I’m really late with this. I’ve been up to my elbows in housework and I still have a ways to go until it’s all done. The next few days will be a little shaky around the blog as I’ll be focused on family life and traveling. I don’t really have an update on this – I’m stalled at the midpoint because life crops up and takes more time than you plan. Plus, I didn’t have a desk for a couple of days this week. It’s been… interesting. I’d started out this summer with high hopes of writing two novels, I will be happy if I can finish this one. More self discipline, I guess.
As always, this is a snippet. All rights remain with me, you may freely share the post, but the content is mine. This is a rough draft. There will be errors, typos, and other issues. There may be significant changes before publication.
Chapter 2: Altressa
The week went by without any passage of time at all, it seemed to Jem when his alarm went off, reminding him to button down the ship and prepare for hyperspace. Between housebreaking the puppy, teaching it unsuccessfully to sleep by itself, which led to it sleeping with Jem every night, and his usual work, the man had no time to think straight for days. Now, he put the pup in the crate, steeling himself to ignore the crying, and walked through his checklist to secure all cargo and loose items for the transition.
As long as he was in the cargo holds, he couldn’t hear the howls, but when he got back to the living quarters he had a twinge of conscience. The transition to hyperspace was rough on him, and any other human who went through it, but the puppy couldn’t be warned what was coming. Jem got him out of the crate, put him on the pads for a minute, and then strapped himself into the bridge control chair, cuddling the pup in his arms. Oblivious to his preparations, the little dog concerned himself with licking Jem’s chin and neck.
The countdown clock on the board hit zero, and Jem braced himself. Walter used to say transition was like being turned inside out through all your orifices, and Jem couldn’t debate that, although he wasn’t sure what an orifice was the first time he heard Walter say that. Once it was over, they would occupy their very own time/space bubble until the carefully calculated course took them back to an intersection with real space.
It was uncomfortable, yes, but reliable. He’d never really considered what would happen should the whole thing go wrong. It didn’t all go wrong this transition, either. Just… the puppy didn’t like it.
Well, ok, the puppy hated it with every fiber of its little being. That little being that held more matter than Jem had ever dreamed possible, which it was losing at both ends as quickly as it could void it. Jem yelped in dismay, then added his own contribution, as the transition and the sudden smells and sounds overwhelmed him.
It was while he was cleaning up the mingled vomit and other bodily ejecta that Jem realized he would have to devote a stasis box to his new little friend every time they made transition. He simply couldn’t have this happen during a time when he needed to watch the board. There was little enough, Walter had explained, you could do when everything redlined. But you could hit the kill switch and drop back to realspace. Jem had never had to do this, even though he had been drilled in it many times.
The puppy was huddled under the bridge chair, shivering and panting. Jem wasn’t angry at him. Little fellow looked sick and sad. He knew he’d made a mess and he didn’t like it any better than the human did.
“C’mon, then.” They could both use a drink, and the computers would fly the course he’d set.
In the galley, the puppy lapped gratefully and Jem rubbed him all over with a damp cleaner towel to remove the crusted gunk. A shower for himself or a bath for the pup were impractical. They wouldn’t have a lot of water until they got to Altressa. The cleaner towels were pretty nifty, they removed dirt and some bacteria. Walter had explained, and later, Jem had looked it up. They were alive, like moss (Walter had shown him that on one trip planetside, back when Jem was still scared of sky) and they lived off the nutrients of, oh, dead skin and the like.
Not as satisfying as a shower, but Jem hadn’t had one of those until Walter had taken him on. Before that… Jem caressed the puppy’s silky ears and the dog responded by licking his hands. Jem tried not to think about it. His childhood was the past, and you didn’t look back.
“Look forward, keep moving. No regrets.” Jem told the puppy this firmly, but he didn’t mean the accident in the bridge. The puppy wiggled all over as his tail signaled his joy. Jem put the cleaner towel back in the special damp pouch and sealed it for later. It would smell fresh when he needed it again.
“Altressa,” he told the puppy while he was getting food. Now that he couldn’t smell the vomit, he was hungry again. “Altressa is a rich world, and that means good pickings, if I’m careful. Walter was always careful here. Y’see rich worlds can afford lots of laws.”
He put a plate of food down for the pup, who started to chase it around the floor, his nose pushing it while his mouth was busy. Jem laughed at him. Life was better with the pup in it. Less lonely with someone to talk to. Walter hadn’t been one to talk much, and Jem had learned to listen when he did. But he was gone now.
They had another five days in transit, before the computers chimed. Jem sat in the bridge chair, alone, his eyes intent on the board. The pup was in stasis, frozen in the crystal-clear substance humans had learned to make from an alien race. Jem wasn’t even sure which one. There was more, he had learned, to know that he could possibly absorb in a lifetime.
At the moment, he was stubbornly holding his eyes open while his body shuddered with the transition. Seasick must feel this way. He’d never been to sea, and thought that he never would, but he’d read…
The ship lurched one last time, and then settled smoothly into the silence of space. Jem sighed. He hadn’t thrown up this time, and the board was all green but for the single amber indicator that was his fuel. Time to gas up on this trip. Walter had had to explain that one, too. “Gas,” he’d said, tapping the light with a blunt fingertip, “Used to be the currency of nations, lad. Still is, on a few primitive worlds. Course, you have to be rich to live on a primitive world.” He’d held up that same finger, cautioning his protégé “Have to be even richer to rely on only the sun or the wind, boy. Remember that.”
The poor, Jem had learned, lived on fusion, and the really poor… he flinched away from that thought. It was enough to know he needed to take on reactants here. Not much. Altressa was a rich world, and looked down on that sort of thing, so of course they made it expensive. He’d fill up at the next stop. Tas was a special place, and he’d be able to afford it if the lizards and the woolies went over well here.