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April 5, 2010

This is (possibly a little disturbingly) a first effort at responding to a blog challenge. Head over to and see some of the others. And check out some of the authors in the blog pack. Wiser heads than mine write great stories, and you can glean all sorts of extremely useful information too.

Never let it be said that the universe is without a sense of humour. Time and space underpinned with a heavy layer of quantum irony. 30 seconds ago I became richer than my entire family had ever been. 30 seconds later, my world fell apart. And 30 seconds after that, I was three times as rich again.

“I’m sorry. I thought you knew. Between what you have just been exposed to, coupled with your age, and the genetic damage you have suffered means you will never become a pilot. No corporation will train you. None would employ you”

“That damage is magnified by the cloning process. Error upon error upon error. Every time you would clone jump, those errors would become greater. Even with a perfect starting template, we as pilots require extensive ongoing gene therapy to control them.”

The voice of the ship captain paused, the weird compression artefacts all too evident for a moment or two. I wondered where she was and what sort of solar wind, anomaly, or electronic warfare was affecting the normally perfect transmission.

“Number 5 died without naming an heir or recipient. Numbers 2, 7 and 8 will not last the week. The others died down at the surface”

The artificial voice paused again and my communicator flashed showing an incoming transaction with more zeroes than I had ever seen. Another file gave the name of an exclusive doctor in an unnamed clinic in a part of town I had never been to.

The voice spoke one last time before fading into random noise. “For a job well done. Good luck. May the Goddess go with you.”

There were 16 of us crammed into the hold of the transport ship. 16 of us, the latest and sturdiest of exo-suits and weaponry, and approximately 7 megatonnes of very dumb, very durable mining equipment and self governing industrial machinery.

The irony? The planet we’re is going to is so hazardous, and the equipment so primitive, it requires human hands to ensure it gets into place and going. In this day and age, good old-fashioned grunt still goes where no robot can.

Of course, it’s a race against time once we land. Either the ablative armour will wear down too soon, or the severe ionisation will compromise the metals of the inbuilt faraday protection. Or even more simply, the radiation levels may just be too great.

A failure of the suit is something none of us wishes to contemplate. The end will be quick if not exactly pain free. They’ve shown us the protocol for triggering the drug release straight into the spinal column. We don’t ask why it’s there.

Acceleration and deceleration are our only queues at to what is going on outside. We know the Helios scout ship is in the next system. The pilot flying her is taking point, making sure the valuable extractors and installation team get to where they need to go.

We too are cloaked, the safest method of travelling through the lawlessness of deep space. We wait hidden, until cleared to approach the stargate. Accelerate, warp, decelerate, jump.

It must be dangerous. Some pauses are just a few minutes, some up to a couple of hours. Our lives are entirely in the hands of the pilots. Goddess only knows what the scout has found to prompt such caution. Goddess only knows what she found to start this expedition in the first place. We can only hope to get there first.

Whispers get around. The pilot has a head full of implants. Virtues and others. They help manage and triage the inhuman levels of data incoming from the scan probes and allow the search algorithms to work at their full functionality and efficiency.

If mathematics is beauty, then this must be like staring straight into the face of the divine. Nothing is hidden. Nowhere to hide. The pilot is nearly as good as it is possible to be or so the gossip goes. I do not wonder at what she can do. I wonder how she keeps her sanity.

The signal for arrival chimes in my ear, and suddenly the cramped space is full of movement. Some pray and make peace as I do. Others record a last message for family. All commence the laborious process of strapping one another into the bulky exo-suits. Ammunition, check. Sensors, check.

Then comes zero g, followed by the inexorable juddering fall into the planetary gravity well, broken only by the pounding of the blood in my ears and the intermittent howl of the chemical rockets slowing our descent.

One last giant shudder and we’re down. Status checks complete. The leeward cargo hatch opens to the hellish blue atmosphere of the plasma planet.


The advertisement on the trid in the medical suite is blue. For a moment I am lost in memories burning in my head.

“I am sorry, Doctor. Would you say that again?” And I focus upon her words. Apparently I will live to 80 or 90 years old, perhaps, albeit under constant medical attention. To have children will require significant intervention, but it is possible.

I can see she is beautiful, even with her tribal scars. A professional woman treating a tall man in a plain brown robe. One who, a month ago, could not even afford the cheapest of house iconography, let alone visit this place. The first appointment is tomorrow.

As I leave the medical suite I look up at the darkening sky. Never let it be said that the universe is without a sense of humour. And never, ever, forget that most of the universe is black.


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