Your seasonal story this year may or may not make it into Book 2 of the Viridian System series. If you’ve not read Spaghettification on my blog, you won’t know that they have been stranded in the Delta Quadrant, which is pretty much uncharted territory, as far as the Alpha Quadrant inhabitants are concerned. The art installation that crops up in this was also in an earlier short story on my blog – The Gallery.
Easy Come, Easy Go
It was Dolores’ turn on watch. With three pilots, they could work shift patterns so there was always someone alert for strange events in the Delta Quadrant. Marooned there after going through an unstable wormhole, they had been on a slow, looping path towards the centre of the Galaxy for three months. This shift, everyone else slept.
Dolores looked up from the viewscreen where she was reading a story set on an ancient world. She’d been immersed in the politics and family squabbles, thinking how modern it all sounded: infighting to seize power, sending troops to subdue peaceful agrarian communities and take their corn, and obscene decadence rife in the palace. Claudius sounded a wimp, but he was a clever man, hiding behind his weaknesses.
The noise was from the upper left screen, one she didn’t know much about. It dealt with engineering aspects of the ship; she had not even opened the engineering manual yet. She was still working on inter-stellar territorial laws and guidelines.
She tapped the screen, and a row of digits appeared. She looked for a widget to unscramble them, there was nothing. Frowning, she checked the time. 05:27 ST. They kept the ship on Standard Time, and their dates on the Viridian calendar. She keyed in a question to the computer, not wanting to use the Vvoice system, since the ship was in quiet mode for the ‘night’.
“Engineer required: seek expert assistance,” was the computer’s on-screen response. Dolores sighed and slipped out of her seat to wake Pete.
“I have no idea,” Pete muttered, having checked the string in the engineering manual, and in the original version of the software codes. “Is there anything about it you recognise?”
Dolores turned the number over in her mind, her eidetic memory being one of her most useful assets. She sat straighter and raised her eyebrows as she spotted a partial match.
“The central part is the code on the Imperium trans-warpdrive that was in that art installation.”
“Ah. Oh. Let’s transfer it down here.” He tapped some tabs on the viewers and the number appeared in the hepactive screen in front of them. “Where does that number start and end?”
Dolores showed him. The section she recognised was sandwiched between an eight figure cluster in front, and a 9 section alphanumeric string at the end. “It’s missing its last four digits, though.”
“The warpdrive’s last four digits are signatures; they aren’t that important. Those eight figures at the start look like a time or space reference.”
“The nine section has part of Zito’s handle embedded.”
“Zito? Why on earth?” Pete pulled at his earlobe, a sure sign he was worried.
A disturbance behind them signalled the arrival of Lars, wrapped in a bedsheet, which trailed behind him.
“Strange engineering complaint.”
“Huh.” Lars usually left most engineering problems to Pete, although he did the manual labour needed. He yawned. “Need me?”
“Always, Lars, but no.” Pete’s reply reassured the Swede, and he staggered back to his bed.
“Ah!” During Lars’ visit, Dolores had searched the eight-digit code. “I have some options for you. On Arcturus, it is the date of the founding of Phrygia; in the Centauran system it marks the death of a founding father; on Corsair it is the establishment of the High Council; on Terzlan E it is the celebration of the Prophet; and on Viridian it is the first Amberson Trophy.”
“Local years, I take it.”
“I think so.”
“Anything for ST?”
Dolores checked a few more filters for the data. “The Terzlan E is ST, the rest are local. Although Arcturus, Centaurus and Corsair use PE, so those all took place at the same time.”
“Makes sense. I can’t imagine this is to do with the Amberson. I won’t be able to give them the trophy back to award this year. I’ll be in the doghouse.”
Pete sounded glum. It was a painful reminder of fun days on Pleasant Valley, where he had won the fliers’ race a few days after Christmas the previous year.
“How about the Corsair connection?”
Pete shook his head. “We never bothered with that sort of thing. We did Christmas, with trees all decorated, and a slap-up feast, especially as it fell at midwinter, strangely enough. What prophet does Terzlan E celebrate?”
“Someone called JayZee. Why strange?”
“Only because Christmas refers to a midwinter celebration on Old Earth. Given that it’s the PE date, it was quite something for Corsair to keep the PE calendar, even down to the seasons. I still keep the Corsair calendar, in my head.”
“So, when is this Christmas?”
“It’s about now.” He checked his personal log and chuckled. “Happy Christmas, Dolores,” and he kissed her.
“Thanks! You, too. What do you do to celebrate?”
“Well, Lars and I usually went to the Irish bar on Pleasant Valley and got drunk with the rest of the miners. Except we usually kept sober so we could get away the next day.” He smiled to himself. “There was one year, we’d just come back with our second good haul of orichalcum, and Zito was looking after it in his safe. We were over at Paddy’s, and everyone was teasing us about beginner’s luck, because we weren’t letting on we’d found more. It’s unusual, you know, finding good asteroids on consecutive trips.”
“Anyhow, we stood our round of drinks, and the Porrhic fella stood his, and then the Gunnerian, Bardic, started saying that we should stand another. There was a vote and it went in our favour – everyone thought Bardic should do the next round, for his cheek. He said he would if he lost the arm wrestling. He was a massive fellow, imagine twenty cents taller than Lars, with my build. Well, the barman organised the arm wrestling on a knockout basis, and thirty-two of us said we’d do it, which meant five full rounds, so Paddy drew the lots and off we went. Bardic drew Lars in the second round, and Lars made sure to lose, but also made sure to buy him a nice big drink before he got to the third round. Everyone was buying him drinks to help him through to the next round.
“Well, by some accident I got through to the final, and who did I meet? Bardic of course. Paddy said we should have another drink before we started (straight after the one for winning the semi), and Bardic glugged his down, so I did too. Only I’m not affected by Talian brandy, or not much, so I’d been drinking that and was still pretty sober. Bardic was at the roaring and singing stage by now, so I got him going on an old Viking number they sing on Brahe, and meanwhile I sat at the table, waiting for him. He eventually lurched over, and well, I put in a lot of theatrics, but it was dead easy. He was in no condition to wrestle by then, and I’ve always been good at it. Anyway, he lost, and afterwards he went round town saying yes, but the other guy was huge… and with every telling, his opponent got bigger. And that’s how I got called Big Pete among the mining community.”
Dolores laughed. “But I thought Lars said it was your nickname at college?”
“Yeah, it was, but I’d lost it by the time I met him at Excelsior. So I sort of regained it that night on Pleasant Valley.”
They sat, lost in memories, thinking of celebrations of the past.
“It’s a locator,” said Dolores, out of the blue.
“The Zito bit?”
“No, the warpdrive. Those four numbers at the end threw the decoding program out when we tried it before. Look – it’s a group here – and here – and here. Computer…”
She did not need to instruct the computer to locate the point in space, Pete had already done it.
“Bloodworts.” It was an unusually strong swearword from Pete. Dolores leaned over.
“Where is that?”
“So, why has the engineering system thrown up a random code at us, on Christmas day, about an event on this day at Terzlan E, which just happens to be pretty much at the centre of the galaxy?”
“I have no idea, but if we’re ever going make it back to the Alpha Quadrant, our best bet is to go towards Terzlan E to spare our resources.
A rustle behind them indicated Lars’s presence once more.
“I’m not going back to Terzlan E. He’ll probably kill me.”
Pete turned to Lars with an enquiring eyebrow.
“My father,” Lars explained.
“Look on the bright side, Lars,” said Maggie, emerging behind him with two mugs of steaming spiced cordial in each hand. “If we don’t get to Terzlan E, we’ll probably die out here anyway. Right, Pete?”
“Too right, Maggie.”
“Ah, well, happy Christmas everybody,” Lars said, raising his mug cheerily and smiling at them. “Easy come, easy go!”
© 2015 J M Pett
Christmas tree by Mary Katrantzou via timeout.com