Here is a short chapter from Wings of Earth 8: Fastest Track for you to check out. This is still in draft form, so the final will probably be a little different.
For those of you who have read The Shan Takhu Legacy stories, you will recognize the return of Chei Lu in this story. He’s already made a small appearance in WoE 4, but in this book he has a much bigger role to play. He’s now 128 years older, and has a lot more experience, but trouble still manages to find him.
(What fun would life be, if there wasn’t trouble lurking in the dark?)
Hope you enjoy it!
“Hermes to Nakamiru Ops. Disengage the umbilical and mooring clamps. We’re showing ready across the board,” the pilot said, glancing over his shoulder at the ancient scientist who stood in the middle of the ConDeck. “We’re holding at station keeping until you clear the test zone.”
Chancellor Chei Lu could tell the pilot was anxious, at least in part because he had an unexpected dignitary riding along for the test jump of the Hermes. Sometimes it was a challenge for him to remember that, although he thought of himself as a scientist, others saw him as something more.
He was only here because there were so many things that could go wrong. Impossibly complex things that almost no one else understood.
From his expression, the pilot knew that too. He also apparently realized that if any of those things went wrong, the loss of the Chancellor would be more significant than just losing a test pilot and an engineer.
“Copy, Hermes. We’re moving to the safety threshold marker. Stand by for our mark.” The voice of the Nakamiru’s helmsman sounded calm.
But they weren’t his eggs hanging in the black.
This test was not more dangerous than any other initial flight of a new ship, but Chei had agreed when Director Sonchilde suggested that he personally needed to be on the Hermes for the first jump. Nobody understood the science of Nth Space Dynamics as well as the Chancellor, and that made him the most qualified to get them home if something unexpected leapt up to grab them. He’d spent more years studying the science than most of the people who worked with him had been alive.
After the loss of the Tahrat Shan-che, the Institute had shoved the Hermes project forward at an insane pace. The consensus was that urgency outweighed prudence.
Chei was confident that they knew what they were doing when they designed the Displacement Drive, but every cell in his body reminded him that, in space, short-course thinking was a dangerous tradeoff.
“Ninety seconds to nominal charge,” the engineer announced.
There were only three people aboard the tiny ship. He and the pilot occupied the ConDeck, and the engineer was in the aft section making sure the power controller was feeding energy into the Displacement Drive’s capacitance bank.
Sighing, Chei settled into the copilot seat and slipped his interface visor over his forehead. The readouts spread out across his visual cortex as the system synched with his brain. “Keep breathing,” he whispered.
He felt the pilot nod.
Chei thought the systems display screens into position in his mind and focused on the power levels. Above the curve, but swinging within spec.
The two crewmembers had practiced this jump in simulations a hundred times. It was second nature to them. Except that this was reality, and Chei was there to upset their balance. “Even the act of observing alters the system…”
“What was that, Chancellor?” the pilot asked.
He grinned. “A principle of particle physics that also applies to social dynamics. The act of observation changes the behavior of the observed.”
“The Observer Effect?” He stared blankly for almost a second before he nodded. “I’ll do my best to behave like you aren’t watching.”
Piloting a displacement jump on the Tahrat was a simple process, but this was an entirely human ship. On the slim chance that something went wrong, the Chancellor was the plan of last resort. Otherwise, his job was only to ride along.
“Hermes, you’re free to maneuver,” the captain of the Nakamiru said over the comm.
“Maneuver? We’re waiting for you to get out of the way,” Chei said, cutting in on the comm.
They’d barely outfitted the hull enough to hold air, but the purpose of the test was to prove the concept, and not to build a working ship. They’d even skipped putting engines on the Hermes in the rush to get it into the black. Other than thrusters, they were dependent on a tow from another ship to get them anyplace outside of drydock.
The pilot chuckled, and Chei realized he’d altered the system by taking over the comm duties.
“Chancellor Lu, this is your last opportunity to tap-out,” Director Sonchilde said. His face appeared on the commscreen and he winked. He resembled a viper trying to be charming.
Chei knew he was kidding. Sonchilde was the one who had pushed for him to be aboard. “Right and miss the chance to see the butt-end of the universe?”
“We’re only going ten light-years,” the pilot said quietly.
“It’s not like it’s a big jump. I just want to make sure I’m around—”
“To jiggle their calculations and make them nervous?” the Director finished.
He glanced over at the pilot. “Do I make you nervous?”
His face confirmed that he did, even as he shook his head in denial. “No effect.”
“The captain says we’re almost clear of the departure zone, so you’re good to jump in another twenty seconds,” Sonchilde said. “Do try not to get lost.”
“We’ll be home before you notice we’re gone,” Chei said, nodding at the Director and cutting the comm before he got another comment in. “I hate stuffed-skin shitgaskets like that,” he added, shrugging.
The shocked look on the pilot’s face was enough to get the Chancellor laughing. “Let’s make it happen, shall we?”
“Standing by for the Nakamiru to get to the safety limit,” he said as a countdown timer appeared on their mental screens.
“You know this is going to be a new experience for me,” Chei said, staring out the window at space.
“Howso? You’ve made more jumps in the Tahrat than anyone alive,” he said.
“Yah, but I’ve never seen the stars when that happens. The Tahrat Shan-che has no windows, so the view is virtual. I don’t actually know what it will look like to naked eyes.”
“Wouldn’t it be the same?”
Chei shrugged. “Dono. But I expect to find out soon enough.”
“Displacement Drive is charged and standing by,” the engineer interrupted. His face appeared superimposed on the forward window, and the pilot swept it off to the side with a gesture.
“Another ten seconds.” The Nth space density coordinates appeared on the navcom display while they waited.
Running through the calculations mentally, Chei confirmed they were correct, but he made sure he didn’t let on. No use in making anybody more nervous by second guessing. “Let’s give the Nakamiru time to get plenty far outside the line,” he suggested. “When you’re making your place in history, nobody will notice an extra five seconds, and at my age, the dramatic pause has become an art form.”
“Think you’ve already made history a couple times,” the pilot said, glancing over and grinning.
He shrugged. “It’s not that big a deal to me, so the ball is yours. Call it whenever you’re ready.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said, scanning the small ConDeck like he expected to see a stadium full of spectators. Clearing his throat, he tugged at his collar and nodded. “The Nakamiru is clear. Let’s see what she’s got.”
The pilot reached up and gestured the command to initialize the jump.
The stars flickered, dancing wildly as they collapsed through the Nth space energy threshold. Everything pulsed vividly while the Hermes leapt ten light-years across normal space.
An immeasurably brief glimpse of a multicruiser dominated the view outside the window before an alarm claxon echoed through the ship.
Abruptly the control interface and the internal lights cut off. Searing agony screamed through Chei’s skull and he blinked back the pain.
Another blinding flash of stars erupted as a swirling nebula of green haze dissolved in waves across the window. A strangely crimson-tinged spiral galaxy hung in the distance. Barely visible, it looked at least a half-million light years away.
“What the frak?” Chei whispered. “We blew the landing zone!”
The pilot groaned. “That’s odd,” His voice sounded hollow and disconnected from reality.
An Instant later, the air between them exploded into a dancing sea of fire…