Sunday, July 02, 2006


A Night at the Park

After Tuesday, I spent the rest of the week either outlining or on the Georgia Patrol, meaning I fell a bit behind my goals. But today I was able to make up for lost time. Around this house, "holiday" means "day I get to work," since Allison is home from work and able to take a few shifts on the Georgia Patrol, but since the ladies of the house are out of town visiting relatives today and tomorrow, I've got even more time to write than on a normal holiday weekend.

Today I hit the two-thirds mark, and since I've got five days available to write this week, with Allison home tomorrow and Tuesday, there's a chance I'll finish by the week's end. We'll see.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
56,741 / 90,000

Today's sample comes just a few chapters before the end of Part Two, just as things start to go a bit wrong. But I figure, before things go wrong, why not have a nice night at the park?


As the ship prepared to drop back into normal space, rather than watching from the bridge, with just the command crew and department heads, I asked everyone who was interested to join me in the Atrium. The Further avatar perched on my shoulder, as more than a thousand crewmembers crowded into the park, lining the walkway, spilling over the bandstand and theater shell. Some lay on the grass, propped up on their elbows, watching the domed ceiling high overhead. I’d asked the Further to configure the ceiling to display a real-time, true-color image of the hull’s exterior view.

We were approaching our destination head on, so that the north pole of the Further’s main sphere was pointed directly as the binary pulsar. Only moments remained before the bubble of distorted space collapsed, but we’d already been slowing for hours. The stars, which had crowded only a short while before into a red dot directly overhead, were gradually shifting down the scale, spreading apart, barely pinked by our accelerations.

With the crowd around me, the only light that of the reddish stars overhead, I was reminded of my grandfather’s stories of his childhood in America, and Independence Day celebrations. The illusion was strengthened when Maruti ambled over, wearing a top hat and tails, drinking some sort of frozen cocktail.

“I thought I’d dress for the occasion,” the chimpanzee said, smiling. “Not all of us opt to wander around stark naked at all hours like Xerxes.” He glanced around. “Where is that dour robot, anyway? It’s his bloody pulsar we’ve come to see, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t realize it was in your purview to deed ownership of stars, exobiologist,” said a voice from behind him, “but if that power is yours, I’ll happily accept.”

Maruti sighed, dramatically. “Good ship’s evening, Xerxes.”

Ey joined us, and the robot, the chimp, and I looked overhead as one, all of us eagerly anticipating our arrival in our own way.

“Just another moment, Captain Stone, and we’ll be arriving,” said the silver eagle on my shoulder.

“Did I miss it?” chimed the voice of Amelia, projecting onto my other shoulder. “I got caught up in learning to navigate a sailship, and lost track of time.”

“No, little ghost,” Xerxes said, “but we’ll be there momentarily.”

A short distance off, the cetacean Arluq lounged in the bowl of the fountain, luxuriating in cool water. The brothers Grimnismal were perched on a nearby bench, in some sort of disagreement with the cat Ailuros.

“Shouldn’t those two be down in drive engineering?” I said, pointing towards the corvids, asking no one in particular. “Shouldn’t someone be looking after the operations?”

“I have things well in hand,” the Further said, “but if anything should arise, I assure you I’ll alert the drive engineers immediately.”

“They’re busy arguing about Ailuros’s proposal to reconfigure the power routing system when we arrive,” said Chief Executive Zel, walking over to where we stood. “Ultimately I think it’ll be a question for the principals to decide, since it doesn’t look as though they’re going to reach an accord any time soon.”

“Captain,” said the voice of three Jida bodies in unison, approaching from the other side, “this is probably the best idea you’ve had yet. We need to have these sorts of gathering’s more often. I’m having the best time.” A pair of escorts walked with them, each flanked by Jida on either side—one a space-adapted anthropoid male who stood almost as tall as Arluq, the other a whip-thin artificial being of some sort who looked to be made of flowing quicksilver, and whose laughter was like tinkling bells—and from the gentle caresses the Jidas bestowed on arms of muscle and quicksilver alike, it wasn’t terribly hard to imagine what sort of time Jida was having.

“We’re almost there,” the Further said.

“Xerxes,” Zel said, “what can we expect to see when we arrive?”

“The display above us is coded to the visual spectrum, blocking out any harmful x-ray radiation or the like coming from the rotating neutron star.”

“Yes, but it’ll just be two small stars, yes?”

“Essentially,” the robot said with a sigh.

“Captain?” the Further said. “We are there.”

Somewhere between the words “are” and “there,” it happened. The stars, now only vaguely pinked, shifted once more in position before freezing in place, once more startling white, and the binary pulsar hung above us.

The Further was capable of fairly limited maneuvering in normal space, and so the Further had brought us in fairly close to the center of the system, so as to be in an optimal position. Directly overhead, a pole star to our night sky, hung the pulsar. Somewhere off in the night was a tiny white dwarf companion, only about forty-three thousand times more massive than Earth. Just as had been expected.

What hadn’t been expected, however, was that the pulsar might have an asteroid belt, much less a planet.

But this particular pulsar appeared to have both.

“Didn’t see that coming,” Maruti said, doffing his top hat respectfully.

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