Lost in (Fold) Space
Copyright© 2013 by Tedbiker
Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1 - A courier pilot, Hector Finch, finds himself emerging into normal space in an unknown system. The earth-type planet is abandoned except for an administrative artificial intelligence which has developed sentience...
I gave my girlfriend a last, lingering kiss and ran my hands over her silky skin.
"Keep that up and you won't be able to leave," she said.
"I don't want to," I answered, half truthfully. Honestly? I loved my job. While I was very fond of Katy, I didn't want to give up my wandering life to settle down with her. Not for the first time, though, I regretted that the courier ship was barely large enough for one man. It wouldn't be that difficult to build one large enough for two, surely?
She sniffed and turned away, rummaging in a drawer. Turning back, she handed me a memory chip. "Something to remember me by," she said with a small ... very small ... smile.
I took it and gave her another last, lingering, kiss. "Thanks, gorgeous. Not that I ever have a problem remembering you." I tore myself away and opened the door. "Three weeks," I said.
"I know." I thought she was going to cry, so I left and headed for Rapid Transit.
Cutting all those thousands of miles of tunnels cost ... well, a lot. Nearly everyone griped about it, but now? Everyone used RT without a second thought. I could live nearly anywhere in the British Isles and be at my ship in a couple of hours. As it was, less than an hour later I was thumb-printing the receipt for the mail. Most of it was electronic, of course. Chips stored in shielded boxes, each one for a specific destination, but there were still some 'hard copy' documents. They had to be stored in fire-resistant containers, again, each one for a specific destination. I irritated the clerk by insisting on checking that I had every container I had signed for.
I lifted off on time. A century or so previously, I'd have been crushed into an acceleration couch by many times my own weight, so they say. How they managed without artificial gravity I can't think. But my little Sprinter accelerated away from Earth towards the outer limits of the solar system. I couldn't understand why I wasn't allowed to enter fold-space within the system, but you know how bureaucracies are. Right on time the automated navigation system flipped us into fold-space and I settled down for roughly twenty-four hours of boredom.
Wait a minute, though ... that chip. I reached for the Virtual Reality cap and mask. That was one thing that broke the tedium of fold-space transit. You know, I loved the old science-fiction stories and lapped up the various visions of interstellar travel; the streaks of FTL drives, blazing colours from 'hyperspace transits' ... all that guff. And what did I get? Blackness and a day's boredom.
Not everyone is aware that travelling through fold-space has very odd characteristics. Time in fold-space has no relationship to elapsed time or distance in n-space. Each transit takes about twenty-four hours of subjective time ... actually, twenty-three point eight six three something. However, objectively, to the outside world, the elapsed time can be anything from a negative figure to ... well, we don't know. In the beginning, the first explorers were very lucky, perhaps because they were very careful with recording co-ordinates, course and speed on emergence. Later, others disappeared completely, or reappeared a century late.
So ... Wolf 359? Twenty-four hours subjective ... and, all being well, objective too. Lesser Magellanic Nebula? Twenty-four hours subjective ... and, all being well, objective too.
So, twelve hours to take-off and reach the correct co-ordinates, twenty-four hours in f-space, twelve hours to reach planet, check in and land. Twenty-four hours on planet, then off again. Occasionally, a longer period dirt-side, depending on the cargo.
My first stop was Vega. Well, actually, of course, the earth-type planet a long way out from that hot sun! No problems, and off on schedule.
Into f-space and on with the VR cap. Katy must have spent a young fortune on recording that chip. The detail and the capacity for interactive change was incredible; it was her to the life with every sense involved. The computer interrupted a particularly pleasant moment to call me to the controls for the return to n-space.
Betty, the computer ... I ought to say I came across a reference in pre-space literature to an audio warning in aircraft the pilots called 'Bitching Betty' because she (it) only spoke to complain. "Over Gee! Stall approaching! Exceeding maximum velocity!..."
Anyway, Betty's pleasant voice informed me we were in the Alpha Cent system. I automatically pressed the manual control to make an independent record of our co-ordinates, course and speed. I fully intend to live a very long time and don't believe in taking chances or assuming Betty works perfectly all the time, though she always had to that point. I also announced our arrival in system.
No response. And the sun was wrong. Alpha is a binary system with a third sun associated with it – Proxima Centauri. This sun was an M type, I thought, at the hot end, probably about M1, hence red verging on orange, cooler than our sun and probably older.
"Betty," I asked, "where are we?"
"We are in the Alpha Centauri system."
"Betty, Apha Centauri is a triple. This is a single."
"We are in the Alpha Centauri system."
"Betty, run spectroscopic analysis of the sun."
There was a longish pause. Even a computer takes some time to do a spectroscopic analysis.
"This is not Alpha Centauri."
"Yes. I know. Where are we, Betty?"
"That is not a recognised command."
I sighed. "Any signs of life, Betty?"
"There appears to be some electromagnetic radiation emanating from the third planet, in the frequency range two hundred to two thousand MegaHertz. I am unable to decode it."
"Is the planet habitable?"
"It appears to be in the temperate zone. Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. Fewer contaminants than earth."
"Can we return to Earth, Betty?"
"It is possible but uncertain. The cause of our deviation from course is unknown."
"Oh, shit." Betty didn't respond to me that time. "Let's head for the Earth-type planet, Betty."
"Reaction thrusters or focussed grav drive?"
"Grav drive. May as well get there this week. Whatever week we're in."
The planet was distressingly like home, but home with a difference. Similar size, oceans, land-masses. Cooler than Earth with large ice-caps. Signs of habitation around the equatorial region, but no signs of activity beyond the radio-type transmissions. Betty homed in on those. An open area, rather overgrown, with buildings adjacent, screamed 'space-port', and I let her put down there.
My ship wasn't really set up for first-contact situations, but did have equipment for checking the environment. Gravity a little higher than Earth, air pressure correspondingly higher. Oxygen proportion a little higher, too. No toxic pollution. Ideal. But no signs of intelligent life."
"Any animal life around, Betty?"
"Some. Recommend boots, leather trousers, hat, weapon."
Some planets I land on are cold – some hot – some have unpleasant animal life. Leather is a fair protection against most dangers; I dressed accordingly from my on-board selection of clothing. Not that I saw anything that worried me, though I heard some rustling in the undergrowth as I waded through waist-high weeds to the nearest buildings.
I was almost there when my ears were assailed by a warbling screech, lasting perhaps half a minute; long enough, that is, for me to cut the volume to a bearable level. When it stopped, I called the ship.
"Betty? What was that?" Silence. "Betty?" More silence. "Oh, shit..."
What to do? Return to the ship? Keep going? Undecided, I stood for several minutes before deciding that, as I was almost there, I should keep going. I probably wouldn't be able to do anything about the tech on board anyway.
The first building I came to was almost featureless, but for a slight recess a little bigger than a normal earth-man sized door. I felt around, but couldn't find any operating mechanism and it didn't move when I tapped, pressed on it, or tried to push it sideways. Shrugging, I moved on. Having had much the same lack of success several times, I came to a larger building. It had a rather larger recess and when I stood in front of it, it ... dilated. It moved smoothly and silently, leaving an opening perhaps two metres on a side. There was no light inside. I hesitated, but took a deep breath and stepped over the boundary. Light increased as walls became transparent. There was a counter, behind which was an office chair, much like any you might find on earth, though subtly wrong. (It was later I found out that the original inhabitants had been humanoid and much like us, just taller. Think Vulcan, from Star Trek, but Klingon sized?)
"Er ... Hello?" How stupid can you get? Speaking English to an empty, alien room? I looked round, but there was nothing to hold my attention beyond the view through the walls. I could see my ship and hectares and hectares of empty, weed-infested field.
"Captain Donnelly?" It's a good thing we courier pilots have to be in great physical shape. The beautiful contralto voice, the perfect – well, Scottish accented, which, yes, I suppose is perfect – English ... I spun round. Katy ... I could have sworn it was Katy to the life, was sitting behind the desk. Dressed as I'd last seen her, in a blouse ... I couldn't see below the waist until she stood ... and jeans. A black cravat or scarf tucked round her neck with some scarlet, green and gold pattern.
"Katy?" Disbelieving, yet the illusion, if it was one, was perfect.
"Please excuse me, Captain. This is not your mate, rather a construct to permit me to communicate with you. I apologise, but I had to access your ship's computer for the data I needed to do that, and found these files. I hope you will forgive me for intruding on your privacy."
"Yes. My people valued their privacy. Too highly, perhaps. Had I done to one of them what I have done to you, I would have been memory-wiped and reprogrammed. But how many years, how many centuries, how many millennia, should I have waited for one of your scouts to find me?"
It took much too long for my mind to process what she ... it? ... had said. "Did you ... did you ... have something to do with my ending up here?"
"Yes, I did. I used a ... lure ... so to speak, to distract your guidance system."
"So ... you can tell my ship how to get back to space we know, I suppose..."
"Can you not find your own way home?"
"What do you mean? I'm just a courier. I use pre-programmed settings, worked out by trial and error, to travel a set route, delivering mail. I'm not a scout – I don't have the equipment or the skills."
Given that this was some sort of computer, a very sophisticated and capable (if ancient) computer, there was a long pause. Several seconds, in fact. Think how many processing cycles that meant.
"I have made a serious error, it seems."
"No shit," I snorted. "Well, as long as Betty is back at work, I won't starve. Not for a few months, at least. I might die of boredom, I suppose..."
"There's no need for that, is there?" Amazed, I watched the woman ... hologram? whatever she or it was, rise smoothly to her feet. "I'm sure I can entertain you..."
The Star Trek holodeck had nothing on that system, I tell you. You'll see why. Katy ... what was I going to call her? It wasn't Katy. I don't just mean that intellectually I knew that what I was looking at was not Katy. I mean there was a not so subtle difference between them. Obviously, the computer...
"Hold on," I said, "what do I call you?"
"Can you not call me Katy?"
"No, because you aren't. Whatever you are."
There was another of those longish pauses. "There is a name from your memory banks that seems appropriate. How about... 'Andromeda'. It seems she was rescued by a hero from a monster. I hope you have rescued me from purposelessness."
I thought about that. "I'll call you ... Romy ... then."
The woman? If that's what she was ... smiled. "I like that. But ... what may I call you? Captain?"
"I don't think so. I don't like my given name, so why don't you call me 'Hex'?"
She/it raised her eyebrow and smiled, "You must explain some time, Hex."
"I'll return to my ship, then. How do I contact you? Come back here?"
"No need. I will accompany you. If you need transport, it may be available. I will check."
I was assuming that ... Romy ... was a hologram. I mean, a projection having no material substance, not a solid projection like in the television program, and that she, or it, would be unable to exist outside the space we were in.
I was twice wrong. She or it walked round the desk and took my hand. It certainly felt real. But then, she led me outside and towards my little ship. It was about then I decided to stop debating and say 'she'. It was easier that way, and she seemed pretty real to me.
We entered the little ship. "Everything all right, Betty?"
Her voice when she replied was somehow richer, more solid, than before. "I am fine, Captain. There was just a short time when ... communicating with ... Andromeda ... took too much of my resources to allow me to function fully. Everything is fine now."
I told you that the courier was small. It was possible, just, for two humans to move inside her, but that certainly wouldn't work in space. It might be possible in zero-G, but who would take the chances that would entail. Not me. I like functioning in a one-G environment, more or less.
Betty produced me a meal which I ate sitting in the pilot's seat, Romy just behind. I asked if she would eat with me, but she said there was no point; she got her energy directly and it wasn't as though we were in a social setting where that would be appropriate.
I'd about finished eating, when Romy spoke. "May I ask something?"
I glanced back over my shoulder. "Of course. Why are you bothered?"
"Because I am programmed for privacy. It was ... difficult ... to overcome that to bring you here, but that makes it more important to respect you now you are here."
"So ask, already."
"When I programmed my ... avatar ... with the appearance of your ... mate ... I expected you to ... initiate a ... more direct ... contact."
"That is not a question."
"No. The question is, why did you not?"
I had to think about that. "It is because you are not Katy ... you just look like her. Personality wise, you are very different. The resemblance makes me think of her, the differences emphasise that you are not her."
"Would it be better if I programmed a different appearance?"
"Perhaps," I conceded.
"I can save this program and if you wish you can describe your ideal ... The change would take an hour or so because I would not have the detailed files."
"I need to sleep, anyway, Romy. Let me think. I've always liked dark red hair and freckles, fair skin. Perhaps a little shorter than Katy – about one point six or seven metres. Slim, small to medium breasts, hips a little larger than breasts. Green eyes. Is that enough?"
"With the information in your database, yes. I can make any adjustments you wish tomorrow."
We spent another hour, maybe, agreeing on comparative figures. It took some time, but we agreed on a base figure in the form of the decay rate of Uranium 235 and the spectrum of sodium. Of course, Betty was able to calculate the length of the planet's year anyway. As a result, Romy could talk to me using Earth measurements.
Romy's creators had died out a millennum earlier, give or take. It was possible there were remnants elsewhere in the universe; there could be a number of reasons for the lack of contact. But all the known populations were gone.
"But why? Surely they had the technology to overcome most natural problems?"
"Perhaps. But technology doesn't overcome a lack of desire to breed. My people became so obsessed with their privacy the population ceased to grow and eventually became unviable."
"What about cloning?"
I was amused and impressed when Romy shrugged in response. "How do you clone someone who refuses to permit the use of their DNA?" She said and I sighed, understanding. Romy sighed too. "But I think you and your people may be livelier."
"I think I need to rest," I said eventually, standing.
"I will go," she said, then stepped up to me. "I understand your people have a ... parting ritual ... with friends. I hope we are becoming friends?"
"You mean..." I held out my hand, "we shake hands..."
"Actually, I had in mind..." she closed the gap between us and pressed her lips to mine. They were warm and soft and my arms wrapped around her before I thought about it. She moulded herself against me and for a moment I forgot it wasn't Katy. Remembering, though, I released her. "Good ... night..." she said, and faded away.
"Systems check and security, then I want to sleep at least eight hours."
"It will be done by the time you are ready for bed, Captain. As you know very well."