruder did not seem to need a light source. A figure peering into a floating diagrammatic seemed unaware of any of these changes.
As far as Danser could make out, the intruder appeared to be humanoid in shape except for the absence of legs. A gold-dusted robe drooped but didn’t touch the ground. She had heard of some creatures who lived in space tended to remove their legs as they were useless in zero-gravity. The intruder adjusted her position and it became obvious to Danser that it was sitting cross-legged in mid-air by the knees protruding slightly in the robe. The back view only presented a mass of sprung wavy blue hair that seemed to ignore any changes caused by the draught of fresh air. No doubt the plant life was also being restored on-board as well. Danser indicated to Zanxi that he should circle to the intruder’s left while she moved to its right. The neural net was ready, but still held on Danser’s shoulder. Getting closer, Danser wished she had armed the Professor as well.
‘Files completed,’ Slazna announced, ‘my Captain Danser of the family Brashandi of this our ship, the Halycon’s Aye, may I present to you this the Lady Leestrail, currently explorer and intruder.’
The intruder unfolded her legs but didn’t touch the floor as she turned, stood but not stood, floating and gave a curt bow. She was nearly a head taller than Zanxi even if she touched the ground and positively towered over Danser. Leestrail’s blue tresses surrounded a golden tinted complexion. Apart from a zigzag dash markings down each cheek and a very squashed nose, to Danser’s eyes she seemed little different from the other humanoids she had met when young. There were hints of small pointed ears protruding through the hair and what appeared to be slightly protruding fangs in the mouth. The last time Danser had met a breed with fangs it had lisped quite badly. Danser felt a desire to return the bow as Zanxi had, but fought it, remembering her status as Captain, others gave protocol to her. Leestrail’s blue eyes sparkled a little in the new light and her face adopted a smile before she spoke in a high shrill beat.
Wincing at the noise, Danser looked upwards, ‘Why is she doing this, Slazna? Does she always talk like this? Is this her normal speech? Did she only skim those files?’
‘It makes sense to me. She is offering greetings. She spoke to me in my native language. One moment, my Captain.’
Slazna began to speak the same language as Leestrail. The intruder stopped and they talked or shrilled together for a few moments.
‘My Captain, this our Lady Leestrail assumed you spoke my own native language when she had nothing else for comparison. She herself informs me to apologise as she will take a few moments to adjust.’
‘Binary language no doubt, my dear Captain,’ Zanxi explained. ‘Comput-speak.’
Danser shrugged, ‘Slazna, have you told her which language she needs to use?’
‘Yes, my Captain. Lady Leestrail informs me that other than minor adjustments in diction, grammar and speed, her own language of Tongues will make it easier to speak to everyone without using any specific language. With my language, it was only the speed that was different.’
‘There are no universal langu….’
‘Forgive me, Captain Danser’, Leestrail interrupted with a soft but oddly golden inflection in her voice, ‘but Tongue is only a language common to myself and presumably my own people whenever I one day shall meet them. I wasn’t sure if you would understand and needed your vocabulary.’
‘You’re using my mother tongue…not unitone!’
‘It sounds like my local dialect as well, my Captain’, Zanxi added, ‘Her own language appears to make sense to anyone listening. Somewhat like the flight deck labels switching between languages for us both as we got here. She…Lady herself Leestrail seems equipped with an in-built ability for universal translation. Most, most remarkable.’
Danser rubbed her hands down her pants, her tentacles wavering in front of her before reaching out and stopping the neural net pole slipping from her shoulder.
‘If Lady Leestrail doesn’t know what she is, my Professor, can you enlighten us both?’
‘Please look up and adjust your posture, good Professor’, urged Leestrail, ‘You will suffer further back problems by continually bowing.’
Zanxi adjusted his glasses, peering up at the smiling Leestrail. ‘I believe she herself is of a rare breed often referred to as ‘Star Lords’ after the first male encountered. It wasn’t until much later that a female was met. Although she was called a ‘Star Lady’, collectively the reference books also calls them ‘Star Angels’.’
‘Slazna, visuals please. Encyclop reference.’
Instantly, on several different floating diagrammatic, identical holopics with the legend ‘Star Angels’ appeared, rotating for closer inspection. Similarities to Leestrail went only as far as a simple robe, blue hair and facial markings.
‘Not close enough to what I’ve got here. She’s probably an amnesiac chameleon breed. A Parmakopk perhaps.’
Leestrail shrugged her shoulders, smiled and then resumed her cross-legged floating, posture examining one of the holopics. ‘I’ve never met a Parmakopk. Do we look alike?’
‘I beg to differ, my Captain. My reference shows that when her breed mates, they leave their spawn on developing planets. It infiltrates the local DNA and upon maturity and cross-breeding with the native species, eons later, a single Star Angel is born. A hybrid with the planet’s key breed. The key sentient species benefits from the cross-fertilisation and then they leave to locate others like themselves.’
‘She could still be a Parmakopk.’
‘Your and our ship’s Slazna confirms the Lady herself Leestrail lives happily in vacuum. She has no need for a vessel like our own but navigates the stars alone. The facial markings identical. She speaks the Tongue. Her majestic aura. We are indeed in the presence of one of the universe’s luckiest talisman. It is a great honour to meet with you, your presence and estimable Lady herself Leestrail.’
Scut! If they all bow and scrape like this around her I’m never going to get any work done.
Leestrail turned and smiled at Zanxi, ‘It is my pleasure to be acquainted with you, too, good Professor. You yourself, Captain. Your ship is the first I’ve encountered so far from home and so near to the…excuse me please, there seems to be a diversification of words here. As much as I’ve enjoyed sampling your atmosphere and information provided, I must be off before I, too, am drawn into the…’
One of Danser’s tentacles held out the neural net and one of Slazna’s servos collected it from her.
‘Wait if you please. Elaborate on your words. We’ve been in Slumber…suspension for some time. If there’s something out there to avoid, try to put it into words…before you go.’
‘My parents would call it a singularity gravity well. A black hole.’
‘Slazna, I need my new pilot immediately. Extreme peril.’
‘This our Lieutenant Body has nearly completed revival treatment, my Captain. I have just alerted him to your need although fail to recognise we ourselves have any flight problem. This should have superseded an intruder alert.’
‘Did this my father buy you with damaged sensors or incomplete memory bases or is this voyage fatigue? Turn on external scanners and reference term: singularity gravity well for comparison.’
Danser turned to the patiently waiting Leestrail, after quickly studying a data diagrammatic’s output, sharply asked, ‘Why didn’t you tell me this before, you yourself Leestrail?’
‘As Slazna points out, she didn’t see it as a danger for your ship. I was curious to see you navigate a singularity but only as an external observer. I’d rather avoid such intense gravity fields. Its time I left before I’m drawn along with you. Have a nice trip.’
‘Excuse please. I presume we haven’t reached the non-return horizon yet? We can still follow you away, yes?’
Leestrail gave a slight frown, disappointed, ‘Isn’t your ship capable of singularity flight? I’ve heard that many breeds do not wish to provide demonstrations of manipulating gravity pressure. Slazna was unhappy to share your vessel’s specification without your permission. I will leave and not look back if you prefer secrecy.’
Leestrail gave a current bow and floated towards the exit. The flight deck seemed suddenly a dull place reflecting her disappointment.
‘The Lady herself recognised your and our anxiety, my Captain’, Zanxi whispered. ‘If there is something wrong and you need her help, you must give her every courtesy. You must be honest with her. She might well stop being an observer and get we ourselves out of here.’
‘Can she do that?’
‘Do we have problems, my Captain?’
‘Yes. We can’t survive here. I’ve never even seen a singularity flight engine.’
‘Then we ourselves have nothing to lose.’
Scut! Always problems! Proboscio preserve my head and tentacles.
‘Wait, Lees…Lady…Lady Leestrail. My our Lady Leestrail. I…er…We’ve been on a long…extended voyage and Slumber. I am forgetting my protocols. We can’t actually do this singularity flight if it exists without some repairs. My father appears not to have had any flight mechanism serviced during flight and we are in severe need of spacedock repairs. Slazna was only following previous instructions. Our normal operation is space-folding, not singularity flight. We may have some problems leaving…’
Leestrail stopped and turned, her feet still defying gravity but giving the appearance she was supported on her own invisible path.
‘Space-folding is something I have yet to see, Captain Danser. You would permit me to observe?’
‘Those, too, after repairs, but we can’t do it so near this gravity well. We need to get some distance from it. Can you help? Please. I’ll give you access to our specs. Anything you like. So that you may continue your exploration of this our ship that is.’
Leestrail’s face lit up with an emotional effect spreading to the entire room of happiness. ‘You would want me to help you? I would be honoured.’
‘That, too. It would be my honour to have you yourself aboard. Would you join us?’
‘I will do what I can, Captain, but we have so little time.’
‘You’d better be right’, Danser whispered to Zanxi, ‘or we’ll all be squeezed to oblivion and beyond.’
The flight deck bright port opened and the lanky form of the pilot entered and wordlessly, he gave a curt bow to Danser and slotted his key arm into the waiting slot, digesting data.
‘We are approaching a singularity. I am placing the Halycon’s Aye into orbit, my Captain’, Lieutenant Body reported. ‘Fortunate to be outside of the no-return orbit. It won’t last long. That was the last of the fuel. There is little else I can do.’
‘But not enough to escape this well’s attention’, Danser added.
‘Instruments record this to be a small gravity well, my Captain.’
‘Any gravity well is too large if we’re close enough to it.’
‘Anything else to be instructed, my Captain?’
Danser nodded her head and Body removed his left key-arm from the slot.
Body shook his large blond quiff and used his right arm to pinch his eyes. His left arm would have been incapable of such actions being composed of rigid cybernetic circuitry. The ultimate starship thief deterrent, only a pilot with a keyed left arm was capable of changing a flight path.
‘Pardon, my Captain, but this our ship possesses severe dysfunction from long term inactivity. This orbit is dependent on correctional thrusts. Will not maintain orbit long.’
‘If my Professor is right, our former intruder Lady Leestrail may have the solution but I myself will listen to your proposals as well. Time is precious.’
Body looked across the flight deck. Leestrail was floated cross-legged by a diagrammatic, intently reading the Halcyon Aye’s design specs. Her left hand was flickering a blue flame out of her fingers as she was contemplating.
‘Star Angels are an omen of good fortune, my Captain,’ Body added.
‘You yourself encountered them before?’
‘No, they are spoken of in legend only, my Captain.’
‘Legends have to prove themselves. What can we do ourselves?’
Body keyed in commands on the monitor with brisk movements. The Halcyon’s Aye’s major design appeared on the screen.
‘Previous Captain space-folded between galaxies but not sufficiently to reach our destination. The Halcyon’s Aye returned to regular space, relying on regular thrust. Gravitational attraction from the well has conserved our fuel according to previous pilot instruction. Proximity to gravity well should have engaged thrusters for course correction.’
‘Slazna said she didn’t recognise any danger and is in need of repair. Is that normal?’
‘Previous Captain’s supervision reduced operating system to minimum for resource conservation during extended flight. Slazna operation would have been slowed by processes. Slazna would not have total memory or sensor access.’
‘And other damage?’
‘Deflection of major space debris maintained. Microscopic damage much greater but no real effect on life support providing you don’t order mass awakening of cargo at this time, my Captain.’
Mass awakening of cargo? Scut! No! That will have to wait. One problem at a time.
Danser looked at Leestrail, a steady blue flame was now issuing from her fingers.
‘Tell me, my Professor. Where in the texts does it say these Star Angels issue flames from their hands? How do they travel shipless between stars? Aren’t they constrained to any conventional physics?’
‘No one’s thought to ask, my Captain’, Zanxi said solemnly, shaking his mane, ‘They are thought of as explorers. They have a fascination for life. Insatiable desire for knowledge. Have helped those with problems. She generates hope.’
Scut! Hope won’t get us away from this well.
‘Hello, Captain. Don’t be afraid to ask me questions directly.’
Danser turned startled. Leestrail was now floating behind her.
How in Proboscio’s name did she…
‘I am neither deaf nor blind.’
‘Very well. Forgive while assessing situation, my Lady. I am a little slower than yourself in gathering knowledge. Come with me. My Lieutenant Body, stay watch. My Professor. I’ll call if I need you yourself. Slazna – table and chairs.’
Danser walked towards the furthest wall as the furniture extended from the floor. She sat on the offered chair. Leestrail tucked her legs under herself and floated beside her.
‘Scut! Can’t you yourself use chairs?’
‘I appear to be incapable of disrupting their harmony, Captain. If this offends…’
‘No offense. Unnerving seeing you defy the gravity harmonisers is all. They are capable of adjusting to your gravity needs. Same with that…that flame. Is this the power source you can offer for propulsion of my vessel?’
Leestrail rubbed her fingers and the single blue flame reappeared, ‘It my essence.’
‘What about your lack of gravity…?’
‘The singularity is small but I do not have the means to defy it within its boundary.’
‘Then we’re lost. You’d better go before you join our fate.’
‘I thought we were going to talk of my solution, Captain.’
‘A solution?! What else? We have nothing to lose. What do you propose, our Lady Leestrail?’
‘Your ship’s Slazna being confirms singularities regurgitate matter that it absorbs. Recovering some of this matter would give the necessary propellant to place your ship beyond the event horizon…non-return horizon.’
Danser shrugged. ‘Had we the matter. My father and last captain’s manifesto says my cargo is sentient. No significant matter.’
‘Not even fuel in any of your space drives?’
‘We are on minimum resources through such a long voyage. My father and Captain must have been insane to think we could transverse between two galaxies.’ Danser paused to think. ‘Are we the only spacecraft here? Is there any other matter that we can direct into the hole?’
Leestrail shook her head. ‘You have a Froite on your hull but there’s nothing else of use. If there was anything else, it wouldn’t need much more matter to trigger a reaction.’
‘What’s a Froite? My Professor Zanxi, your attention here please.’
The elderly scientist adjusted his pincez as he came to the table. ‘What’s a what, my Captain?’
Danser turned to the Star Lady, ‘I assume you don’t know what a Froite is?’
‘That’s what he called himself. I assume because of his size he couldn’t get inside.’
Danser closed her eyes, ‘Not on my inventory, in or out of the ship. What is the Halycon’s Aye becoming? A home for stowaways, present company excepted.’
‘Froites are a bigger myth than Star Angels.’
‘I’ve heard of them, my Captain,’ interrupted Body. ‘They are a hitchhiker race. We’ve been travelling across the void for centuries. Having him there probably ensured we weren’t attacked by anything. He might well have eaten them.’
‘Lucky us,’ Danser said. ‘Can he be of any use getting us or our cargo away from the singularity? How much mass is he?’
‘The Froite’s mass is great but insignificant to our needs’, Slazna noted rotating a diagramatic of the Halcyon’s Aye in the air.
‘Combined with the cargo?’
‘Are you aware of the contents of the cargo, Captain?’ Slazna asked as the diagramatic highlighted the cargo bay area.
‘I was woken into this emergency. I have no idea what my father was doing.’
‘The cargo is sentient. Your father has a family contract to present a selection of ambassadors as representatives to other worlds that we visit while we trade.’
‘Anything else I need to know, Slaxna?’
‘Insufficient mass even if you should decide to break the contract.’
‘Which I wouldn’t do. Family honour and contract. Sink or swim in space forever. So I can’t preserve even this our cargo by leaving it on a planet or orbit. Scut!’ Danser’s tentacles moved in a brief frenzy. ‘How much time have you given us, my Lieutenant Body?’
The pilot examined another data visual that Slazna flicked into the air. ‘By constant recalibrating, my Captain, less than half a day. We lack sufficient fuel to do anything else.’
‘Not enough to spacefold?’
‘We’ve been adrift for too long and now too close to a singularity.’
‘Anything you can offer, my Professor?’
A diagrammatic appeared in front of the aged scientist. ‘Tell me…er…Slazna, the mass of this our spacecraft hasn’t changed. If it’s exact, why isn’t the Lady herself Leestrail’s mass isn’t included?’
‘The Lady Leestrail hasn’t put her feet on any floor yet.’
‘Excuse me, my Lady,’ Danser said slowly, ‘if it isn’t gravitational fields, are you afraid of being contaminated by our floors or you carrying any potential hazard to us?’
‘None of the above, I’m afraid.’ Leestrail said equally gravely. ‘Your gravity compensator would be damaged.’
‘Forgive me, my Lady, but you don’t appear that heavy.’
Leestrail unfolded her legs and raised her skirt hem and placed her big toe on the floor. The entire Halcyon’s Aye tilted and the crew struggled to keep their feet before Leestrail rose off the floor.
‘I’m sure you agree that it would be wise to stay above your walking surface and spare your gravitational fields.’
Danser nodded. ‘Slazna, was that enough to assess our Lady Leestrail’s weight.’
‘Yes, Captain. Our Lady Leestrail only placed a tiny part of her mass on my surface. My extrapolation indicates she is exceeds my mass seven times.’
‘In a humanoid frame?’
Leestrail resumed her folded legs position. ‘I store most of my mass as energy. More compact. Your ship Slazna is out by a factor of eighteen. That was only my toe.’
‘I presume this is what you would use to get away yourself?’
‘It might, but your ship is getting close to the event horizon. I would be expanding my energy resources with nowhere to go.’
‘So it looks like none of us will get out alive.’
‘Singularities suck everything in, my Captain,’ Body added. ‘Then vomit it out again.’
‘I see you weren’t chosen because of your optimism, my Lieutenant.’
‘Are we allowed to be optimistic facing our deaths, my Captain?’
‘I’d rather face death awake than in Slumber.’
‘And the cargo?’
‘What they don’t see won’t harm them.’
‘Let sleeping ambassadors lie.’
‘Nothing to say, my Professor?’ Danser turned to the feline.
‘I am studying the specs for this the Halcyon’s Aye and this our Lieutenant’s description of singularity activity.’ Zanxi turned to Leestrail. ‘Tell me, Lady herself Leestrail, can you discharge your energy into the singularity up to this level?’
He pointed at a figure on the diagrammatic. ‘This much energy would, as our Lieutenant would say, vomit sufficient energy to fill the Aye’s fuel tanks to allow us all to escape.’
‘I can spare more energy than that, Professor, that would allow is to ride the wave out.’
‘Are you sure we’ll be in the right position to collect anything?’ Body asked. ‘We’re not in a geostationary orbit.’
‘A firm prod will get and equal and opposite reaction. We wouldn’t need to be on top of the wave.’
‘As this is my vessel, I presume I have a say in all of this?’ asked Danser. ‘Does this singularity spin? This our Lady Leestrail’s energy would just be spun away before it falls into its depths.’
‘All singularities spin. It’s only the energy frequencies that vary that determines the speed,’ Zanxi said, ‘but…this my Captain has a point. We’re hardly in a situation for this Lady herself Leestrail to project energy into the poles and not know where it is likely to come out.’
‘I might store matter as energy but I do have limits.’ Leestrail said looking up from another data visual. ‘Leaving your vessel now would speed up my own fall into the singularity. I now share your problem, although my mass might draw it closer to us first.’
‘Really?’ Zanxi shook his mane. ‘Forgive me for saying this, Lady herself Leestrail, but I wouldn’t have thought you that massive. You would draw the entire singularity to…?’
Leestrail shook her head. ‘I’m not that massive but things happen inversely in a singularity. It might tendril to get my extra mass. Singularities this isolated in space hunger for any energy sources. Mine just happens to be more than your starship.’
‘Are singularities sentient?’
‘I hope not. But it hungers for large mass and it’s been eating into its own mass hence its small size.’
‘But your leaving us, wouldn’t save us?’ Danser asked.
Leestrail shook her head. ‘We are both too close now. Your pilot hasn’t called out yet but he’s very busy trying to keep us in this orbit.’
‘Tell me, my Lady herself Leestrail,’ Zanxi said slowly. ‘Could this attraction provide a conduit to sending energy in so it vomits back in our direction? That way you would receive your energy back and power our combined escape?’
Leestrail redirected her diagrammatic to the Professor. ‘Thanks to Slazna’s scans, this singularity is old, lost and unstable. My actions could also cause it to explode…or implode. Both of these would not be good for us both.’
‘You’ve been quiet, Slazna,’ Danser called out. ‘Have you nothing to say on this our important matter?’
‘I am in awe of a superior intellect, my Captain,’ the ship replied. ‘Our Lady Leestrail’s assessment is correct. Both methods are precarious.’
‘Would they have the same result?’
‘Only if we stay ahead of the shockwave, my Captain.’
Danser’s tentacles wavered as she stayed in deep thought. ‘Whatever the choice, we could also end up being an appetiser to a singularity. I think we’re all in your hands, my Lady Leestrail. Is there anything we can do to assist you? I am in awe of your abilities, my Lady Leestrail. May Proboscio spare all space-farers with such grace as yourself.’
‘Your kindness over-whelms me, Captain.’
With a curt bow, Leestrail left for the exit airlock.
‘My, she never asked if we were ready,’ Zanxi said, adjusting his spectacles.
‘I don’t think we have enough time, my Professor.’ Danser turned to her pilot. ‘My Lieutenant. I don’t care where we are once outside of this non-return horizon, but widen the distance between us ourselves and the singularity with any fuel reserve.’
‘And the Star Lady, my Captain?’
‘She’s probably faster than us.’
‘She may also treat us as hostile if we leave her behind.’
‘Slazna, comfort platforms for us all on this wall. Bring Body’s auxiliary control here as well. Express diagrammatic so we can observe this our Lady Lesstrail’s actions. Orientate gravity fields. I have no desire for anyone to collide with the opposite wall.’
‘As you wish, my Captain,’ Slazna replied, reabsorbing the table and chairs and protruding padded comfort platforms on the wall for its crew. ‘Please remember we still need repairs. I am diverting energy from some sub-systems to implement these actions.’
‘Slazna, if you do not do such things, I doubt if we will have anything left to repair.’
‘As you wish, my Captain. Will maintain hull integrity. I will also prevent sight blindness and scale.’
‘I’m just glad none of us have had time to eat, my Captain,’ Body commented, placing his left arm key into the auxiliary box as it slid into place and locked.
Scut! Blindness? From a singularity?! Scale?!
The diagrammatic from black to a point of light which expanded. In the centre was a woman. The data by the side indicating that Leestrail was growing in size and Slazna was keeping up with the scale and they tried to pull away from the singularity. The light grade was staying within optical grades or they wouldn’t even see her within the glare.
‘What is she doing, my Professor?’
‘Making herself a bigger target to attract the singularity, my Captain. It would also appear that our Lady herself Leestrail is unleashing her full energy matrix.’
‘Scut! She’s huge.’
‘She compresses her matrix to conserve her energy and why her mass is so huge. ’
‘Is this what these Star Angels normally look like?’
‘I have absolutely no idea. You, Slazna, is it? Do you have any knowledge on this subject?’
‘No more than you on this our subject, my Professor. The trade in this information may find collaboration later.’
‘We are a trading vessel, you my Professor.’ Danser added. ‘Anything to keep us in credit and repair.’
Zanxi struggled to reach his glasses and decided they would have to stay where they were on his snout.
‘The singularity is reacting, my Captain,’ Slazna reported. ‘Our Lady Leestrail has admirable patience or nerve. She risks having all of her mass being absorbed.’
‘I wonder what other senses she employs,’ Zanxi mused.
Suddenly, strands of the singularity began to reach out towards Leestrail and there was a white flash, so powerful that Slazna failed to dampen on the diagrammatic. Automatically, she darkened the room, allowing the various crew’s eyes to adjust back to normal.
On the diagrammatic, Leestrail’s size was diminishing as she directed her energy mass at the singularity which sucked it in.
‘The singularity is shrinking, not expanding,’ Slazna reported.
‘Which means, my Professor?’
‘It will expand as well as discharge matter, my Captain. We could be absorbed.’
‘Scut! All we can do is witness and record.’
Leestrail suddenly stopped and remained floating there.’
‘I presume Leestrail is doing something to prevent herself being drawn in?’
‘Assuredly, my Captain. She carries the strain well considering such a mass loss.’
‘How much, Slazna?’
‘Approximately three-quarters of the body mass recorded on the Halcyon’s Aye, my Captain. Our Lady Leestrail would appear much smaller had she lost more mass.’
‘So why are we waiting for anything to happen?’ Danser said impatiently. ‘How long does it take for a singularity to get sick?’
‘I am receiving a message from this our Lady Leestrail. She asks this our Lieutenant Body to orientate this our ship to the singularity and full ignite the motors.’
‘That will leave us with no fuel, my Captain,’ Body reported.
‘It isn’t much good to us where we are, my Lieutenant. She must know something we don’t from reading our specs.’
‘It’s dirtying the water, my Captain,’ Zanxi explained. ‘Would you want our crude fuel compared to this our Lady Leestrail’s fine energy.’
‘Are you saying singularities are sentient as well now?’
Zanxi shrugged. ‘Singularities absorb energy.’
‘We have a reaction,’ Slazna reported.
‘To whom? Us or the Lady…’
‘Sorry, my Captain. It is for us both. Discharge. High neutrino content.’
‘What? Oh scut!’
The singularity briefly lit up as it pushed out some matter. The diagrammatics went off-line from over-load as the Halcyon’s Aye was swept along in its wake.
‘Slazna. Express visual port.’
The AI didn’t respond but part of the wall in front of the crew went from opaque to transparent for all the good that it did. There was only black and then flashes of light passed them. A thudding vibrated throughout the ship.
‘What’s happening, my Lieutenant?’
‘We are not going faster than the blast, my Captain.’
‘Help Slazna re-establish the diagrammatics. Where is our Lady Leestrail?’
Outside, Leestrail was coming up behind them. An arm reached out from the Halycon’s Aye to reach for her as the diagrammatic flicked on. Leestrail held the arm briefly before dropping down to the hull. Suddenly, the starship was accelerating faster than the energy wave.
Danser inspected the diagrammatic statistics. ‘We aren’t designed for this velocity.’
‘Hull integrity is stable, my Captain,’ Slazna reported. ‘Our Lady Leestrail is doing more than holding onto my body. We appear to be sharing her integrity.’
‘Very well. My Lieutenant, try to tap into this singularity energy and feed it into the fuel tanks.’
‘It is only ionized energy, not matter, my Captain.’
Danser’s tentacles moved in a frenzy. ‘Processing. Expose the reactor vents, let the energy feed into the reactor. Let’s see if it can re-activate what little radioactivity it has left.’
‘Yes, my Captain. I bow to this your knowledge of our ship.’
‘It’s acquired knowledge from my symbiote, my Lieutenant. Without it, I would know even less than you at this time. Monitor the rods, Slazna. I have no desire for us to explode. Have you anything to report, my Professor?’
Zanxi looked up from his diagrammatic. ‘The singularity hasn’t begun to draw anything back in yet. We might be lucky to escape its clutches.’
‘And if we are not?’
‘Then it will draw us back faster than the velocity this our Lady herself Leestrail is currently dragging us along.’
‘Monitor its energy outputs, my Professor. Slazna, can you communicate this information to our Lady Leestrail?’
‘She is near a sensory node, my Captain,’ Slazna reported. ‘Linking in. Expressing greetings.’
‘Custom for people outside ship, my Captain.’
‘Can I talk to her?’
‘My Lady Leestrail, this is Danser. The singularity is not reacting as discussed. We aren’t picking up enough potential fuel.’
‘The singularity was more fragile than anticipated, Danser. We need to escape on this preliminary wave before it explodes. May we continue?’
‘Please. It would be desirable. Is there anything we can assist you with?’
Danser turned to Zanxi. ‘Is that an instruction? How does she speak in a vacuum? Is that something that is Star Angel stuff?’
‘I believe, my Captain, that she reaches into the brain and touches the language centre.’
‘A brain speaker in other words?’
‘Vaguely, although I hadn’t experienced it until now.’
‘Does she mean we should hold on to our comfort platforms?’
‘Our Lady Leestrail is extending her energy field,’ Slazna reported. ‘She is shielding us from something.’
Body raised another diagrammatic. ‘The singularity is shrinking, my Captain.’
‘And that means?’
‘It will also explode.’
‘Scut! I take it our Lady knows this?’
‘Confirmed,’ Slazna repeated. ‘She is accessing and confirming all our data. She says we are about to witness a singularity’s death. I have been asked to orientate the Halcyon’s Aye to offer maximum protection.’
Danser’s tentacles wrangled again. ‘Do so, we have no such protection. Our two main proboscises are likely to be damaged. How can she be talking to you so fast?’
‘Binary code. I am to channel the energy wave into our fuel tanks and for Lieutenant Body to prepare to space fold.’
‘To where, my Captain?’
‘Anywhere but here but target the nearest galaxy. I would prefer to have somewhere we can initiate trade and repair.’
‘Only when we have sufficient energy, my Captain. We are still riding the wave.’
‘I have a feeling we’ll be on top of an even bigger wave shortly. How will that affect us, my Professor?’
‘Unlike the singularity discharge which came our way, my Captain, this will be a discharge in all directions and much more powerful. It is likely to be more dangerous and our chances of survival isn’t great.’
‘…even with our Lady Leestrail’s energy shield?’
‘She might only be guessing at her own capabilities. After all, she herself admitted she’s never been in this situation before.’
‘Neither have we and,’ Danser paused as her tentacles wiggled, ‘nor, it appears, anyone else that has survived. I presume, Slazna, you’re absorbing most of the shockwaves at present.’
‘Yes, my Captain, but at the cost of limiting resources elsewhere. A more active crew and cargo might have produced extensive problems.’
The diagrammatic in front of Danser flipped visuals towards the singularity. Where there had been absolute darkness before, now there were white sparks showing through.
‘I take it, my Professor, that those aren’t stars?’
‘No, my Captain. Distant galaxies. We are really out in the void.’
‘Our Lady Leestrail is accelerating faster than the Aye’s own maximum velocity,’ Body reported.
‘Is that enough?’
Suddenly, the diagramatics went white.’
‘We appear to be travelling faster than our Lady Leestrail’s fastest acceleration,’ Body continued to report. ‘We are on the explosive wave.’
‘Slazna. Request our Lady Leestrail to board the Aye and this Froite into a suitable cargo hold that can take its mass. I don’t want anything flying off when we fold space.’
‘As you wish, my Captain. The Froite’s size is the problem but have passed a message to our Lady so he docks his self on the keel…’
Scut! How big is it?
‘…this will, of course, actually protect our organic cargo, my Captain.’
‘Very well,’ Danser turned to Body. ‘I presume we’re getting some positive matter now?’
‘Yes, my Captain. I myself am concerned that space-folding blind at this velocity that we should accelerate into a star.’
‘If we stay here, this final blast will destroy us. We’ll have to take our chances with where we end up. We may not even enter the nearest galaxy.’
‘We ourselves won’t have enough energy to space-fold again, my Captain.’
‘Then it’ll be Slumber for all of us again. You are ordered to use your judgement when to fold, my Lieutenant.’
‘Yes, my Captain.’
Leestrail literally flew into the cabin before stopping in front of them.
‘You seem bigger than the last time you were here, this my great Lady Leestrail,’ Xanzi offered.
Leestrail suddenly reduced her size again.
‘I was distracted. Hello, Professor, Captain and Lieutenant. To maintain the velocity of your ship, I need to place my feet on the forward wall.’
‘Has your weight been reduced that much, my Lady?’ asked Danser.
‘I will keep it to my toenails. Your computer Slazna says you are about to space-fold. Will our velocity affect this?’
‘Only when we arrive, this my Lady,’ announced Body. ‘We have no desire to speed through a star.’
‘Slazna, let me have access to your navigating system. I’ll assist.’
‘Do it, Slazna. Captain’s discretion.’
‘Of course, my Captain.’
‘Fuel optimal,’ Body reported. ‘Singularity wave approaching. Space-folding now.’
One moment, the Halcyon’s Aye was there.
The next it wasn’t.
In its wake, a blast of white light.
Moments later, the Halcyon’s Aye was accelerating with stars all around it.
‘We’re in a galaxy,’ Body reported. ‘We’ve also brought the singularity wave with us.’
‘Not all of it,’ muttered Leestrail.
‘We are heading towards a star, my Lady Leestrail,’ Slazna reported.
‘Your space-folding depends on mass, doesn’t it?’
‘It helps,’ Danser said.
‘We’re going in the right direction.’
‘Can we space-fold again, my Lieutenant?’
‘I’m still collecting energy, my Captain.’
‘We are still in your hands, my Lady Leestrai…’
‘Velocity is increasing.’
Slazna automatically reduced the glare from the diagrammatics.
The Halcyon’s Aye suddenly veered to one side as Leestrail’s toes dug into the wall as the singularity wave continued on into the star.
‘Orbit established around this star, my Captain,’ Body reported.
Leestrail moved away from the wall. ‘Slazna? Lieutenant? Can you achieve a geostationary orbit without my help?’
‘The star is going to regurgitate some of that new mass it’s acquired. Singularities aren’t alone with doing this.’
Danser’s symbiote tentacles wriggled again, calling up information. ‘We’ve never heard that happen.’
‘How many times has singularity energy been directed at a regular star?’
‘I take your point. Aren’t we going to be in the middle of another wave?’
Leestrail nodded. ‘We will have to accelerate once this star has absorbed the energy.’
‘Slazna. Consult electro-magnetic frequencies. Are there any sentient species in this star system? Any civilisations that need to be warned?’
‘Checking. Negative, my Captain. However, we might instigate a genesis by our actions.’
‘My Lieutenant, we’re going to have to space-fold again. Start accelerating and let’s hope we can absorb enough energy to do it again. You approve of this action, my Lady Leestrail.’
‘Only as the star completes absorbing or we’ll be pulled in with it.’
Danser groaned. ‘Slazna, ship integrity?’
‘Satisfactory. We are being supported by our gracious Lady Leestrail.’
‘Let’s get some space from this star. Its mass will distort where we fold to. We are no longer between galaxies.’
‘So you have no control using this device?’ Leestrail asked.
‘Not when we don’t know where we are or where we’re supposed to be going. Space-folding is normally used to reduce distance in one direction only.’
Leestrail shrugged. ‘I’ll provide Slazna some of my knowledge.’
‘This is your galaxy, my Lady Leestrail?’
‘I recognise some constellations but we’re at the far end of a spiral that I only passed through briefly.’
‘Star is reacting,’ Body reported.
The diagrammatics displayed various data before being superseded by visuals of the star as it produced a flare.
‘We’re caught in another wave.’
‘Can we absorb energy from it, my Lieutenant?’
‘We won’t have any choice.’
‘Space-fold when you can.’
‘This is fun, Danser. I’m surprised you don’t do this more?’
‘It requires a lot of energy, my Lady Leestrail, we generally only employ it for short hops between stars to stay within relative time when we’re trading.’
‘We’re going to need a lot of repairs when we stop, my Captain,’ Body called out. ‘Preparing to fold.’
One second the star was behind them.
Then it was distant.
Then a mere speck,
Suddenly, they were approaching a planet.
‘That wasn’t smooth, my Captain,’ Zanxi noted.
‘All engines need repair, my Captain,’ Body spoke up. ‘Confirm, Slazna.’
‘Confirmed, my Lieutenant. I can make use of mineral deposits to commit to rebuilding damage.’
‘Achieve orbit or we won’t be able to do anything.’
‘That might be a problem, my Captain.’
Leestrail studied the diagrammatic in front of her, gave a shrill noise and then tilted down, touching her toes on the floor, before gently rotating and touching ceiling and far wall one after the other before running her toes up the fore wall where she first made her toe impression the first time.
‘Orientation complete. Can now achieve orbit with a debt owed to my Lady Leestrail,’ Slazna reported.
‘Do so, my Lieutenant. Scan planet, Slazna. Signs of life, metallic ores and anything else that we can use for repairs and trade.’
The diagrammatics spewed up various data. ‘We have life, my Captain, and as per contract, have begun to revive a representative sample of the cargo ambassadors.’
‘We have no idea that they are hostile or not. Return them to Slumber.’
‘Unable to delay, my Captain. Contract’
‘Scut! When am I going to be taking full command of this our ship?’ Danser moaned. ‘Prepare habitat, Slazna. We have some welcoming to do.’
© GF Willmetts 2012
Captain Danser of the family Brashandi,
Lieutenant Body, Professor Zanxi,
Lady Leestrail Lampoire, Slazna and Froite
All rights reserved
NB Back in 1984, I was planning this storyline for a potential comicstrip and made some illustrations of the lead characters. Now I’ve resolved the plot ending for the opening story, I thought it would be appropriate to show how I originally envisaged them.