Author : Andrew Bale
Survey Ship Aldrin drifted softly through space, main jets silent while the steering and attitude thrusters pushed it gently through a seemingly empty patch of space. Weeks spent surveying an assigned sector rimward of Epsilon Eridani had come down to this. The extended antennas and magnetic plates that made the Aldrin look like a cosmic hedgehog steadfastly ignored the few specks of matter in the interstellar medium, instead measuring the local permittivity and permeability. They had followed the gradient away from the star, hunting for that elusive and otherwise invisible spot where the two tensors assumed three-dimensional minima.
Survey Pilot Jack Nguyen ran one more material proximity scan before turning the gain on his controls down to their minimum setting. So adjusted, he would be able to maneuver the ship as delicately as a neurosurgeon’s scalpel, but would be unable to quickly move the ship if some bit of unseen space debris tried to turn them into scrap. He kept on gently juking and turning the ship until his co-pilot and sensor operator finally gave him the thumbs up. He pulled the ship ten meters “up”, let the ship go deadstick, and hit the intercom.
“Howie – we’re here. Load Fred.”
Below, Survey Assistant 2nd Class Howard Green hoisted a heavily sedated pig through a miniature airlock into the survey pod, cursing again the guidance counselor who had failed to mention animal husbandry as being part of the job description. Placed, secured, connected to life support, and wired in every way imaginable, Fred the pig slept on as Howie closed and dogged the pod and airlock doors.
“All right Cap, he’s in.”
Jack glanced momentarily towards the sensor operator.
“Kat, she’s all yours. Find us a good one.”
Survey Scientist Katya Chang turned away from her commander and occasional lover (space being essentially dull, and he possessing the highly attractive trait of not smelling like pig), and activated the controls that focused six terahertz lasers onto the previously identified point of space. After twenty minutes, her sensors begin to flicker with uncertainty.
“We’ve got something. Let’s see what.”
She cut the beams, opened the bay door, and pushed the pig-filled survey pod towards the focus on the robotic arm. As the pod neared the spot the arm released it, and it drifted onwards, connected only by the sensor tether, until it began to blur and fade away.
“We might… well that’s… ew. Retracting.”
The tether reeled back in, drawing the slowly reappearing pod back towards the arm and the ship. Kat turned to Jack.
“Cataloging universe … 5619,uninhabitable. Mu and epsilon at 0.85 and 0.13 relative, other constants still calculating. No masses nearby, but a lot of gas. The background radiation is strange – I think it’s electrogravitic here.”
“How’d Fred do?”
“Well, he woke up on schedule, right as he went through. He oinked and squealed for about two minutes, then apparently gained the power of speech and started spouting some gibberish about trolls. You ever hear of that happening before?”
“No, but I know Howie reads out loud down there. That might be worth something on its own. Weird. I’m guessing he died after that?”
“Yep, pretty messily. Got hot in there at the end.”
“Howie, do you have the pod? And how many pigs do we have left?”
“Yes sir, I’ve got it. Three more pigs if you want to keep looking.”
“Great. Try to clean up the pod, I’ll find us a new vector.”
“Howie, are you eating something?”
“All right, save me some bacon.”
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