World of Souls Chapter 2: Exploration Not for Its Own Sake

“Well, that wasn’t a complete waste of time at least.” Elinog sighed as he fiddled with the tech he was installing in the Dominiot’s cargo hold. “We have wide coordinates that encompass enough uncharted systems that it would take an earth year to survey. And that’s if we’re lucky.” There was an acrid smell as Elinog cried out in surprise. “I thought I told you to turn off the power to this section!”

Allie looked at the switch bay she was leaning next to. “It is off. The problem might be the switch bay if you’ve got power.”

Blavet sighed. “I told you it wasn’t the flux buffer. Now the new one is shorted and the old one can’t go in until we fix the switch bay.” He turned the conversation back to the start. “So, I’ve been looking into it and we can get paid for every planet we survey in sector N1XZW. There’s some old spacer stories about misfortune befalling anyone who goes there. Anyone who has been assigned that sector was suddenly transferred to another sector within a week.”

“Don’t we get a payment for signing up for N1XZW too? We could use that to repair the switch bay and gather supplies for the survey.” Allie flipped the master switch to the bay to the off position. “Do you have power on that line now?”

Elinog rustled through his duffel bag until he pulled out a voltmeter. “Let me see. If that switch works this should be an easy fix. I don’t feel li-.” Elinog jumped back from the voltmeter right before it too shorted out. “Uhhh…I guess I’m gonna have to go into the engine access to unplug the FTL generator. Sign us up for the exploration. We don’t have enough to pay for the new switch bay without it.” He got into a radiation suit and made his way to engine access.

– – –

Blavet was sitting in front of the holo-communicator smiling at the assistant for SECO (Space Exploration Contracting and Oversight). “Yes, we’d like to explore sector N1XZW. We understand there’s a signing bonus on that sector and we’d like to put to rest the old spacer tales we’ve heard.”

The secretary, a female halfling looked surprised. “You actually want to explore N1XZW?!” She visibly focused herself. “Sorry about that. Give me your registration numbers and fill out this form please.” She reached for something in her holo display shakily, missed, tried again and succeeded. A form appeared in the hollow, superimposed in front of her.

“Yeah, we don’t want to have a large swath of the galaxy unexplored because of old spacer tales.” Blavet started entering the relevant information into the form. “So we get the signing bonus immediately, right? We need a new switch bay for the ship before we can start.”

“Oh, no problem. I’ll wire the funds over as soon as you’re done. If you need a little more I can give you a small advance too. Corporate would give you the deed to a moon if you needed it.”

– – –

Blavet, Allie, and Elinog were in the cargo bay again, the new switch bay wired up and ready to go. “Well, here goes nothing!” Elinog flipped the switch and hopped back a few steps. There was a small hum of electric current as the lights and panels in the ship turned on and the computer booted up. “We’re good to take off as soon as we have clearance in my expert opinion.”

Allie pulled on Blavet’s arm and they both made their way to the cockpit. “Come on, we’ve been here four days waiting for that part. I’m getting planet fever!”

Blavet chuckled. “I don’t think that’s a real phrase, Allie. You just made it up.”

“Just because I made it up doesn’t mean it’s not real.” Allie practically shoved him up the ladder. “I’ll radio for takeoff clearance if you start the calculations.” She flipped the switch for the interior comms. “Are we all clear back there?”

Elinog’s voice crackled back. “We’re ready for space flight technically, but I wanted to put these panels back on before we leave. If you want I can wait ‘till we’re in FTL.”

“Well, if we get clearance quick I’ll let you know to collect the bolts and buckle in.” She flipped off the interior comms and hailed the spaceport controller. “This is the ISS Dominiot requesting clearance for takeoff, over.”

“This is spaceport control, you’re clear for takeoff. We hope you visit again, over.”

“All clear received, over and out.”

Blavet hit calculate on the FTL computer and thumbed the com with a leg hand. “We got clearance. Let us know when you’re strapped in.” Then he flipped it off again. “Well, that’ll be a minute or two. Care to tell me the real reason you’re so eager to get off this planet?”

“That human warlocke started flirting with me. I told him I was involved in a relationship and that he was older than what I was looking for anyway. He apparently took that as a challenge and I’ve been avoiding him ever since.” Allie glanced at the controls then back at Blavet. “I told him we were dating. In case it ever comes up again, but I doubt it will.”

“Is that a suggestion?”

Allie was about to answer when Elinog came over the comm. “Strapped in and ready for takeoff. Don’t make this too bumpy now.”

Allie flipped the switch for the engines, having already finished pre-flight, and the ship gave a slight lurch upward. “Extend wings.”

“Wings extending.” Blavet watched the readout as well as a monitor showing both wings. “Wings fully extended and locked. Ready for forward movement.”

A talon-like hand gripped the throttle. “Here we go.”

– – –

Blavet was sitting in a small conference room in the Evkar space station. The Dominiot was in ‘dry dock’ a term that really only made sense on a body of water, but nautical terminology dies hard. Sitting in front of Blavet was a zarx in a lab coat with a SECO insignia over the left breast. “So, what did you want to talk to me about?”

The zarx rubbed one of his head spikes. “Well… your crew doesn’t have a computer specialist and there’s a lot of coding you’ll need to do on the fly. As you know we’re footing the bill for the switch bay replacement as well as the scanner and the cockpit enlargements. This is taking up your signing bonus and a small part of your supplies allotment. A scanner, of course, is something we outfit all of our ships with but this one is the most powerful one on the market and we want assurances that nothing will go wrong with the mechanics or the software. It’s still early release tech and it’s not tested in deep space yet. I brought a few dossiers of coders, but there’s a cyberneticist looking for a new line of work and I think she would be perfect. She’s the red file.”

“I wouldn’t mind having a new crew member. We’re actually short-handed right now. The ship’s supposed to have four personnel minimum.” Blavet reached for the dossiers. “Thank you for the help. I’ll go over these with my chief mechanic. He knows more about coding qualifications than I do.”

The zarx nodded, offered his hand to shake. Blavet complied and then the zarx exited, motioning Elinog and Allie inside. He wasn’t sure which was the engineer but with such a small crew he assumed they would all be in on the decision.

“So, what was the meeting about?” Allie grabbed the red file and started thumbing through it, disinterested.

“Apparently we need a coder for the new scanning equipment and that red file is the dossier of SECO’s preferred pick.” Blavet motioned at the file in Allie’s hands. “How’s it look?”

“There’s a lot of redacted material in here, but what I can see shows a salaman with a good head on her shoulders. I think we should ask her in.”

Elinog snatched the file from Allie. “What do you mean redacted?” There were black lines cutting swaths through the text on the paper. “Oh, I think I’ll need a moment.”

A few minutes later Elinog swept all the other dossiers off the small desk and placed the red dossier on the desk open to the last page. It read:

All redacted text is related to cutting edge cybernetics that melds AI with living hosts. While the specific findings are protected both by the Cybernexsus Corp. and Spacegov this salaman has advanced AI and coding decades in two short years. We’re sorry to see her go, but anyone who hires her for anything related to tech will find her invaluable.

It was signed by the Cybernexsus Corp. CEO Zarond Verik Youta and the Spacegov Security Admin Shujyo Kusha

“Well, I guess that settles that. She’s hired, but let’s set up an interview just in case she doesn’t want the job.” Blavet walked out of the room. Allie gathered up the other dossiers and followed behind Elinog.

The zarx was waiting outside the room and gathered the other dossiers from Allie. “I knew you’d choose her. She’s a great boon to any exploratory mission, but especially out in the deep. If she doesn’t want the job these dossiers will be available to you again.”

– – –

A knocking on a metal door awoke Allie from a shallow nap. She sat up in her quarters adorned with posters of varying skies. “Who is it?” She rolled off her bed and pulled on a loose pair of pants, anything tighter would pull her feathers too much, and tightened the belt. Then she threw on a button up shirt and began buttoning it.

“It’s Blavet, can we talk?”

Allie shook her head and sighed silently then said, “the door’s unlocked and I’m decent, come in.”

The door slid to the side and Blavet stepped in and closed it behind him. “I wanted to talk about what you said when we left Evkar last week. The conversation got cut off and you’ve been avoiding me ever since. Did I say or do something that upset you? If I did that was not my intent.”

“Look, I agreed to join your crew when you still had five members because you were extraordinarily kind to me. As skravyn that never happens unless someone wants something from us. You wanted crew members but you didn’t know I was a potential pilot until the next day when I showed up for interviews. I think I got the job because we had met before but at the time I still thought you wanted something from me. When I finally realized that you were just nice to people in general and didn’t want anything from me I wanted you to want something from me. So to answer your question from back on Evkar yes that was a suggestion, but you don’t need to do anything just to be nice.”

There was a short, awkward silence for a few seconds before Blavet reached over and pulled Allie’s face toward his. “This isn’t just to be nice, this is because you’re beautiful.” He pulled her in and kissed her on the beak.

Allie giggled and kissed him back.

Elinog’s voice interrupted the moment from over the intercom. “Allie I can’t raise Blavet. If you know where he is, tell him we’re leaving FTL in a few for the first system scan. The both of you need to strap in asap.”

“We’re strapping in now. Thanks for the warning this time.” Blavet hit two buttons on the side of the wall and two seats with harnesses unfolded from the wall. He motioned towards them. “Ladies first.”

“Such a gentleman.”

– – –

On the helm, Elinog pulled a thin cable and released it. The ship exited FTL after just under a week in transit and the cockpit viewport instantly polarized. Elinog had gotten into the habit of squinting his sensitive eyes into slits just before exiting FTL so the blue star didn’t blind him in the few nanoseconds before the polarization completed. He heard footsteps climbing the ladder to the cockpit just as he was going to commence the first set of scans. SECO had given them the funds to upgrade to a Solar Scanner 7.2b the newest and best system scanner on the market. Since they were going to an uninhabited sector SECO spared no expense on upgrades that would help in the mission.

“Just about to initiate the scan, were you? You know we couldn’t miss this.” Allie sat down in the co-pilot seat.

“I thought the two of you might be preoccupied with each other for a while. That sounds like something you could miss this for.” Elinog said jokingly. “Besides, I wanted to see if it got installed correctly or if I need to go fix the shipyard mechanic’s mistakes.”

Another set of footsteps started up the ramp into the newly expanded cockpit. “Look, I know I’m new but don’t start this scan without me.” Janine, a female salaman with gray and dull orange markings was occupying the space opposite Blavet. She had joined the crew at the station orbiting Evkar while the ISS Dominiot was refueling. “I want to see the new scanner in action too.” She was a cybernetics technician so she was particularly skilled for sector scouting as she had to have knowledge of computer systems, software, xenobiology, and medicine.

“Well, since we’re all here let’s go through a quick refresher course on what the scan will do. The scanner will automatically, because Janine coded it, scan three times then list all anomalies both astronomical and possible discrepancies in the scans.” Elinog paused for a moment as he adjusted their heading. “We were lucky this time and we came out of FTL at a near-perpendicular angle to this system’s ecliptic plane. This is the best way to get a comprehensive scan.” His hand rested above a holo-button with “commence scan” on it. “Do you want to do the honors captain Blavet, or should I?”

Blavet leaned forward and punched the button in the holo display. Readouts immediately began scrolling on the display in front of Elinog and a holo display in front of the viewscreen showed eight dots slowly orbiting the blue star. An electronic voice sounded over the speaker, “this solar system has eight planets. Two planets have a high habitability likelihood by oxygen breathers, and a third has signs of plant life.” Three of the planets in the field started to blink. The sixth and eighth planets stayed the same color while the first planet blinked a dark green.

“If I’m not mistaken that’s a planet with life on it, right?” Blavet said inquisitively.

“Yes, most likely flora, maybe a light green. Though with a blue star the flora’s main color may be more of an orange than a green.” Janine tapped something on a tablet and the planet ballooned out to cover the entire view screen. Data was listed on either side. “Looks like no signs of intelligent life, but it’ll definitely be worth scouting.”

“Well, it’ll take us a couple hours to get there on sub-FTL so we have some time to wait. Who wants to man the helm?” Elinog started to stand up. “I need to move around after that last FTL shift.”

Blavet patted Janine on the shoulder. “Well, we’ll have the new girl watching until we get in manual range. The computer will alert you if something happens, and the autopilot will bring it in close.” Blavet slid down the ladder and was quickly joined by Elinog and Allie.

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