Wednesday, August 6, 2014

01: Aboard the Helix 7

Entry 01: In which we meet the human genius Felix Cauldwell and the Hybridian mechanic Cor'althan.

                The Hybridian Way was the oldest -- and now the emptiest -- space way in the galaxy. At one point it had cut a path from the mineral rich moons of Centauri Trill straight to Felina Four at the heart of the aging Silver Empire. It had been an astral highway fit for kings and queens (and all variations thereof in the big wide universe) with the planet Hybridia sitting like a crown jewel at its center.
                But no more.
                One of the suns of the Sigma Sector had gone super nova several hundred years ago now, blasting its closest planets to bits and sending chunks of space debris flying across the Way's path. The cut was clean, severing the vital artery that had empowered Felina Four and its surrounding satellites and leaving them to wither up in their cut off corner of the galaxy.
                Hybridia itself had done better than its trade partner. True, it was no longer a prosperous way station between two wealthy parties, but it was still a thriving hub all on its own. And with the Silver Empire no longer controlling the technology market, Hybridia soon became the biggest creator and exporter of mechanical goods and cutting edge technological designs, much like post-WWII Japan in twentieth-century Earth.
                Felix Cauldwell was too young to remember any of this. Heck, his great-great- great-grandfather would have been too young. But in the short months that he'd been working on the transport ship Helix 7, Felix had heard a lot about the Hybridian Way's history. More than he had ever wanted to know if he was being honest...
                Not that I really have a choice in the matter. He thought as he rolled his eyes down in the Helix 7's humming engine room.
                “So the Empress Falaa," Cor was still going on as he hooked his data pad into the support systems that made up the walls of the engine room and linked up, "the strongest, toughest, most gorgeous woman to ever walk the Violet Moons of Scandalor, calls up every able-bodied male in her army and sticks ‘em right in the middle of the Hybridian Way as a blockade. Right outside Hybridia’s front door by the way." He held up a finger as the data pad gave a trill to signify link up was complete.
                Cor went on like he hadn't heard. "The mavericks met her there o'course. Their two armies filled the sky of Hybridia so that when you looked up, all you saw were the underbellies of a thousand different ships stretchin’ from one edge of the horizon to the other. ”
                Felix snorted, not believing a word of it. “And just where, exactly, did she even find that many men Cor?”
                The older mechanic, a Hybridian man named Cor’althan, just smiled at his younger companion. “Well, if ya believe the tales that she was a raven-haired goddess slummin’ it in the mortal planes, then she just had ta walk down the street and let the folks lay eyes on her. But myself personally,” he pressed a falsely modest hand to his broad chest as if his opinion was such a small thing in the grand scheme of things really, “am a big fan of the fact that she had just conquered the whole Sumsuma Expanse, not to mention had her late husband’s army at her disposal.”
                Felix nodded, only half listening as he opened a panel on the protective shell that housed the engine itself. The air temperature controls in the starboard side passenger rooms had started malfunctioning a few hours ago during the sleep cycle and some of the occupants had complained. The Helix's captain Skellensti Torrik – a lizard-like native of Skalorne – had sent him and Cor to find and fix the problem.
                "Right, right," Felix mumbled as he poked around the different connections to make sure they were solid, "Whathisname, the King of Bexuli." He frowned as he finished his little inspection. "Looks like the wiring's fine here Cor. What about on your end?" he asked over his shoulder.
                Cor just sighed in exasperation, completely ignoring Felix's question. "Bexuli don't have kings and they've never even heard of Falaa. Geez kid, it's like ya don't even listen," he mumbled before adding in a louder voice. "She married the Silver Prince, that guy that ran the Silver Empire. You may have heard of it; big empire, lasted two and a half millennium before it collapsed when that pesky asteroid field sliced up the Hybridian Way. Ringin' any bells there kid?"
                Felix didn't answer as he pulled his own scanner out of one of his multitude of pockets and connected it to the engine housing. He didn't even look up as he waited impatiently for it to tell him if the Helix 7's compressor was causing the problem or not.
                He didn't need to look up to know Cor had rolled his eyes at him. "Anyway," he went on without any encouragement, "when Prince Whatshisname went and kicked the bucket, Falaa got the whole shebang. The empire, her own kingdom of Scandalor, an' all those lil planets her late husband had conquered before doin' her the great service of dyin' and all that."
                "How nice of him," Felix muttered as he scrolled through the scanner's engine report.
                Cor made a noise in the back of his throat but didn't seem to notice his audience's lack of enthusiasm. "Oh sure, considerin' he was a stiff-necked, hard-hearted, cheating excuse for a man it was the least he could do." He snorted as if he couldn't believe anyone would ever treat a woman like Falaa like that. "Seriously, I wouldn't blame her if she really did kill the sonuva glitch in the end."
                Felix realized he had been staring at the same section of the engine report for the past two minutes as his mind wandered to his own problem. He shook himself out of it quickly. "You're getting pretty defensive over a woman that wasn't even a Hybridian, Cor." He pointed out, hoping Cor hadn't noticed his absent mindedness as he thumbed down on the report and tried to focus.
                Cor leaned his shoulder against one of the pipes next to him as he surveyed the reports his own scanner was giving him. Felix knew from experience that the pipes were steaming hot, but Cor didn't even flinch as his techno-organic body absorbed the intense heat and processed it as extra energy to be used later.
                "Well her taste in men improved after that," he mumbled as he frowned at the small, square screen in front of him and then seeing nothing useful, he disconnected it from the support systems and shoved the scanner back into one of his many mechanic's pockets.
                "She marry a Hybridian?" Felix guessed, his mind starting to wander again.
                Cor nodded. "Her second husband was one a'those warrior kings from the southern continent or sumthin' like that. Don't remember who he was exactly since he didn't do scrap in the long run. Falaa's the one everyone remembers when it comes down to it." He looked up and grinned crookedly as he remembered something. "Rumor has it she was the great-sumthin' granddame of my late Empress. She was one of those peculiar southern folks too ya know, but dang was she sumthin' to see-”
                He was cut off as Felix expelled a gusty sigh and ran a frustrated hand through his dark hair.
                Cor stopped and stared at him. "I've seen that look a'fore." He muttered at his younger friend. "What's wrong? Is the regulator busted? Cuz' I don't care what Scales says, we'll have to stop for a new one right quick before the engine housing overheats and slags itself-”
                Felix yanked his oversized work gloves off his hands and pinched at the bridge of his nose before waving Cor off with the other. "No," he muttered, suddenly sounding caught between frustration and exhaustion, "it's not that. I was just," he hesitated before repeating, "I was just thinking about something else."
                Cor eyed him, his gray-streaked eyebrows hanging low over dark-gray eyes. "Your equation givin' you problems again?" He asked, quite serious now.
                Felix rubbed at his aching eyes and nodded. "But it's fine." He added too quickly. "I'll work through it," he mumbled. "Eventually."
                Cor watched him another moment. That wasn't what he was worried about. Felix was bright, he had no doubts about that. He definitely surpassed his race's standards of intelligence, but Cor had noticed that the human also had the tendency to be a little too...single-minded when it came to his project.
                "Ya known I'd be happy to look over what ya got so far." Cor offered, no slouch when it came to mathematics and mechanics himself. "Maybe I can help ya out-”
                Felix immediately straightened up where he'd been slouching against one of the system consoles. "No," he said firmly. "I mean thanks," he added, not quite convincingly, "but I'll get it on my own. It's just a little bump in the road. I'll get past it. I'm sure it's nothing."
                "Sure, sure," Cor agreed, "but if ya change yer mind-” he tried again.
                "I said it's nothing, Cor," Felix snapped.
                Cor held up his hands and backed off. 'Single-minded' was putting it mildly he decided. Obsessive was a better word.
                Felix ran his grease covered fingers through his hair again, making it stick up in odd directions. "Look, could you just," he waved a hand at the opposite wall of the small, hot room, "check the compressor while I make sure we're just not out of coolant?"
                Cor bobbed his head. "Sure thing. Here," he reached down and pulled a good sized wrench out of the toolbox at his feet, "you'll need that to get the container open."
                Felix caught the wrench clumsily before he stalked off to the dim, cramped area on the other side of the engine housing out of Cor's line of sight.
                The mechanic shot Felix's back a worried look before he disappeared entirely. Felix was brilliant, that much had been obvious to the old Hybridian the day he'd come onboard eight months ago, but Cor worried for him anyway. He was only twenty-four. Too young to be locked up in his quarters all the time pouring over that one, stubborn equation.
                Cor shook his head when he was sure Felix wouldn't see. "Barely more than a kid," he thought as he started up the maintenance scan and then opened up the control panel just below the monitor, "he's still young even by his own race's standards. Should be out livin' it up at some fancy university somewhere instead'a wanderin' out here on his lonesome."
                He knew why Felix wasn't though. Fact was that he was too smart for his own people. University, even at the master level, would have bored him out of his mind within a week.
                Maybe if he'd tried for one of the off world schools, Cor thought in the back of his head as he took off his own protective gloves and lightly touched the junction that connected to the compressor set farther back in the metal housing. His static field jumped eagerly into the conductive metal and raced down the different wires and connections that linked into the Helix's ventilation systems, giving Cor a good look at how the ship's internals were working.
                "Maybe if he'd gone somewhere that they would'a challenged him mentally, like those brainiacs on Avicii, or even the Royal University back home. Maybe then the kid would be off scrawlin' his equation on a string'a holoboards under a foreign sun instead of fussin' with temperamental wiring out here in the boonies."
                But then, with his mother dying and all, Felix hadn't shown much interest in anything but scrap wiring and getting himself as far from home as his feet would carry him.
                Cor frowned, bushy eyebrows creasing low over his eyes. He knew precious little about Felix's life before the captain had hired him on for the Helix's current run to White Sails, and most of what he'd learned had been accidentally repeated by Tori, Felix's only other friend and the only other Earthling onboard. But with his mom dying of cancer and his dad AWOL since Felix had been ten, Cor could see how the Earthling might not want to stick around the homestead.
                "Well it's not like he woulda exactly enjoyed himself at the RU," Cor's thoughts were tainted with bitterness, "not with those cybernetic superiorists  runnin' their mouths off against any race that doesn't have a secondary skeleton. Bucketheads." He grumbled to himself with a severe frown. "We're the freaky ones out and about in the universe, don't they know that? How many other techno-organic races are out there asides us? Precious few, that's how many.  And cyborgs don't count. They ain't born with oil in their veins like us."
                Technically, Hybridians didn't have oil in their veins either, just a naturally occurring metal-based lubricant that transmitted the electrical current generated by their secondary skeleton; what they called their static fields. But it was such a close thing that 'oil' was just a simpler way to explain it.
                Cor snorted and rolled his eyes in a purely human gesture he'd picked up from their co-pilot Tori. "Bucketheads." He grumbled again under his breath, but was quickly distracted as his static field began to send him data from his inspection of the ship's circuits. The information streamed through the current that extended around him like a bubble before entering his body via the oil that flowed along his more organic blood. The data arrowed straight for the set of thick, fibrous cords that sat above his spinal cord and the top third of his spine – the trademark secondary skeleton his race was known for.
                The unique double spine downloaded the sensory information from his field and decoded it into understandable information faster than a modern computer could unzip a file. Faster than a human could even comprehend.
                "All's a-okay over here!" Cor shouted so Felix could hear him over the working noise of the engine room. He retracted his static field from the ship and then put his heavy worker's gloves back on. "Nuthin' overly important is broke, so it must be some  minor glitch in the secondary systems."
                Felix sighed as he came around the other side of the engine casing. “Great.” He grumbled, idly whacking the wrench head against the wall and getting a sharp clang in return. “That'll take twice as long to fix.”
                Cor huffed a sour agreement as he came in and sat down next to the kid. “Ol’ Scales won’t want us shuttin’ anything down while there’re passengers on board.” He said in agreement as he leaned back against the slick wall. “We’ll probably have to wait until we get ta White Sails afore we can even get a proper look at what’s goin’ on in there.”
                Felix nodded, not really listening. “Yeah,” he mumbled, “sure thing.”
                Cor waited for the engineer to say something - maybe about the perfectionist nature of their Skalorian captain or how the lizard-like being would wring Cor’s neck with his lengthy tail if he heard him calling him Scales again. Or, better yet, maybe the real source of his withdrawn mood; say, just for example, what it was about his equation that was driving him to distraction like this.
                Cor looked down at the deck plating beneath his scuffed boots. He had little hope for that last one. He was one of the few that had actually gotten to know Felix since he’d come on board and he recognized the signs. Felix was starting to enter a bad place. Last time he'd started acting like this, he'd locked himself in his room until he'd sorted the kinks out.
                "Three days," Cor remembered worriedly, "it took him three days to figure it out an' he was so focused on that stupid design model that he didn't sleep or eat the whole time. Looked like an unshaved ghoul when we finally got him outta there."
                The old mechanic rubbed at the back of his neck, static field tingling with unease. "Twenty-four year old obsessive genius," he thought grimly as he watched Felix out of the corner of his gray eyes, "yep, I'd say he's due for a mental breakdown right about now."
                His static field contracted anxiously at the thought as Cor eyed his young friend. "You sure you doin' alright there kid?" He dared to ask.
                "Fine." Felix mumbled without looking up at him. His fingers were starting to twitch erratically, like he was writing something in his head and his hands were just trying to catch up.
                Cor's eyes narrowed. "Would ya tell me if ya weren't?" He pressed.
                Felix didn't even blink. "Probably not." He mumbled.
                "Because," Cor went on, wishing the kid would actually hear what he was saying, "you know I'm right here if ya need somethin'-”
                Felix abruptly moved, dropping his head and expelling a sigh before straightening back up again. "I'm fine Cor. I'm just stuck is all. I'll sort it out." He snapped and abruptly headed for the open door.
                He stopped when he reached the door and hauled his toolbox up from the floor. "Since the captain's not going let us reboot anything, you mind if I go to my workroom? Might as well try and get something done, right?" He shrugged one lanky shoulder, free hand splayed at his side in a 'well what else have I got to do around here?' gesture.
                Cor hesitated, but then nodded. "Yeah, alright." He caved. Maybe the kid just needed a good stretch of time to work through this knot in the numbers. Every engineer hit snags after all, and it wasn't like Cor had never overreacted before either. Those three days Felix had locked himself away had him spooked, Cor didn't mind admitting.
                Felix brightened only slightly as he back-stepped towards the open door. "Great, I'll see you and Tor at dinner then."
                He waved once before turning around and hanging a left out the door to head to his workshop down the hall.
                Cor watched him go, tiny sparks appearing in the air around him as anxiety made his static field pop restlessly.
                "Right," he mumbled, breathing a large sigh out of his square nose, "see ya there."

< Introduction                                                                                                                                  Entry 2 >

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