Warped: Final Preview

With Warped coming out soonish, I’m giving you one last preview of the finest space opera with a dwarf engineer since Keenser. And this one is human!

Artificial gravity ceased to be in Engineering. Part of this had been by design. The less power given to making people and things stick to the floor, the more power to move the ship relativistically, through its own wormhole, or faster than light. The mishap with the dark globe beneath the Challenger, however, made it the transition rather abrupt. One moment, Okada and Weiss moved through the corridors at roughly .6 g. Okada took a step expecting to take another and found himself propelled into the ceiling.

“Wow,” he said. “That’s not supposed to happen.”

Weiss appeared to have trouble navigating without something pulling her to the floor. Okada swam down to grab one of the side rails along the bulkhead.

“Grab on, O-4,” he said. “That’s the real reason these are here.”

After a few clumsy attempts colliding with either the deck or the ceiling, Weiss managed to grab hold of a side rail and pull herself along. Okada noted she looked a little green. He himself oriented his feet toward the floor and moved along appearing to walk normally.

“You might want to try this until we get back to the warp compartment,” he said. “Back there, everything’s designed for microgravity and null-g.”

“I’d better get combat pay for this.” It was the most emotion Okada had heard out of Weiss since he’d met her.

“They don’t do microgravity training in Cybercommand?”

She looked at him like he’d asked if she breathed oxygen regularly. “Eighty percent of our active duty personnel work in sealed bunkers hidden from anyone in the surrounding area. When would we need to be in microgravity?”

“Any time you leave a planet or a moon.” Spooks. So busy looking under rocks they forget to see the rocks themselves.

They soon reached the cavernous sphere of the warp compartment. Medics strapped floating injured to stretchers and pushed them back toward the forward sections and Medical. Engineers flew about the compartment like wingless birds, chirping in technobabble and shouting numbers back and forth. In the center of all this chaos, lacing his own technobabble with obscenities in two or three languages aside from Humanic, floated Peter Lancaster, looking like a dwarf god in shabby coveralls.

“Hideki,” he said, suddenly smiling, “Ms. Weiss, welcome to my nightmare. I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

Okada swam up to where Lancaster floated, though he wasn’t thrilled with being far from anything to grasp in case the ship moved suddenly. “What’s going on, Tripod? Why’d you call me back here?”

Lancaster reached behind him and produced something that looked like a giant spark plug from a fuel-burning motor. “Oh, just this, a plasma injector for the Alcubierre drive.”

Okada took it and examined it. “This looks bigger than the ones on the projection drive. Are they all blown out?”

“The projection drive was off-line when we stopped at this charming little world. Are we taking shore leave, by the way? I think the Navy owes us.”

“Dress for zero Kelvin. So are the spares intact?”

“What spares?” Lancaster leveled an evil look at Weiss, who’d finally managed the float up to where Okada and Lancaster were talking. “It seems the clods at Cybercommand pushed this project a little too fast. There are spares on Earth. There are spares on Nemesis. There are spares on Tian. Perhaps we can send down a landing party to see if this giant bit of dark matter has any.”

“If it were dark matter,” said Okada, “we would still be at warp. Dark matter doesn’t gather in…”

“Spare me the lectures, Hideki. By now, you should know I’ve never faked a sarcasm. Remember?” He turned his attention back to Weiss. “I trust you’re reporting everything to your superiors beneath whatever rock they’re hiding under. Correct?”

“Of course,” said Weiss. “But I’m only here to…”

“Good,” said Lancaster, his dry amused tone vanishing. “Then tell them this, should we survive. If they ever interfere with another warp project I’m attached to, I will personally take one of these to your headquarters and shove one of these so far up the G-5’s ass that he will be vomiting drive plasma and shitting ionized gas for a week. And please, quote me on that. I do so love a chance to chat with those who serve us so well at the highest levels.”

“All right, enough,” said Okada. “Weiss, report to CNC and take your post. Pete, what’s our best option?” As Lancaster opened his mouth to speak, he added, “And with a minimum of that dry wit of yours if you can manage it.”

“Can the lovely Ms. Havak locate Sol?”

“She’s trying. But it’s a big ass galaxy, and half way between Helios and Sol is too damned little to get a quick fix.”

“If she can find Sol, even get me enough of a fix to point a child’s telescope at it, I can try and dial one of the hypergates and connect our projection drive to it.”

“Will that work?”

The devilish grin returned. “It’s our best chance, and not just for the fact that we’ll never know if it fails.”

“Get the projection drive online, then,” said Okada. “And keep up that sunny optimism, Tripod. I know it inspires the crew.”

“Lighten up, Hideki.” He tilted his chin toward where Weiss had floated off. “Perhaps you and our delightful visitor from Cybercommand should spend some private time together. She looks like she could stand to be boarded by a Navy officer.”

Okada shook his head. “How you’ve avoided court-martial all these years is beyond me.” He turned and swam back toward CNC before Lancaster could respond.

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