Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 56
Stories
Murmuration
by E. Catherine Tobler
The Warrior and the Sage
by Shweta Sundararajan
The God in the Window
by Steven R. Stewart
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
A Choice of Weapons
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Bonus Material
The Gathering Edge
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Excerpt from The Gathering Edge
    by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

CHAPTER ONE

Bechimo
Wyrd Space

"Theo, the subetheric device on that ship is an unacceptable risk," Bechimo said.

"Is it unstable?" Theo asked, with interest.

"No, it is not. However, I believe it is compromised. Responses to testing are ambiguous. This may reflect damage taken when it transitioned to this place, or it may be the result of deliberate tampering; it would be interesting to know which, but not at the cost of putting our crew in danger. I cannot allow that vessel on my decks. Surely you have not already forgotten the dangers inherent in a compromised unit."

Since they'd only just replaced Bechimo's own Struven unit, which they'd compromised in the course of that risky--not to say, theoretically impossible--Jump out of Ynsolt'i traffic, the dangers inherent in a compromised unit were vivid in Theo's memory. Granted, from Bechimo's point of view, her memory was desperately short and horrifyingly inaccurate, but she doubted he thought it was as bad as all that. Still, best to treat the comment as a conversational device, rather than deliberate sarcasm.

Even--especially--if she suspected sarcasm.

So.

"I haven't forgotten," she said evenly. "But it can't call anybody from here, can it?"

"Here" being a piece of space that Bechimo was pleased to style a "safe zone," which was what Theo had originally considered to be "dead space," where no signals came in, nor signals went out.

She'd since revised her opinion to "wyrd space"--which was straight out of Thrilling Space Adventures--when teapots and other small bits of flotsam began phasing in from Galaxy Nowhere.

The latest bit of flotsam was looking likely to change her opinion again, assuming the math. . . but before she did math, she had to deal with an intact spaceship of somewhat baffling lines, more or less outfitted and arranged like a courier ship that had just phased in out of Jump. It held air, that ship, and all systems were go, the only things lacking being pilot and crew.

Unless the tree in the box of soil grey-taped into the copilot's chair was, in fact, crew.

In any case, and even without the math, this was another order of business than teapots, random bits from what might have been instruments, hull shred, and broken tile.

"It can, in theory, influence us," Bechimo said.

Theo thought about that, then shook her head.

"No, it can't, because you put two layers of shielding around our unit, and set intruder alarms."

"It could try to influence us." Bechimo amended, sounding cranky.

"Sure it could," she said soothingly. "And if it does, then you'll stop it, and we'll have learned something. Right now, it might be a puzzle, but it's no more threatening than--than a teapot! You brought that on board."

"A teapot does not contain a subetheric unit," Bechimo said, smug at having scored a point, which Theo guessed he'd earned. Maybe.

"Is it the captain's intent to remain here, in safety?" he asked then, which wasn't as much of a change of topic as it might seem to the uninitiated.

"Master Trader yos'Galan has directed us to abandon the route and return to home port," Kara spoke up from third board. Hevelin the norbear--the norbear ambassador--was sitting on her knee, studying the screens like he was a pilot himself, which he wasn't.

At least, Theo thought he wasn't.

"Not to mention that Himself takes a personal interest," Clarence added, from the copilot's chair.

"Val Con says he wants me to come home and meet my new niece," Theo said repressively. "No hurries, there."

"He asked gently, for melant'i's sake," Kara murmured. "Truly, Theo, you do not wish to push your delm into issuing orders. Best to go home, as your brother asks."

Theo sighed quietly. Kara'd given that opinion before. Of course, Kara was Liaden and had it in her bones that a delm's word was First Orders. She was having a hard time accommodating herself to Theo's assertion that Val Con was not--nor Miri, either--Theo's delm. Brother, yes, by reason of sharing a father--and of all the things she had never expected to have to take care of in her life, it was a brother. . .

Which was neither here nor there at the moment, and maybe not at all, her brother being. . . lifemated, like Liadens said, to a competent and sensible woman who was, so far as Theo had observed, entirely capable of keeping him from making any. . . particularly. . . bad decisions.

Mostly.

"Must we bring Spiral Dance aboard Bechimo?" asked Win Ton, the fourth breathing member of the crew, dragging them back to the original topic of discussion. "The air is good; the ship is spaceworthy. Surely, we can conduct what explorations the captain finds necessary on her own decks."

"If she phases with one of us on board. . ." Kara began.

Joyita cleared his throat, drawing all eyes to his image in Screen Six.

"There is no reason to worry about an unexpected phase to Jump," he said--carefully, Theo thought. "Bechimo can tether Spiral Dance. Can you not, Bechimo?"

There was a pause, as if Bechimo was considering denying the possibility, or arguing against the risk of it, which was his favorite reason not to do a thing. When he answered, though, he sounded calm, maybe even a little too calm, at least to Theo's trained ear.

"Yes, Joyita," he said, "that is certainly possible. The risk to our crew will therefore be minimized."

Theo nodded, trying to decide if she was more amazed by Joyita putting Bechimo on the spot, or by Bechimo actually agreeing to something so risky as a--

"Captain, may Engineering speak?" Kara being Engineering, she stood up at her station, putting Hevelin firmly in her chair, and giving his rusty shoulder a meaningful pat.

"The captain hears Engineering," Theo said, matching Kara formal for formal. "Concerns?"

"If the captain pleases. I had myself thought that a tether might be the best solution. I have researched the most commonly used tether-and-tube combinations and run simulations. . ."

She leaned to her board, touched a button. The screen just below center in the main array brightened, displaying a diagrammed Bechimo, and a single blue line, tagged "tight tether," and another line labeled "access tube" connected from Bechimo to a diagram of Spiral Dance.

"The tether-and-tube solution is very workable in stable situations, such as a designated shipyard or repair facility, where traffic is controlled, and random things--" there was a bit of irritation there, Theo thought. Kara did not approve of the so-called flotsam with which this bit of "safe space" was afflicted--

"--phasing in without warning, from all directions at once, are not an issue. We cannot control our space; it is not--forgive me, Bechimo--in the context of a tether-and-tube scenario--safe. The flotsam has been getting larger. . ."

. . . all eyes went to the screen in which Spiral Dance, their latest bit of flotsam, lay quiescent, attached to Bechimo by an access tube.

". . . and we may, therefore, need to move swiftly, or even Jump, in order to avoid a collision. In that situation, if we have crew aboard Spiral Dance, or in the tube, transiting. . ."

The diagram in the low center screen twisted, the blue line showing kinks and corkscrews, hazard indicators blooming in alarming shades of yellow, orange, and red.

"Any pitch and yaw above microgrades will put a tremendous strain on the tube--it's meant to be latched, for long-term use," Kara said. "Even in circumstances much less extreme than a sudden need for evasive action, we might exceed the tube's stretch limit. . ."

Theo blinked. The sim clearly showed that overstretching the tube's limits could result in tearing, or in a rebound, in which scenario Spiral Dance might actually collide--forcefully--with Bechimo.

"That situation is avoidable," Joyita said.

Kara nodded at him.

"Indeed. We might bring Spiral Dance into partnership with us; lock access hatches, and become one environment. . ."

"No," said Bechimo, not at all loudly, but with finality.

"Why not?" Theo asked.

"While Kara's solution solves the tube-stress problem, it does not solve the other problem she has identified. If we need to move quickly, the single latch-point is an unacceptable vulnerability--for us and for the other vessel."

"I understand," Theo said, the math running through her head like a melody. Whether it was her own math, or information Bechimo was feeding her through their bonding interface, wasn't important. What was important was that she saw a third solution--that provided access, stability and maneuverability.

"We're a tradeship," she said.

Kara blinked.

"Yes?" she said politely.

There was a moment of silence while the crew carefully didn't look at each other in blank puzzlement. Theo settled back in her chair and waited to see who would work it out first.

Scouts in general specialized in thinking quick, and Win Ton had been trained as a Scout, so it wasn't a big surprise that he got there ahead of Clarence, though just barely, judging by the arrested expression on her copilot's face.

"We are, indeed, a tradeship," Win Ton said, turning his chair to face Theo. He inclined his head. "Therefore, we have pod mounts."

Kara blinked--and dove for her board, calling up inventory.

"Yes!" she said, her eyes on the screen. "We have enough hardware on hand to do it! We can mount Spiral Dance as a pod. If we are in danger, we may move as one unit; if we must, we can jettison. Else, we can maintain the tube, shorter, for better control. . ."

She sat down, narrowly missing Hevelin, who obligingly climbed onto the arm of her chair.

"It will require modifying a pod mount, but it is well within our capabilities. Win Ton and I have the experience to do this, Theo."

Theo looked to Win Ton, who bowed lightly.

"I am pleased to assist Kara," he said. "I have every confidence that we can accomplish this task quickly."

Theo next looked to Clarence, who had been a Juntavas Boss before his retirement and subsequent hiring on as copilot on Bechimo. Clarence had a lot of practical experience, and he wasn't shy about pointing out flaws in plans involving their lives. He was a good deal readier to take risks than Bechimo was, but Theo was beginning to think that could be said of most people.

Clarence, now--was nodding.

"I like it. If it's mounted as a pod, locked in and secure--it's us. Like Kara said, we can maneuver how and when we need, or drop it, if we gotta." He nodded again, and grinned.

"Right you are, there, Captain. We're a tradeship."

Into the silence that followed this came a pleased mumble of murbles from Hevelin. A chuckle went round the crew and Theo felt Bechimo's tension fade.

"Yes," he said. "Pod mounting and close-tube access will solve all difficulties."

"Then that's what we'll do!" Theo stood up, saluting them all, with a special, small bow to Hevelin.

"Okay, people. Let's get to it. Kara and Win Ton--how long to modify the mount and seat our new pod?"

Kara looked to Win Ton, who moved his shoulders.

"A long-shift ought to see it done. The most difficult part will be matching mounts and tie-downs."

"Which is always the most difficult part of securing a pod," Kara said. "I concur, Theo; both of us, working one long-shift will see the work done. If Win Ton is able, and with the captain's permission, we may begin now."

There was a small silence. Theo wasn't sure if she actually saw Win Ton frown, or if she felt the change in his heart rate through the link with Bechimo, and understood his distress. Whatever it was, it was gone as soon as she was aware of it, and Win Ton was rising, face smooth and shoulders relaxed.

"Soonest begun, soonest done," he said easily. "I am perfectly able."

"Good, then--with the captain's permission?"

"Go to it," Theo said, with a nod.

They left, Hevelin settling back into Kara's chair with a sigh.

Theo echoed him, lightly.

"The Scout's still a little touchy about his recuperation," Clarence commented from his station.

Theo nodded. Win Ton's injuries had been. . . extreme. It only made sense that a complete recuperation would take time. He knew that, she was pretty sure--knew it academically. But Win Ton was a pilot--more than that; he was a Scout pilot, his reactions fast and finely honed. It was natural he'd worry about. . . never fully regaining his skills.

"He's pushing himself a little," she said to Clarence. "He's smart enough not to push himself too much."

She hoped.

"That's right," Clarence said. "My shift then, Captain?"

She glanced at the clock.

"Your shift, Copilot; I'm going to get some sleep. Call me if we get a cruise liner coming through."

He grinned.

"Will do."


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