Early Days

Ice Age

Age of Conflict

Through the Eye of Paal

Maps and Tables

Ch 2

Chapter 2

Company



The air was as stale inside as it had been in the airlock. "Computer, check the air systems."

"They're up and running in tippy top condition," the computer replied, and there was a hint of smugness in its mechanical voice.

"Tippy top?" Paal frowned.

"Now don't get your britches in a twist. There's bound to be a bit of weird in an air system that's been idle this long."

Idle? "Computer, you're making no sense." Paal went over to the console and tried to bring up the current status on the main board. The board had been shut down.

"It's all in your frame of reference, me boyo," the computer responded, "You've been taking your own sweet time about slipping back in."

Suddenly the odd behavior began to slip into place. "Computer, how much time elapsed while I was outside?"

"Now it all depends on how you want to define 'outside'. There's the time in the airlock. Is that inside or outside? ...And do you want to count when your right foot or your left foot left the door frame?"

Paal had had about enough of coy computers. He slammed his hand down on the console. "Dammit! Just give me an approximate from the time the inner door closed to when it opened again!"

"No need to be huffy, oh great one. You were out 37 years, 5 months, 12 days and an odd assorted number of hours. Have we got it approximate enough for you?"

Weak kneed, Paal sat hastily down on the crash couch. Years? That was the stuff of boogiemen and fairy tales. Stasis generators just didn't break that way. They couldn't. The physics was all wrong. If anything broke, the cryo bubble would collapse. It was like having a ship break by going faster and using less fuel.

"Computer, there's got to be some mistake." The console was just beginning to show displays after it's power-up. Damn the speed of this bucket of junk!

"Ok, Boss. You're the brains, I'm just the beauty."

"Don't be snide. Your internal clock is based on the decay rate of iridium."

"My mistake."

Paal tried to ignore the computer, and take in the enormity of the situation. He gazed out at the seascape and tried to see the bizarre diorama as a crash frozen in time. The silt and air bubbles were just beginning to make the water visibility impenetrable. He could see how the water was moving when he viewed the line between clear water and silt. At the edge of that frozen tumult he caught a glint of something unusual.

"Computer, what is that object caught in the backwash?"

"Can't begin to know what you mean. All I see is that fish trying to get out of the way."

"It's a fish?"

"Nah. More like a dolphin or seal."

"But it is definitely an animal of some sort."

"Wrong there too, oh confused boss man."

Fighting the urge to pull the plug on the damn AI, Paal tried again, "Computer, what would you describe it as?"

"Well, glad you asked. From the way it's been moving over the past 30 years or so, I'd conjecture it's a sentient."

"And you would think this because...?"

"Purposeful, correct, counter-intuitive movement in a unique, panic situation."

"What are its chances out there?"

"Weeeeeelll," the computer drawled, "It may be a bit soon to say for sure, but ballpark figures put it at between three and seven percent survival."

"In other words, 'not a rat's ass in hell'" Paal murmured.

"Wouldn't know," the computer countered. "I've never been to hell."



Chapter 3