Word from the FutureXavier Xanthum clutched the control console, every muscle quivering with tension. If he didn’t get this right, it would be a disastrous.
“Larry! How many seconds to launch?”
“Seven hundred sixty-five seconds to launch, Xavier.” Larry’s voice showed no sign of tension, though his eyes shone brighter than usual. He could get worked up when he wanted to.
Xavier glanced from the console to those gleaming eyes. Floating disembodied next to him, scanning all the read-outs with equal intensity and greater understanding than his own. Behind him, Xavier could hear Larry’s brain humming through the calculations. Xavier didn’t know how the eyeballs he called Larry communicated with the central ship’s computer that served him as body and brain, but the system seemed to work. He liked having Larry there to check his own work, as well as to talk to.
Larry suggested a small course correction, and Xavier nodded. “Make it so.” He liked saying that. It made him feel like the captain of a great ship, not a one-man exploration vessel with no funding.
The computer did whatever it did in its depths, and the left thruster burned for a fraction of a second. Xavier couldn’t even feel the shift, but he knew it would be perfect. His own eyes strayed to the viewscreen window. The black hole was there, visible only because of the distortion it created in the stars he could see beyond it.
Six months ago, Xavier himself had been there, trying to get close enough to the unnamed planet inexorably approaching the singularity to pull off a landing. If this worked, that earlier Xavier would get the vital message Xavier was now preparing to launch. If not—Xavier shuddered to think of the results. It had to work.
“One hundred twenty seconds to launch,” Larry’s impassive computer voice announced. The message was ready, in its capsule and positioned in the launch tube.
“You’re sure the trajectory is correct?” He didn’t really need to ask. Larry always got the math right. But nerves forced Xavier to say something, do something.
“Twenty seconds to launch,” Larry said by way of response. “Ten. Nine. . . .”
Xavier’s finger jabbed the launch button right at “zero,” though he suspected that Larry actually did the launch and that his button was for show. He saw the packet streak across the plane of the window, aimed to skim the edge of the black hole. It was out of his hands now.
“All’s well, Xavier,” Larry said, hovering solicitously at his shoulder. “It will work. It has already worked.”
Xavier relaxed a little. It had worked, but he still didn’t believe things couldn’t change.
Six months earlier, Xavier was cruising past the edge of the system, seeking planets too isolated or difficult to reach to have been explored. He needed a good find; he’d had no stories worth telling for weeks.
Xavier had learned the hard way that finding valuable real estate that wasn’t already claimed was a dicey proposition at best. But he had found a steady market for the stories of his adventures in their pursuit. A strange beast, a fruit that gave interesting hallucinations, even a bad landing on a strange planet—it all was copy, and copy was profit. Skimming the edge of the singularity created by a black hole was always good copy. Also incredibly risky, but he had his reasons. The ship needed some expensive upgrades.
There was a planet down there, so close to the singularity that if he landed safely, he would have to be careful which direction he launched when he went to leave, or he’d end up learning what was on the other side of a black hole.
“Unknown object at two o’clock,” Larry said.
Xavier glanced at the vid screen and then at the eyeballs, eyebrow raised.
“Little thing. Deploying tractor beam,” Larry responded. “Ahh. . . there! Got it.” When he wished, Larry could put plenty of emotion into his computer voice, just as he did into the eyeballs. His satisfaction was obvious. “I’ll drift down to the cargo bay and see what we caught.”
Larry had the advantage of Xavier for that work, in that he could not be harmed by whatever might come in with a bit of space debris. Neither strange bugs nor radiation would damage the eyeballs, which Xavier wasn’t even sure were real. They might have been a particularly persistent hallucination. He let Larry go.
A few minutes later, the computer spoke up. This time, all expression was purged from the voice. “Standard message capsule.”
“Star Ship Wanderlust.”
Xavier’s head felt funny. “That’s us.”
“We’ve never been here before. Have we?””
“So it’s drifted in here from—where? Oh, fine, I’ll come open it and see what message went astray. Is it clear?”
Two minutes later, Xavier was staring at a standard message form, written in his own hand, and dated six months in the future.
You’re having company for breakfast. Pick up bread and milk while you’re dirtside. P.S. Buy stock in the Orichalcum mines of the Viridian System.
That was all. Xavier looked at his watch and shrugged. He’d no doubt have his reasons for sending the message. “Take us down, Larry. We have some shopping to do before the stores close.”
©Rebecca M. Douglass 2014
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