Ann’s rel-ship was a blunt-nosed exploration vessel known as a scout, with a built-in cocoon affectionately known to pilots as the slug, a device that distributed G forces under acceleration and boasted built-in life support.
She had to take her stretch pants off to benefit from all the hook ups. Her slug irised around her body, sealing her into a cushioned and monitored environment while her onboard crystronics downloaded a flight persona.
Ann launched and waited, listening to pop songs as she drifted away from the station.
“Thomas is go for launch,” a voice from the station hailed her by radio. “He has Ranar on board.”
The next communication was from Thomas. “Okay yellow buns,” he referred to her clothing preference, “we’re doing it for real the first time.”
“Let me talk to Ranar,” she asked when they had settled into their distancing run from the station.
“Here,” the anthropologist’s voice came back.
“When’s the last time you flew with your eyes open?” Ann asked.
“Never,” he admitted. They both knew it was necessary this time, because they could not count on there being revival facilities on Trinket Ring Station, but it surprised Ann to know it was Ranar’s first time.
Thomas chimed in. “I’ll hold his hand. Listen, once we bite—” one of many euphemisms for transition to reality skimming— “we’re only minutes from the jump, so stay close. If you don’t make it through with me I won’t pop back to find out if it was just because you chickened out.”
“Just kick up a wide wake, big mouth,” Ann gave him back.
“That’s my girl!” said Thomas.
“Fat chance,” said Ann.
Their ships did some last minute communicating to make sure their splicing fields were synchronized, then both pierced the skin of the space-time continuum. The transition hit like the insult it always was.
The psychological adjustment was the worst part. The whole concept of existing seemed ridiculous. Ann’s ornery streak came to her rescue — there was no way she was going to lose that leering idiot Thomas. He churned up a froth on high shimmer — the physical component of reality skimming — as he screamed toward the jump. Ann pulled ahead, then let him match her mix of gap and shimmer and was enveloped.
Ann inhaled like a kid at the top of a joyride as layers of reality tumbled about, reduced in her mind’s eye to the transparent skin of drifting jellyfish. It was definitely jellyfish this time, not dolphins. Then they were out on the other side.
According to prevailing wisdom, jump hallucinations were something the conscious mind slapped over the hole left by gap exposure. But they were very real to pilots who made jumps by clinging to their personal internalizations of them. Ann was eager to commit hers to memory. As she snatched at fading impressions, however, she was interrupted by an alarm.
Her flat stage confirmed that her ship’s flight persona had been wiped out by the potent dose of gap.
“Oh great, just great!” Ann moaned.
She called up algorithmic software, irritated by how fiddly it was, although she could still rely on voice commands.
Thomas barrelled heedlessly on.
“Will you stop!” she shouted, pointlessly. Communication was impossible at faster than light displacements. All she could do was observe his wake signature. At least it was distinct from her own, now. The two ships had slid harmlessly out of the wake-lock necessary to learn a jump. She buckled down to follow.
Seventeen minutes into Killing Reach, Ann was getting worried. According to the star map Thomas had put on record, they were about to run over the little Gelack station if they didn’t cut out soon, and even a near miss could quake it apart.
Not a polite way, Ann thought, to open a diplomatic dialog. Her nerves were on edge by the time Thomas dropped out of skim and she gratefully followed.