Friday, November 26, 2010

Chapter 44 - DIVERTING DISASTER

I rose to return to my seat and saw Colin coming out of the bathroom, and then there was an explosion. The gravity plating ceased to function and the engines that had become so much a part of our lives that they had ceased to exist for us, suddenly went silent. All I remember at the time was total pandemonium. People were screaming. The stewards were trying to restore order but were having little success. I had to get upstairs. I had no idea why, but I knew I just had to go.

I yelled at Colin over the ruckus. “Colin, help get these people back into their seat. You’re good at this. I’m counting on you.” I don’t know why I said that, but it seemed to galvanize him into action. I kicked off toward the stairs with somewhat less grace.

My mother snagged my arm. “Where are you going? You have to buckle into your seat before we slow down any further.”

Her grip sent us both careening out of control in off the wall directions (literally). Colin caught my mother and propelled her safely into her seat and then caught a child and headed in another direction with it. I didn’t catch what he said but I heard the kid giggle.

With an utterly graceless bounce off the ceiling and then the wall, I managed to find the stairs and head up to the first class level. The stewards were having less luck here. Everyone was shouting over each other, demanding an explanation immediately. The stewards had no answers to offer so the passengers continued to yell. Very few of them were willing to do as the stewards were telling them.

I continued past this floor and on up to the operations deck unhindered and unnoticed. Huddled in a corner near the door to the cockpit, was a young officer. I knelt down by him and asked, “What happened here?” When he didn’t answer, I shook one of his shoulders and asked again.

Finally, after a light slap on the face he took notice of me. “What did you say?” Then he realized that I had to be one of the passengers. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to help,” I said. “Tell me what happened. Tell me why you’re out here like this.”

He looked around and then began to shake. “I . . . I just had to go to the head. I was only gone a couple minutes. I should have been in there too.”

I could see that, if I wanted any further information, I couldn’t let him dwell on this much longer. “What happened in there?” I asked again and I shook his shoulders to encourage him to answer. I knew there must be some way I could use my magic to help calm him, but I didn’t know how to do that.

“We must have hit an asteroid or something,” he said in a very small voice. He pointed to a red light over the door. “There was an explosive decompression. The cockpit is compromised. Hell it might not even be there anymore,” he continued.

“We need to get in there. We need to regain control of this ship, to send out a distress call, to . . . .” I wanted to tell him that I intended to fix what I could, but he wouldn’t believe that. Sometimes I hate being a kid.

He looked up at the red light again. “We need to get in there, you’re right.” He stood up and opened up a small panel beside the door. After he flipped some switches, I felt some motor in the wall come to life. “Yes, the airlock works.” He turned to the wall he had been huddled against and started to open cabinets.

In those cabinets were pressure suits for the flight crew. Finding what he was looking for, he passed one of them to me. It had ‘Lisa’ on the chest. “It’s the pilot’s suit. I think it’ll fit you well enough.”

I felt uncomfortable putting on something that belonged to someone who was so recently dead, but it was the most logical thing to do. I probably didn’t need it, but to spend magic unnecessarily would be foolish.

Climbing into a space suit in zero gravity was an interesting task, but amazingly enough I only took a couple minutes longer than he did. I put myself into a somersault in the process, but he caught me and helped me finish sealing up the suit and turning on the air.

After we got through the airlock, I could see the extent of the damage. Something had punched through the glass that made up the ‘windshield’ and smashed a good deal of the consoles in the center of the room. Where it went from there, I don’t know. It was like a bullet the size of a cannon ball had been through here and everything that had been torn loose or wasn’t bolted down had been sucked out of the compromised windshield. Obviously, the crew hadn’t been buckled in. Frankly, I didn’t look at that hole very closely. I might have to deal with it later, but I’d put it off as long as possible. Right now, we needed engines, navigation and communications.

“Buckle up,” said the crewman; I didn’t know his name yet. “We’re going to be dropping out of F.T.L. soon.” He was buckling himself into a chair and flipping switches at the same time.

I found a seat that was closest to the destruction and buckled in as well. The fact that the straps were in tact, confirmed that its previous occupant hadn’t been buckled in before . . . .

“That’s the pilot’s seat. You think you can fly this thing?” said my companion.

Of course, I couldn’t fly this thing, but I was confident that I could make it do whatever we needed it to do.

He was madly flipping switches. “Damn, I can’t get anything to work.”

I reached my hands out, touched the closest consoles and closed my eyes. A search of the chaos between him and me revealed that there was indeed chaos. I saw nothing but scrambled remnants of billions of wires and twisted remnants of the brackets that used to hold everything in place. All of that ‘everything’ had been sucked out of the sizable hole in front of me. I couldn’t fix this. I didn’t have a clue where to start.

Instead, I began to identify systems that were still intact but cut off from any power source or control. I found a system that had been a way for the crew to look in on the cabins below us and used it to do just that. The people in the common cabin were all strapped into their seats and looking scared. The first class wasn’t nearly so well organized. Only about half of them were sitting in their seats, glowering.

I found the announcement system and used it to magnify my voice. “May I have your attention please?” I said and then had to repeat the request two more times before getting some sort of response. I couldn’t hear anything they were saying, but I wasn’t too interested in that.

“This is an emergency. This is not a drill. This is an emergency. Everyone must prepare for an unplanned reduction in speed at any moment. Return to your seats and buckle your seat belts immediately. Stewards, you will buckle yourselves in now.” I watched the stewards cease to argue with the passengers and go directly to their seats. I was relieved. I needed them to be safe so that they could manage the chaos that would be sure to come.

“What did you say?” asked my companion, but I was immersed in the workings of this ship and I barely heard him. I found how to turn on the gravity plating but opted not to, because with gravity restored, I feared that more people would feel confident enough to leave their seats and harass the stewards.

I found the life support system and was relieved to see that it was automated aft and had been undamaged. Then I found what looked like a safety system and a force field went across the hole in the windshield. Atmosphere began to equalize and I could hear my companion cheer that something worked.

I found a count down to sub-light and broadcast it into the first class cabin. That worked better than anything else had so far, but they were obviously a stubborn lot. Then I found the navigation system and heard another cheer from my companion once again, but the sound turned disappointed since I couldn’t do anything with it.

As I immersed myself deeper and deeper into the workings of the ship, my external awareness of myself got dimmer, with the small exception of the voice of my companion. I needed him to tell me what to do.

Then it occurred to me, in my diversified mind, that I needed to tell him that. I had no more than toyed with that idea when we had slowed enough to drop into sup-light speed. The wrenching compression was just the opposite of when we moved into faster than light speed, but I was so distracted that I barely noticed anything other than the way everything felt sluggish and heavy now.

“Now what do we do?” I asked, feeling as if my words were coming out too slow.

“Now we have to send out a distress signal and figure out a way to stop this thing,” he replied.

‘Stop this thing. I think I can do that.’ Motion in space is relative to surrounding objects. I sent magical feelers out to a number of those objects then I located the control circuits. Fortunately, most of those controls were located in front of me and had escaped the destruction on my left. I located the retro jets and set to firing them at measured intervals. My goal was to match our speed with those far away objects until there was no difference between their motion and our motion. While I struggled with this, I started calling across the radio waves using the frequency supplied by the ship’s computer.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Chapter 43 - UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH

There is an old expression I’ve heard from time to time that says ‘my, how time flies when you’re having fun’. I was reminded of the passage of time though, when I overheard my mother asking Colin, “Have you spoken to your father? I’m sure he would love to hear about your progress.”

“Father doesn’t know where I am and I can’t tell him,” replied Colin. “You see the lieutenant governor was going to have me arrested for that last fight. There aren’t any jails on space stations or asteroids; it was a death sentence for someone like me. Liam said he thought he could help me. What could I lose by trying? I never would have imagined doing what I’m doing now, and I really want to thank you people for lending me something to wear. Anyway, if I call father; he’ll have to turn me in.”

That was really something; the only people in our ‘family’ who weren’t wanted by the authorities were Pip and Georgy. Course if anyone discovered that they were with us, they could be added to the list easily enough.

I had been putting off telling Colin what I had been doing to him. I just didn’t know how to do it. I liked him a lot and I didn’t want to scare him away, but he was starting to think it was some miracle and I couldn’t let him believe that.

Finally, the day came when Colin asked me what it was that I had done and I couldn’t put it off any longer. He weighed twice as much now than he had when I first met him. He knew that the gravity plating was normal for this ship and I think he suspected that it had never been lightened for him as I said it had. Perhaps they would have if he were a first class passenger. Maybe, if they thought he really was my mom’s son and if they knew who she really was, but no. He thought it had to be something I was putting in his food. By coincidence, I was always handing him his food.

We were just finishing our daily sparring match one day when he said, “It feels so wonderful to be taxing my muscles and know that it’s not just to breathe or walk across the room. What did you do to me? You said you thought you could help me and I’m much stronger than I ever thought I would be, I can see it in the mirror, so what did you do, slip something into my food?”

“No, Colin, its nothing in your food. If there was something that could be added to your food, don’t you think at least one of those doctors your father took you to would know about it?” The three of us went to the bathroom and I locked the door. “Colin, I’ve told you a little about myself. You remember me talking about the planet where my parents had been stationed and how I had remained there after they left.”

“Yeah, I remember. It sounded like a cool place. I’d like to visit it someday.”

“I was forced to stay because I had to learn how to control my magic.” I made an apple and handed it to him. He’d never seen an apple before, but that wasn’t why he stood there, gape mouthed.

Georgy watched in fascination too. He knew about my magic, but had had little opportunity to watch me do any. “Eat it,” I said to Colin. “It’s my favorite. This is some of what I learned to do.” I made a tiny waterspout in the center of my hand then I held the water and made it spin between my two hands like a tiny planet. After I tossed that into the shower, I tried to explain. “I can manipulate or make whatever I need. I do that by drawing on the elements around me. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

I made a steel marble and tossed it into the air a few times before tossing it to Georgy. He was looking from Colin, to me, and back again. He too was trying to figure out how I had helped Colin. He knew that I had done it; he just didn’t know how.

Colin pulled his eyes away from me and looked at the apple still in his hand and at the shower where I had tossed the ball of water. He shook his head in disbelief.

“Do you remember telling me that I couldn’t help you unless I could make you a whole new body?” I let the thought hang for a moment.

“Are you telling me that you gave me a new set of bones?”

“Well no, not really, but I did build up what you already had.” I didn’t think he would appreciate me telling him how careful I was being or how much I feared that I might get it all wrong. Right now, he was at about ninety-eight percent of what the library reference said was normal for his height, and he still weighed less than either Georgy or me. I figured I could help a little more if he needed it when we got to Earth. He’d never been on a full sized planet, and despite everything I’ve done for him, it would still take some getting used to.

It took him a long time to say anything, but when he did, I wasn’t really expecting the question he asked. I guess I should have though; it was a logical jump.

“So what did you use to do that? Who got weaker so I could get stronger?”

“No one and no thing got weaker so you could get stronger. I pulled your bone and muscle mass from the frozen meat in the freezer.” I could have pulled the matter from anywhere, but it was a logical choice to me; I didn’t expect his reaction though. It took him a few moments to understand what I had just told him. He turned and, dropping the apple, he grabbed the edge of the sink behind him and threw up.

I don’t remember anyone ever throwing up in front of me. I didn’t know what to do. Should I do anything? Should I say anything? I reached forward and laid a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged me off with a growl. “Get away from me.”

I drew back. I had done it. I drove him away. Well, I didn’t regret what I had done for him. I hope he does all right on Earth.

I left the bathroom and returned to my seat. I opened my computer but found nothing in there to interest me so I went to the viewing port. There was nothing there to see either, but the vastness seemed soothing somehow.

My mother saw my distress and came over to me. “What is it dear? Why are you so upset?”

“I just told Colin how I’ve been helping him get stronger. He’s in the bathroom being sick. He hates me now.”

“Nonsense. I’ve watched Colin. He’s like a wild animal that has been in a cage far too long. I won’t pretend to understand what you did, but you’ve opened the door to that cage and he’s free for the first time in his life. He’ll come around. Just give him some time to think about it.”

What choice did I have? It would be interesting trying to avoid him for the next month, but I guess I could try.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chapter 42 - BUILDING MUSCLES, BONES AND FRIENDSHIP

As we stood in line to board the ship, the governor’s son came up to me and pulled me aside. “Do you still think you can help me?”

“I think I can, and I’m willing to try. I don’t know if I’ll succeed though. I can’t promise that.”

He shifted his feet and looked longingly at the gangplank then he looked back the way he had come. There was a pair of guards there, but I have no idea whether that influenced his decision or not. “All right, I’ll try it. I don’t want to live like this any more.”

We stepped back in line and I said, “Mom, meet my brother . . . .”

“Colin,” he supplied.

Mom looked at us in stunned surprise, but then she smiled. “You really must find some other way to make friends, Liam. Beating them up first is just . . . bad taste.”

We all had to laugh, even Colin laughed about it when I told him about my other three friends. Make no mistake, laughing hurt, but we did it anyway, carefully.”

I took the ticket from my mother and handed it to the ticket collector. There was a little problem there since our ticket claimed six people and their records said that we were a party of five, but when we all handed over our IDs, which, with another bit of slight-of-hand, confirmed what our ticket said, they let us pass. Someone had made a mistake somewhere; they would investigate it through the proper channels but they couldn’t afford to delay us from our flight. I’m sure Colin thought we had second-guessed him and had things changed in advance, but he never asked about it.

First class passengers got staterooms. Common class passengers all sat in padded seats, not unlike fat recliners, arranged four wide in rows around the common room on the lower level. That seat was where we would live for the duration of our trip. We would sleep there and sit there whenever we did those things, and there was a large compartment overhead for our luggage. There was a common bathroom at the back of the compartment where we could shower if we wanted, and a small cafeteria where we could eat our meals during the appropriate time of day.

Even the light boost used by the ship to leave the system was hard on Colin, but I used my magic to buffer the boost and bolster his strength.

I stayed by Colin constantly during this time. Pip was the only one who guessed what I was doing. Not even Colin knew. I had Georgy bring us our meals, but Colin could hardly eat. I asked a steward if I could have a library hookup and he brought me a small touch-sensitive screen for my use. Using it, I was able to look up much of the information I needed to know, then I used my magic to search for the materials I would need to use. I felt fairly certain I would find it, but knowing where it was would help. I didn’t want to draw from any-old-where.

I reached over and touched him on his wrist. “How are you doing?” I asked. I didn’t need to ask, but I used it to distract him from what I was doing. Drawing on the massive sides of beef in the freezer, I began to add the necessary bulk to his bones and muscle. I stopped when he started to shiver. I hadn’t quite expected that, but I decided to use it as a limit each time.

“Oh,” he grimaced, “I’m doing all right, I guess. I had almost forgotten how pleasant this can be.”

I found some excuse to touch him every few hours but found that even that was too often for him, at least for now, as he pulled out his blanket and struggled with it.

It took us two days to clear the system. During that time I managed to add about five percent to his bone and muscle mass, but now came the preparation for the jump to faster than light.

Dad coached us in detail. Georgy had never been on a ship that went faster than light; he’d never had to go far enough to bother. Colin was plainly terrified, but to his credit, he buttoned his mouth and didn’t say anything.

When the announcement came over the intercom, the stewards came around to make sure everyone was buckled up and all our things were properly stowed away. Our steward offered Colin a stiff narcotic, but he declined.

And then it began.

There was an alarm light at the front of the cabin and it started to flash red, then the disorienting stretch of reality came and pulled at my very fiber. In reality, it all happens quickly, but your perception of it seems to last an eternity while you are aware of each cell attaining its new speed.

My fear was that my magic might rear up and try to do something to counter this perception, and if it did, I feared that it might throw everything off. I figured that I could stop this ship if I tried, or I might divert its course and send it into a sun, or something else just as deadly. I might short out half the circuitry in the ship. I might . . . . The list of my fears went on and on, but none of it happened. I concentrated on keeping Colin in one piece and I think that’s what kept me in one piece.

After the ugly part, there were a few moments of weightlessness and then the gravity plates were turned on.

Five percent additional bone and muscle mass weren’t enough. Colin made a few gasps and then fainted. Desperate to keep him alive, I kept his blood flowing and full of oxygen, and then I added another twenty percent of bone and muscle mass and made it ten degrees warmer in his immediate area.

Now it was up to him. He needed to build up his strength. I could build muscle mass, but I couldn’t make it strong for him.

When he woke up, he was still shivering, but he felt better than he thought he would. I told him they lightened the gravity plating and encouraged him to get out of his seat for a little exercise. I opened the luggage compartment and pulled out two metal staffs; there was precious little matter that could easily be turned into wood here. The other passengers cleared the central floor as soon as they saw what we intended to do. He lasted nearly half an hour that day, but with that encouragement, he kept at it each day and no longer noticed the faint chills from the new mass I added every day.

Within a few weeks, it was the three of us in the center of the cabin and we had a captive audience. I would teach Georgy and Colin the sword, and Colin would teach Georgy and me his way of fighting with the staff. It was a lot of fun and many of our goof-ups were punctuated by laughter throughout the cabin.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chapter 41 - OFFER TO HELP

I didn’t come out of my room again until the next day when I had to go get my teeth fixed. We were all sitting in the cafeteria afterward when the governor came in with his son in tow. When I say he was ‘in tow’, I mean the governor had him by the scruff of his neck. He came up to our table and placed his son so that he faced me most directly, then he gave him a shake. I winced along with him; that little shake had to have hurt since the whole side of his face was purple.

“I’m sorry,” he said, through clenched teeth. “It won’t happen again.”

I wasn’t too sure I believed him. Sure, he wasn’t likely to challenge me again, but then again, I wasn’t likely to pass through this space station again. I looked at his resentful expression and suddenly had an insight into the reason behind it. I might regret this, but I thought I aught to try. I got to my feet and motioned him to follow me.

When we reached a spot where no one could overhear us, I asked, “Why don’t you come with us? You look like you could use a change of scenery.”

He looked at me in disbelief. “What makes you think I want anything more to do with you?”

“Suit yourself,” I said. I tried. I started back to my seat.

“You’re going to Earth,” he said to my back. “I can’t go there. I can’t even go to most asteroid colonies. I have enough trouble walking the strip here.”

I turned back to him and looked at his too thin form more closely. “I think I can help you . . . if you’re willing to try.”

He scoffed. I expected that. “You can’t help me; not unless you can give me a whole new body. Dad has taken me to so many doctors, I’ve lost count, and they all say I’ll never be comfortable under gravity. There’s a reason why it’s against the law to give birth to children anywhere other than on a main planet, and for children to spend no more than one year in five in space until they’re teenagers. My mother ran away with a miner before I was born. By the time father found her on some unnamed little pebble, I was already thirteen years old.”

I tried one more time. “I still think I can help you, but if you’re too scared to try then . . . well, I was going to say ‘I’ll be seeing you’, but I doubt I ever will.” I went back to my seat.