Today's post is the first chapter of a scifi story I wrote a while back. I did edit it a bit but it still has some roughness to it. Enjoy!
"Wanted: bionic dog with opposable thumbs."
“Eh, no,” Stormy Macklemore replied, not bothering to look at the ad being pointed out by her younger brother by seven minutes. She took a big slurp from her protein slushy, brain freeze be damned, because there was no way she was going to look at the listing that was currently highlighted on Duke’s e-reader. Looks wise, the only difference between the twenty-eight year old twins was their gender and the eight inches duke had over her 5’3” in height. Both had straight, dark brown hair, dark blue eyes, and pale complexions. Both had square faces, clefts in their chins, button noses, and athletic builds. Stormy’s hair was a little longer than Duke’s crew cut, but only by a couple inches and only on top. Personality wise, they almost weren’t related. Duke loved absurdity in all its forms and Stormy would rather be doing something useful with her time.
“You sure about that?” Duke asked, his tone implying great mirth at her expense. “Says here that the buyer is looking for an animal capable of—”
“I don’t care,” Stormy cut in before Duke could get momentum going. He had developed a deep love of reading the classifieds as a teen back on Earth, looking for oddball listings. It hadn’t taken long for him to figure out how to get them on his tablet once they’d found their way to the planet Thespis. He had been rewarded for his effort, as the population of Thespis was equally in love with posting odd things in the classifieds.
Thespians were an odd sort. Mostly humanoid looking avians, they were highly intellectual and hadn’t a mean bone in any of their feathery little bodies. There also didn’t seem to be any common sense. Really, what would bionic dogs with opposable thumbs even do in an avian population group? She slammed that thought down fast, not wanting to know the answer to that. One of the joys of having ADHD, a syndrome Duke had been spared, was that once something like that got stuck in her head, it wasn’t going to go away until something else came along to dislodge it. She was currently sitting behind the controls of their shuttle, the Icarus, at the beginning of a run that would take four days. She didn’t really want to spend the next four days pondering cybernetically enhanced pets.
What she really needed to do was figure out how to get back home. Or at least figure out where home was in relation to Thespis. About six months ago, she and Duke had been testing out their home made shuttle craft to see how fast they could go. They had already been ahead of the curve in ground launched, reusable space craft but to be able to sell the design, they had needed to know the full operational envelope.
They'd been flying loops around the Earth when Duke had suggested trying to use the Moon as a gravity sling shot. It had been a good idea, unfortunate side effects notwithstanding. In the five laps they’d complete using the slingshot method, they’d gotten up to more than 300,000 kilometers per hour, roughly three times the speed of what the plasma engine was capable of by itself. That last leg between Earth and her moon had taken only forty-eight minutes, where it had taken Apollo 11 three days to make the same trip. That had been exhilarating! And then they hit a terminal speed barrier no one knew about at 314,159 kilometers per hour. Duke had named it the Pi barrier and traveling beyond it the Speed of Pi for lack of a better name. Neither of them had any idea what Pi had to do with astronomical travel, but the end result was irrefutable.
It was also repeatable once she’d upgraded Icarus’s nozzle velocity modulators with a replacement Thespian unit, the original having been damaged in their first accidental jump to hyperspace. That, combined with the hyperspace generator she’d scavenged from a wrecked mining ship on an outer debris ring, allowed the Icarus to travel one parsec every 28 hours. She’d also had to adapt the conventional jet engines to run on fuel other than JP5, since that simply wasn’t an available fuel source in the outer reaches of space. Hydrogen was much more plentiful than fossil fuels and if she planned her route properly to swoop through a known gas pocket, it was free.
In the six months they’d been in this region, they’d made thirty-two round trips in what they’d been calling Hyper-Pi, ferrying passengers between a dozen worlds to earn a living. They had a thriving business because Icarus was faster than anything else that was small enough to make an atmospheric landing. It wasn’t the fastest ship around, of course, but you had to charter a space cruiser to go faster and those were too big to make planet fall.
Today’s run was taking an Arbitrator and his support staff to Pranthos Prime for a trade dispute. The Pranthos system had three planets that were Earthlike enough to have bentonite deposits, which form when volcanic ash is weathered in the presence of water over the course of millions of years. Aluminum bentonite, if it was present, was exactly what she needed to 3D print another Icarus class shuttle. Because what she really needed more than to find Earth was to build another shuttle or three. She loved flying, but she was a ship builder at heart. And there was definitely a market for building more shuttles in this corner of the universe!
Nothing is truly free, not even scavenged hydrogen gas. When they’d dropped out of hyperspace that first time, they’d found themselves floating in deep space with a damaged plasma engine and only limited oxygen. As luck would have it, there had been a large transport passing through the area. Stormy wasn’t sure if it was good luck or bad luck because the beings on that transport were alien to her and pirates besides. In exchange for their lives and the cybernetic translator implants which had been installed in Stormy and Duke’s skulls without their permission, they were expected to forfeit the Icarus and their freedom, to serve as crew members until they worked off their debt. Thorak, the insectoid captain of the heavy transport Ebony Star, the flag ship and namesake of the Black Star Syndicate, never did explain just how long that would have taken. It hadn’t mattered.
The “debt” changed when it became clear that no one in the pirate syndicate had any clue how to fly the Icarus, thanks to the touch screen technology Duke had used when he designed Icarus’s internal electronics. While Stormy was the engineer behind the hull and engines, it was Duke who’d outfitted it with computers, navigation, climate control, and everything else that made the Icarus more than a flying lump of aggregate. By mutual unspoken agreement, neither Stormy nor Duke had mentioned to Thorak and his cronies that they could have used a stylus or special gloves to interact with the touch screens. They were stranded, not stupid.
Instead of forced servitude on the pirate ship, they had been “leased” their own ship and given twelve black-marks, a type of crypto currency similar to bitcoins only good in syndicate channels, to cover their expenses in starting up a shuttle business. In exchange, they would be allowed to take whatever jobs they could find, with the syndicate getting seventy percent of the profits. All they had to do to get out of the contract was return the Icarus or a similar ship and repay the initial twelve black-marks, because clearly, none of the seventy percent of the profits collected by the syndicate could be counted towards those expenses. This arrangement was almost exactly like the company store model back in the 18th century America. It would be almost impossible to work off the debt incurred by the “loan” of the twelve black-marks, never mind the idea of letting the bugs have their ship.
The Syndicate was just one of many entities that issued currency and black-marks were not good with anyone but the Black Star syndicate. A black-mark’s value was highly flexible, depending on what you were trying to pay for. For instance, one black-mark bought them berthage in the Ebony Star’s forward docking bay for thirty standard days. This included nothing but a place to park. It cost another black-mark for 30 standard days’ worth of provisions for the two of them, a black-mark for the parts to repair the Icarus’s plasma engine and the software pack update their navigation computer, and a black-mark for enough fuel and condensed air for one round trip. They had also been charged a black-mark for their rescue and recovery and a black-mark for their cybernetic translators. Stormy and Duke had been down to only seven black-marks before they even landed their first job.
By the time they started breaking even, that number had dwindled to only two black-marks, but they hadn’t needed any for anything but berthage since those initial expenditures, due primarily to the siblings’ frugal nature. They lived on the shuttle, ate yummy things like protein slushies, which tasted every bit as flavorless as they sounded, and they were still using the same three sets of mechanic’s coveralls each that they had embarked with for their two week cruise six months ago. A week ago, they had saved enough asser, a universally accepted commodities based currency, to maybe purchase a hanger or warehouse of their own, so Stormy had high hopes on them never needing to use those last two black-marks. Now, it was time to start implementing their plan to free themselves from the pirate syndicate. And find a place to call home. Yeah, that did need to come first, she mused.