by Al Sarrantonio
Who they are isn't important. They'd be the first to tell you that.
It's what they are that counts.
But I'm in the business of who, as well as what, where, when and why -- so that's
what you get up top.
First there was Jen Jameson, who wasn't captain because there was no captain of
this boat. They called her Specialist One, since her area of expertise was the worm
holes that got us where we were going. She also had a good overview of every
other system on the ship. She'd always be captain to me because if there was a
fight, she'd be the one to give the orders.
Then there was Specialist One-A, Bill Felder, who looked the part of an exec but I
keep forgetting this is no Navy. This is a World Council Designated Field Survey
Expedition Ship, which meant that Earth had finally got around to setting up a
wormhole system, and had grown the balls to use it. Those of us who didn't like
saying World Council Designated etc. called it the Guinea Pig cruise, and let it go
The ship had a name, the Russell, and though it looked like nothing so much as a
giant battleship-gray golf ball, complete with dimples, I was told it would do its
job, which was not to get us killed and maybe put us face-to-face, finally, with
other ISs (intelligent species).
Jameson herself told us, at the one and only staff meeting we had, that the Russell
wouldn't blow its bolts, or worse.
"You'll notice very little spacial change," she said, trying not to treat me like an
idiot; she looked pretty spiffy in her World Council jumpsuit, blue with a
Specialist One patch over her left breast, her only sign of rank. While regaining
my seat, I took solace in the fact that the faces around me looked just as hungry for
real information as mine; most of them were Seconds and Thirds, and knew as
much about worm holes as I did, which was nada.
"Actually," she continued, using a few holograms of the Russell for emphasis.
One of them showed the ship in hollow form, deck by deck; besides the core
chamber and the skin itself, which I had been told aided in propulsion and
navigation, there seemed to be very little in the way of equipment or armament.
I'd been told that there was an armament system, but it sure wasn't obvious here.
"Actually, the most you should notice while we transit a wormhole is something
analogous to driving a car over a speed bump. We'll see more in the way of
turbulence in actual space than while in a wormhole. And I use the word 'in'
advisedly, since the transition from here to the other side will be, for all intents
and purposes, instantaneous."
I stood up again. "But Cap," I asked, noting the slight scowl that passed over
Jameson's face at the assumption of rank, "what's to keep us from tumbling end
over end as we come out the other side, like, well, a golf ball off a nine iron?"
A few titters from the audience, but Jameson was unfazed. "Think of it as
someone handing that golf ball gently through a doorway. One moment it's on
one side of the door -- the next moment it's on the other side."
"And that 'bump' you talked about?"
She smiled -- and I'd remember that smile later; it was a little too knowing. "Just
a bump," she said.