Two events, one post!
A new video
First—I've posted another video on YouTube, and this one has a special message (and a special commitment). You can watch it right here:
A new short story
Second—I've written a new short story, and I hope you enjoy it!
This short story is a tie-in with one of my most popular book series—Citadel.
It's a complete stand-alone story—you certainly don't have to read the books to understand or appreciate it. But if you like this, you'll probably enjoy reading Citadel, and I'd definitely encourage you to give it a try!
None of the characters or events of this story are in the Citadel books, this is just a look at a different part of the universe, at a time that's slightly parallel to the Citadel events.
Enjoy! And please let me know what you think!
by Kevin Tumlinson
“That,” Sylar said, “is definitely not my problem.”
Despite his assurance, however, the situation was making it clear that, to the contrary, this definitely was his problem. And it wasn’t going to be fun to deal with.
Sylar’s pod was never meant to deal with this sort of trouble at all, but that wasn’t something he could worry about at the moment. Instead he had to focus on the shockwave that was driving thousands of bits of debris toward him at speeds that made even a grain of sand into a shield-piercing bullet with a nice, explosive finish.
The fact that the pod didn’t have shields made that even more fun to think about.
If Sylar couldn’t get out of the way of that wave, he was going to die a very painful and explosive death, strangling on his own bile and blood as the oxygen and everything else inside of him was forced out of his body through decompression.
But that shouldn’t have been a problem Sylar needed to deal with. Because Sylar was never meant to be flying this ship. He wasn’t even meant to even be in space.
He blamed his girlfriend.
Actually, he couldn’t blame her, because she wasn’t actually … you know … real. A fact he was now willing to cop to, though there was no one around to hold him accountable at the moment. He had certainly never thought, when he was bragging to the guys in vehicle maintenance, that making up a story about a girlfriend living on one of the colony worlds would end with him dodging debris after a lightrail relay went critical.
C’mon, he thought. I’m just a dumb Blue Collar. This isn’t my thing. I fix stuff. That’s it!
He’d fixed this pod, for example. Though at the time, he wasn’t sure it could be fixed. He just needed a way to get away from that exploding lightrail relay before it took him with it.
Now that had been a whole other story. He should never have been on that relay in the first place—his duty roster had him working at Prime—Earth Colony Fleet’s main hub orbiting Mars Colony, back in Sol System. He was essentially land-locked—albeit in orbit around the Red Planet.
The point was, he wasn’t supposed to be on a anything more than a shuttle at any given time. And right now, he’d give his left foot for an actual, honest-to-God shuttle.
The pod was a tight squeeze on the best of days, but right now it was a little too much like a casket for Sylar’s comfort. He’d hastily rigged some controls, and mounted those near his left hand and right hand. And he’d boosted the thrusters, so they could give him more push and greater speed. He’d even welded a fuel tank to the back end of this thing, so he might have enough fuel to make it out of this alive. But he hadn’t had time to rig any sort of shielding. And that was probably going to get him good and dead.
He turned the pod so that he was pointed away from the wave, but immediately thought better of that idea. This wasn’t something he could outrun. It wasn’t exactly moving at light speed, but the wave was moving at much greater than the top speed Sylar would be able to manage. The pod’s thrusters just weren’t meant for this.
If he really stopped to think about it, “not meant for this” pretty much summed up most of Sylar’s life. He wasn’t really meant for any of this. He would have been better off having been born back in the early days, when space travel was still kind of out of reach. The explosion of the First Colony vessel had set humanity back a bit, delaying mankind’s exploration of space for at least fifty years. But it wasn’t quite enough to keep Sylar from ending up in this predicament. If only he’d been born just fifty years earlier!
He flipped the pod and started picking up speed toward the wave.
This was, of course, a very stupid move. But given that stupid moves had gotten him this far in life, Sylar felt there was certain level of commitment to maintain.
He pushed the pod as fast as it could go, then did a quick hack to get more juice out of the thrusters, sacrificing power to the gravity fiber. He couldn’t float far anyway. He would just be inertia’s bit for a while.
He was moving at a good clip now, and the HUD in the pod’s window told him the debris wave would hit him any minute now. He needed to do this just right, but for once he did have an actual plan, based on actual training and tactics.
Well … not his training and tactics. He’d listened to one of the ace pilots at Earth Colony Fleet as she had talked about dodging just this sort of shockwave. He was counting on a half-heard conversation from years earlier to help him survive this, and that was just doggone wonderful.
With the pod racing toward the wave, and the wave racing toward the pod, the gap between the two was closing at an alarming speed. At the last second, just as the shockwave was bout to hit him and jam a bunch of tiny matter bullets through the pod and his body, Sylar pushed the controls to shut down forward momentum while simultaneously hitting forward elevation thrusters at full blast.
The pod reared against the wave, and was buffered quite a bit, but as Sylar shut off the forward lift thrusters the wave sort of rolled under the pod, causing him to climb instead of being bombarded.
He still had to navigate around chunks of high-speed debris, but he managed to avoid everything as he surfed the shockwave in his pod. And when he reached the crest of the wave he was able to gun the thrusters again, full forward, and ride the ridge of the wave along its length.
This had the advantage of keeping him moving at a ridiculous speed. And, since he was on the outer edge of the wave, he was carried along with the debris, instead of being hit by it.
“Ok,” he said, “I’m less dead than I was a few minutes ago. Now what?”
This was a serious question, because as the shockwave picked up momentum it was carrying him with it, out into the black of space, away from the known lightrail network. Which wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed, because frankly his pod had no way to actually initiate a lightrail, and no way to travel along one if he could.
This was astasis pod, after all. Heavily (and hastily) modified, but still intended only to put a passenger to sleep during a long voyage, to be awakened when the ship reached whatever colony world it was aimed for.
“Well now, that’s an option,” Sylar said.
He could always activate the cryogenic sleep mode. His brainwaves would be recorded, then brain activity would be stopped by the pod’s cancellation wave. Gasses would fill the pod and suspend molecular and chemical activity in his body. He’d be a corpse, for the most part—kept on the very edge of life and death. Maybe he’d float through space forever, or maybe some day someone would find him and revive him.
“Let’s keep that as Option B,” he said. He thought for a moment. “Make that Option Z.”
So what were his other options?
The pod’s thrusters only had so much fuel, even with the added fuel tank. They were shut off now, and his movement was coming entirely from the shockwave. Essentially, he was moving at a pretty good clip in one direction. But with a few pushes from the thrusters he could get a second direction in there, moving along the outer edge of the wave.
He decided to call the wave’s motion X, and the pod’s motion Y. What he needed was a Z axis. Or just a way to change X—that would be good, too.
Why had he lied about having a girlfriend in the colonies? That lie had led to the dare, and the dare had led to him boarding that shuttle and then the colony vessel, and then exiting to the lightrail relay. And that’s when everything went insane.
He had put a communicator in the pod, thinking maybe he might get lucky and be able to make contact with a colony vessel, passing through. That hadn’t happened, and so he’d forgotten about the comms—until right this very moment, when they the fired up all on their own.
“This is Relay Maintenance Vessel Pelican, calling anyone within range!”
It was a woman’s voice, and she sounded a little panicked. Probably because the relay she’d been sent to service was currently flying outward in multiple directions as a high-speed debris field.
Sylar thumbed the communicator. “Pelican, this is …” he hesitated. Had he christened this pod with a name before he left? He probably hadn’t had time. What would make a good name for a makeshift little runabout like this one? “This is Goose Pimple,” he said, rather proud of his choice. “I’m in modified pod being shot out into the universe by the shockwave. The relay station went critical and this was the best I had.”
“I read you … Goose … Pimple,” the pilot of Pelican replied. “I’m still shut down for light speed effect, but I should have manual thrusters in two minutes. I may be able to overcome the shockwave.”
“I’d appreciate that, Pelican,” Sylar said. “I’d like to avoid dying, if I can.”
The next two minutes were a little harrowing. Sylar tried to mitigate some of the distance he was traveling by cruising back along the narrower band of the shock wave. He punched the thrusters, kept the pod in balance, and moved for a full thirty second burn. He wouldn’t have used so much fuel in one go if Pelican wasn’t spinning up to come grab him, but he figured it was worth the risk.
Of course, there was still the chance that Pelican wouldn’t be able to get to him. Despite the pilot’s confidence, the RMV she was piloting wasn’t the most maneuverable vessel in the fleet. It essentially had one task—to race along the lightrail in one direction or another, from relay to relay, stopping so the pilot could do routine maintenance and repairs.
It was going to take a lot of duct tape to fix this particular relay, unfortunately.
Sylar started thinking about what he could do to further help.
He couldn’t leave the shockwave—though the idea was appealing. Very appealing. But for the moment he was on the leading edge of this thing, and there was no easy way to get to the other side without pushing against the shockwave itself, and possibly taking multiple hits from some of the debris. He was safer here at the edge. If it looked like Pelican couldn’t keep up, he would risk it.
He did not want to risk it.
“I’m spun up and heading your way, Goose Pimple,” the pilot said.
“Roger, Pelican,” he said. “I’m carrying along on the leading edge of this shockwave. I have no shields, so I have to stay out of the debris field. This will be a little tricky.”
“Got it,” the pilot said.
A minute or so went by before Pelican showed up as a blip on the pod’s makeshift sensors.
Sylar would reluctantly admit that all of the modifications he made to this pod weren’t necessarily his modifications. He had ransacked some of the stored pieces of equipment and discarded bits of junk that were in the relay station’s storage room, and many of these showed signs of tinkering “for funsies.” Someone who visited this relay regularly liked to put hands on things, and their hobby had probably saved his life.
He thought about the guys back at Prime. They hadn’t believed him, he knew. They didn’t for one second think he actually had a girlfriend in the colonies. And to save face Sylar had concocted this scheme, to stow away and go to one of the colony worlds, to ‘visit’ his girlfriend and return with vids as proof.
Only he realized, partway through the voyage, that he didn’t have any orders to show a duty officer, once he got to a colony world. He would get to a colony and probably be arrested. Or shot with molecular discs. Or tossed out of an airlock. Something horrible, he was sure.
So he had stayed on the relay. He’d snuck some food and water onboard when he’d stowed away, and it would be enough to keep him in good shape until the next Sol-bound vessel came through. He could flag them using the relay’s computers, give them some spiel about the relay being in the middle of an update, and then sneak onboard while they waited for said update to complete.
To make that work, of course, he would have to actually create the update.
This wasn’t a problem. He did programming like this for a living, as part of his job in vehicle maintenance. He could activate the subroutines that put the relay in update mode, and install some benign bit of code that would change nothing for anyone, but would give him enough time to sneak onboard the colony vessel and hide himself. It would be easy, and no one would know any better.
And that’s when things had gone poo-poo-ca-ca. And they showed very little sign of getting better anytime soon.
“Goose Pimple,” the pilot said. “I have you at 12 o’clock and I’m starting to gain. Is there anyway way to slow your speed?”
“Let me think,” Sylar said.
There really wasn’t much he could do to slow himself without risking a few body perforations or possibly some explosive decompression. But he could see from the HUD that the RMV was running at top speed and not making enough headway. If he couldn’t escape the velocity of the shock wave, he’d be out of luck.
He started firing thrusters to push back against the wave, but all that did was burn fuel, and at an alarming rate. If he did that too long, he’d be truly stuck, with no way to even maneuver.
He’d already routed power from the gravity fiber—the fact that he was periodically bumping his head against the glass window of the pod was proof of that. What else could he …
The idea hit him like a spike through his brain, almost painful in its simplicity. He was thinking two-dimensionally in a three-dimensional space. He didn’t have to push back against the wave, he needed to use the waves momentum to his advantage.
“Pelican, hold tight, I’m going to try something stupid.”
“Roger, Goose Pimple. Don’t kill yourself.”
“I accept your terms,” Sylar said.
He turned the pod so that he was once again running along the leading edge of the wave, and then, before he could think better of it, he ran full thrusters, racing along the shockwave until he had enough speed to throw himself out ahead of it.
He was now moving faster than the shockwave, and he used this speed to run parallel to it before suddenly arcing back toward it.
He hit the edge and was jarred against the inside of the pod. He felt his nose hit hard, and blood started floating in little spheres all over the place. He ignored that, though it was kind of gross, and instead concentrated on tilting the pod’s nose upward until suddenly everything just stopped.
Actually, nothing had stopped. The wave was still moving forward, and the pod was still moving backward. It was just that Sylar had somehow managed to glide along the surface of the wave and use it as a sort of ramp, hurling him back toward the RMV. His fuel was spent, his nose hurt, and he still might die. But at least he wasn’t riding that damned wave anymore.
When he had written the update program—the one that was meant to fool the next colony vessel to come through the relay—he had no idea he would trigger someone else’s trick. Some bit of code was sitting in the relay’s systems, waiting. It was looking for a signal—something that told it a specific passenger was onboard. And if that signal came along, the relay would shift its lightrail and aim it out into the black.
Sylar’s program had run afoul of this bit of code. Sylar had no idea why anyone would want to sabotage a relay in just that way, but thanks to the conflicting commands the relay powered up opposing lightrail generators and basically blew itself up.
All on a dare.
Well, maybe not specifically a dare. Not to do that. But Sylar had come all this way just to avoid the humiliation of the guys finding out he didn’t have a colony girl after all. So in a way, it was really society’s fault.
Pelican matched speed with the pod, and now drew up in front of it, opening the bay doors at its rear. The pod drifted into the bay, and suddenly slammed to the floor, squealing to a metal-on-metal stop. Artificial gravity had taken hold, and was killing all of the pod’s extra inertia.
The bay doors closed, the bay itself pressurized, and in a moment a woman raced toward the pod and used the manual release to pop the top.
Sylar was more than a little relieved to sit up. He bought a hand to his nose and it came away covered in blood. The woman made a noise, and then produced a rag, which Sylar used to blot the bleeding.
“What happened?” the woman asked. “How did you get here? Was your ship part of that explosion at the relay?”
Sylar shook his head, and studied her. She was … well, she was actually kind of pretty. “It’s a long story,” Sylar said. “There was some kind of sabotage in the relay.”
“Sabotage!” she said. “Who would sabotage a lightrail relay?”
Sylar shook his head. “I don’t know, but I’m kind of glad you happened along.”
She smiled, then helped him out of the pod.
“I’m Sylar,” he said, offering a hand, but pulling it back when he realized its as covered in nose blood.
She smiled. “I’m Colleen. My friends call me Zero.”
She laughed. “I don’t actually have any friends,” she said. “So it’s kind of a personal joke.”
Sylar laughed, maybe a little too loud. “Nice to meet you, Colleen.”
“Nice to meet you too, Sylar,” she smiled. And she led him forward into the main compartment of the RMV, showed him where he could clean up, and then flew them back to civilization.
Sylar wasn’t sure what he’d tell anyone, once he was back. He wasn’t sure if he should come clean about everything, or maybe try making up a different story altogether. He was equally unsure if anyone would believe him, even about the sabotage of the really.
What he was sure about was the fact the he no longer wanted to work in Vehicle Maintenance. Instead, he thought maybe he might like to get out among the stars after all. Maybe he could find a real colony girlfriend. That would be nice.
But for the moment, at least, he was thinking he might like to take a job in Relay Maintenance.
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