#30days30authors I should have posted this hours ago, but I’m trying to make a deadline. Here’s an excerpt from my hard sci-fi project!
“I can’t believe we’re finally decelerating!” Bianca sighed over morning coffee in the lounge. Over the course of the three year journey this had become a regular custom for the crew.
“It seems like it’s been forever!” Albus said. He hardly looked more grown now than he had when he’d boarded the ship. If anything, the careless toss of his unattended hair, which he rarely cut, enhanced that impression. Or perhaps it was his youthful enthusiasm. To Terra’s eyes he had spent most of his time playing vidgames; though he did manage to rig up some system that allowed the lounge windows to double as display screens, showing what should be visible outside, were they not blasting along at thousands of kilometers an hour. Terra knew the gesture was primarily for her and she was grateful. The past couple of weeks, a vast, sparkling debris field was coming into view, mostly visible against the endless night as winking planetoids reflecting the light from the Cerberus. The Sun out here was nothing more than a bright star in a dark sea, somewhere in the middle of the squashed shape of Sagittarius. The massive blue globe that was Neptune seemed like an hole in the starfield about the size of a fingerprint.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Terra disagreed, “but I do know that I’ve just about completed my thesis.” She had decided to advance her studies while she was travelling, and found the luxury-liner-cum-exploration-vessel to be the almost perfect environment to pursue higher learning. It took 113 days for the lidar transmitter to send a signal to and from Earth at this point, so she had to get a proctor for her exams, but Ororo had helped with that. Over the course of the journey the older woman was growing on her and she was looking forward to working with her in the lab more than their current twice a week.
Alex shook their head over their transparent screenboard, which, Terra could see from the underside, was displaying a classic Asimov novel. Terra cocked her head to try and make out which one. “I still don’t understand why you chose to study Theology though!” Phantom, who had taken a shine to Alex, batted playfully at the board in a bid for attention. Alex tisked at him, but scratched his ears anyway. His rumbling purr resounded through the lounge.
How to articulate that? She supposed ultimately it was because she was trying to understand her father in a way that she hadn’t succeed at while he was still alive. He was Khalsa, a baptized Sikh, and faith had been a very important subject in Terra’s house growing up. Faith had possibly been one of the most influential factors in her selection of spouse. So much of her work was grounded in the tangible, the measurable. Maybe she just needed to distract herself with the ephemeral for a while. She shrugged. “Just wanted to do something different, I guess.”
Olu, not for the first time, reached out to try to pat Phantom, but he flattened his ears and growled. Just as mysterious as his affinity for Alex was the immediate antipathy to the ex-Nigerian Special Forces soldier that he had demonstrated, and it had not abated one little bit. Olu’s face fell and he moved his hand away, rejected.
Douglas strode in with a lilt in his step. “We’re two weeks out now,” he announced in a cheery tone. His coffee bulb had the black crescent moon logo of Erebus on it. So did Albus’, Bianca’s and the Commander’s, but that was probably because they hadn’t cared enough to replace it with one of their own. Terra’s was an image of a koala, which she’d purchased in support of eucalyptus conservation efforts. Ororo’s showed an ornate design that resembled the features of the Blue Mosque; she’d bought it to support their restoration project. Alex displayed a pink and purple nebula. Leah drank loose-leaf tea in a press-bulb instead.
“Are we getting anything from the instruments yet?” Albus asked with bright eyes.
“Sounds.” Douglas nodded.
He sat up, his vidgame forgotten. “Sounds? What sounds?”
“Noisy electromagnetic vibrations,” he explained in a matter-of-fact tone. This was clearly of no interest to him. “The normal vibrations of objects in the void.” Terra knew this was a phenomenon; when the Voyager spacecraft had first ventured out into in the system, it had been discovered that contrary to popular belief, there was sound in space – or would have been, if there had been any atmosphere to resonate with the electromagnetic vibrations that celestial objects emitted. The craft had recorded many such noises, and subsequent explorations recorded even more of them. They usually sounded like wind, singing bowls, or the vibrations of crystal glasses.
But that could be significant. “How noisy?” she asked. Strong electromagnetic pulses could give them a clue as to the primary elements that formed the Cloud’s composition.
“Yeah; as in, more noisy than usual?” Albus threw in.
“Well, yes. Yes, they’re more noisy than usual. And there’s a lot of them. That we expected, but… well, did you want to hear them?”
“Yes please,” said Terra as Albus nodded.
After a command to his ear-node, the sounds of the void came streaming through theirs. Terra winced. It was quite noisy, and it seemed they were getting all three variations – wind, singing bowls, crystal glasses, even rain-like sounds, bells and clicks and whistles – all at once. She cast a dirty look at him and the pilot pretended to be mystified, but the corner of his mouth twitched. The bastard was always doing petty annoying things like that. Terra was reminded of the last couple of years of her marriage and conscious of the active antipathy she had developed for her husband – and now Douglas – because of that nonsense. “Down volume, please,” she commanded serenely, and the vibration in her eardrums quit. Now she could differentiate between some of the noises, and the intervals at which they sounded.
“I have some music files that sound like that,” Leah said. Terra smiled. That didn’t surprise her; they shared an interest in things spiritual and had begun a morning meditation practice together.
“That’s pretty,” Ororo observed after a moment or two, her eyes closed and a blissful smile curving the line of her mouth. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that before. You say this is normal?”
“Oh yes!” Albus told her with bright squirrel eyes. “Those sounds might indicate anything from magnetosphere to chemical compositions to gravitational events between planets.” He leaped out of his chair and downed the rest of his coffee. Phantom flattened his ears and shrunk back at the abruptness of the movement. “I’m going to pump that feed into my personal lab so that I can analyze it.” He made a grab for his screenboard, missed, grabbed again, and hurried off.
Terra got up as well. “I think I’m going to run some tests too. I’m off to my lab if you need me, guys.” She decided against downing that much caffeine at once. After almost four years she still wasn’t that accustomed to it. Instead she took it with her. “You coming, Fat-Cat?”
Phantom declined by yawning and stretching his body into his best imitation of a sphinx. His purr never lost a beat.
“Sucky cat,” she teased affectionately.
“We’re fine,” Alex reassured her. “Aren’t we, puss?” The cat leaned into the long, tapered fingers rubbing at his head and arched his spine.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Diane Morrison