Chapter OnePan-Stellar Combine
Sitting huddled over his command console aboard PSCS Byrd, Ken Konoye figured himself for the most luckless man in the Pan-Stellar Combine. Every time he reran the sim the answer came out the same. By all rights the probe should have returned by now.
The changes they'd made to the Serrie-built BIN-6100 probe's physical parameters couldn't be the problem. Nothing they'd done should have made a difference. Sure, the 6100 was designed for courier work rather than scientific exploration, but it was a damned military design. It was supposed to have redundancies. It was supposed to have a seventy-eight percent probability of returning from a war zone. So where was it?
God, it couldn't have landed in a war zone, could it?
That was a possibility that didn't bear thinking on. The Remor couldn't have penetrated that deep into Human space. If they had, surely, he would have beard. There had to be another answer. So why wasn't he finding it?
According to the sims, there were no problems. The probe should be sitting a hundred kilometers off Byrd's starboard-ventral bow. Only it wasn't there.
This was crazy! Worse, it was wrong! He knew his figures were good. The PSC Survey Office had approved them. He checked the computations himself a dozen times on the trip out here. Winnie had checked them, too. The numbers were on. They were!
So where was his probe? After all, this hole was an all or nothing translator; the probe went, having achieved a safe translation, or it didn't go. It wasn't sitting out there, so it must have made translation.
So why hadn't it come back? Where was it?
He tried more sims, going so far as to inputvariations in the amount of local interstellar dust. He got the same answer, the same damned wrong answer. Vexed, he stared at his screens and willed them to show the probe's return, to be right, but nothing changed.
Maybe the probe had picked up some hull ionization. He started another sim.
Jane Van Der Noogt's voice tugged at Konoye. He wanted to get an answer, not give one. Hell, this sim was turning out like all the others. He might as well answer. He returned his attention to the bridge of the PSCS Byrd.
The Byrd was a typical ship of the Combine Survey Office: a dispersed-structure vessel, all modules and pods and arrays. Officially she was commissioned as part of the Pan-Stellar Combine fleet, but she wasn't really a military ship. For that matter the PSC fleet wasn't a military fleet, but a hodgepodge affair of armed merchant and scientific vessels. Commerce was what interested the cartels who controlled the Combine's Governing Committee. The Survey Office existed to make sure that there would always be new ports for Combine traders.
Though Jane Van Der Noogt held the shipboard rank of executive officer, she didn't look the part. She wore an unadorned military-style jumpsuit that made her more like an overaged student than the eminent researcher she was. She scorned the badges of rank-not her style, she said -- although she said nothing of his wearing the marks of his captaincy. Of course his rank, and hers, were only temporary, just the Combine's way of doing business. Putting entrepreneurs and scientists in charge of ships was the sort of arrangement that other star nations often ridiculed, but it worked for the Combine. After all, interest held in theship's mission was more important than spacefaring experience, especially when you had computers that could fly the ship better than most humans.
Jane was exec because she was a part of Konoye's research team, and she'd worked nearly as hard as he had on getting this survey up and running. Now Konoye saw a familiar look drawing out Jane's horsy face into a long frown. Clearly she had been trying to get his attention for some time while he was focused on the sims.
"I said that we've got the second probe configured," she said, with just a hint of her usual exasperation. She must be as worried as he was about the first probe's fate. She started reeling off the list of modifications.
He didn't listen. The backup BIN-6100 was supposed to have been unnecessary. He'd only taken it aboard to satisfy overly-cautious Combine regulations requiring redundancy on all remote systems. He had resented it when the Committee factor had reminded him of the regulation when examining Konoye's manifest. He had resented it even more when the factor had refused to authorize the use of any of the Committee's funding to acquire the damned thing. The second probe had cost Konoye all of his savings. When it went out, more than just the mission's success would be riding on it.
" -- disaster waiting to happen. Gerry's programmed it to do an immediate download into the main system memory, just in case, to safeguard the data."
"But it's got hardened systems, military systems. It shouldn't -- "
"You weren't listening, were you? I was talking about the damned, jury-rigged stellar cartog system, not the whole damned probe. Jesus, Ken! Where the hell is your brain?"
"Sorry. I'm just worried."
"As if no oneelse is? You're not the only investor."
"I know that." It was just- "You don't think it -- the first probe, I mean -- you don't think it was deliberately destroyed, do you?"
"What? Why would anyone do such a thing? Everybody aboard knows what it means if we chart the route."
"I didn't mean sabotage." He didn't really want to put voice to his fears, afraid that somehow that might make them happen, but he wanted someone to tell him that he was wrong. "I meant the Remor."
Richard Fawkes grew up surrounded by books and developed an early fascination for military history that continues to this day. Occasionally, he can be cajoled into admitting, without details, to time spent as a small unit commander and a close combat specialist. At the present time his martial activities are confined to the practice of historical European martial arts. When not devising stories of the Eridani and Humankind's War with the Remor, Fawkes works as a designer of icons for manually controlled tactical simulations.