Just a Guy in Space
The Engineering Bay was a disappointment: every tool was in its place, every workspace clearly defined, every project self-contained and everything looked sterile. What happened to the brilliant chaos? What about the quirky Head that enjoys throwing shit everywhere? What is this? Give me some goddamned tropes please, not this sterile hospital shit! Gus looked around for a while, trying to find someone free enough to help him out before giving up.
“AI, where do I find the guy I need to speak to?”
“Query. Who do you need to speak to?”
“The head of the Engineering department. I don’t remember his name.”
“Calculating. There is a zero percent chance that Lieutenant Trando Uvisulim is in the Engineering bay.”
“Thanks, that’s really helpful.”
“I really need to show you how sarcasm works.”
Gus scanned the bay once again. In retrospect, maybe running an engineering bay full of dangerous experimental materials and prototypes this clinical way was actually a good thing. I mean, no chance of a catastrophic reactor breakdown if everything is by the books I suppose. Kinda boring though. Gus remembered his own workbench back at the lab had been far more cluttered. Granted, he could always find what he needed but he was the only one who could decipher where each individual component was.
He flagged someone down and questioned him about that Trando’s whereabouts.
“Oh, the Lieutenant’s probably calibrating the reactors. He loves calibrations, that man.”
“Uh, okay, sure. How do I get to the reactors?”
“You don’t. You need a level five clearance for that and you’re definitely not on the list. Just wait there, in that corner over there,” he said, pointing to an empty workstation.
“Can I log onto the ship subsystems from there? I don’t want to waste time just sitting there and since I’m here to improve my vacsuit, I thought I’d get started on that.”
“Sounds like a wise idea. I’ll unlock that station. You can speak to AI to link it to your datapad.”
The Agaraxian lead him to the station, fiddled with the holoscreen then went back to his beautifully intricate work. He seemed like he was working on some sort of wire mesh – reactor hybrid thing. Who am I kidding? I have no idea what he’s doing, but it looks cool. Like jewellery. For a reactor core.
He turned to his holoscreen and asked Van to link his datapad database to that station. He awkwardly cracked his fingers through the suit and leaned forward.
“Let’s get this party started.”
* * *
The Pride of Vanatu was nominally a scout ship but boasted state of the art facilities and equipment according to Van. All of that meant that it was vastly more advanced than anything Gus had ever encountered. It had taken him hours of slogging through text just to be able to use his datapad with a modicum of success. This beast in front of him was different. Waaaay different.
Gus was losing his mind going over the necessary steps to properly access the Frame Management Simulation Program. He finally gave up and asked that good Samaritan from before to help him out. All it took was some fiddling with the console and a flick of his wrist to access the FMSP. Gus was mortified and resolved to become at the very least competent in the use of this program.
Thanking the guy profusely, he then set about to modifying his suit. The FMSP was surprisingly similar to the unit upgrade interface from those 4X games he played before. It was a tad more complicated than that, but hey, whatever works. Unfortunately, Gus had no idea what any of the materials or upgrades listed actually did and what their properties were. It was with a heavy heart that he sighed and slumped in his seat.
He didn’t know how long his head was on the desk but he certainly felt the huge weight on his shoulder shake him awake. He blinked sleepy eyes and turned around awkwardly in his vacsuit. At first he thought he was dreaming. Then reality set in and he looked up. And up. And up.
The newcomer was to a mountain what a toy plane was to a jumbo jet. He … she… it? He hada craggy exterior similar to the rocky face of a mountain. Irregular protrusions peppered his huge arms and chest. He was humanoid in shape with no neck whatsoever that Gus could see. One of his huge hands was currently on Gus’ shoulder. How did I not end up squished when he touched me? He looked about two to two and a half meters tall and Gus’ neck was starting to hurt just looking up. He got up, turned around once more and got a better look.
He looked like an anthropomorphic cliff suddenly sprouted limbs and started walking around. Size aside, the sheer density of him should have made it impossible to walk the ship’s decks, yet he was standing with nary a thought to care. Gus noticed a belt-like contraption tied around his waist. It had three slowly blinking lights set in a silvery circle of metal and what looked like a touchpad next to them. There were several wires leading from the buckle-like metal circle to other parts of the belt. The pattern of the lights would sometimes shift in response to stimuli that Gus couldn’t determine.
He tried to introduce himself but words failed him. It was with a dry mouth that he swallowed and finally managed to thrust a gloved hand in front of him.
The rock mountain looked at the proffered hand in puzzlement before doing the same. They just stood there for a minute, both hands outstretched in front of the other, parallel and ungrasped.
“You’re…” his voice broke and he swallowed once again, rallying his mental faculties. “You’re supposed to shake my hand. It’s a human greeting ritual. Here, I’ll show you,” Gus said as he reached for the looming hand in front of him. He gently guided it to his own and closed rugged fingers around his palm. His entire fist disappeared in the giant’s grip and he slowly pumped the hand up and down. “That’s it, you can let go now.”
“A most curious ritual. Why do humans do this?”
“I’m not sure, but I think it stemmed from the fact that a very long time ago, humans were quite war-like and tended to stab each other constantly. To show that you meant no harm, you’d approach and offer your hand to demonstrate your lack of weapons and ill intentions.”
“Fascinating. I’d love to hear more of your culture when you have some free time. But where are my manners? My name is Trando. Trando Uvisulim. I am a Lieutenant on board the Pride of Vanatu and the Head of the Engineering Department. You may call me Trando or just Lieutenant if you so wish.”
“Uh… Nice to meet you. I’m Gustavo Martinez. You can call me Gus or just Human. Everyone seems to believe that’s my name. I’m… I guess I’ve been abducted by aliens so I’d say I’m a kidnap victim,” Gus said as he chuckled nervously.
Trando’s rock-like face betrayed no emotion as he rumbled out an apology. “I do apologise for that incident. The ensign responsible for the transporter mishap was one of my subordinates. I will endeavour to train him more properly so that such a thing never happens again.”
“That’s cool, everyone makes mistakes. Besides, it’s not like I’ve been mistreated since coming here, so no harm done.”
“But you’ve had to abandon your entire life. All your friends and family and work and culture, all gone, left behind you in a trail of ions and warp signatures.”
Gus was silent for a moment before he replied. “My life wasn’t exactly the greatest back on Earth, contrary to what people might think. I think a change of pace was just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been feeling a bit more energised since I’ve been on board the Vanatu. Well, it took some getting used to at first, but I’m good.”
“I see. Did Lieutenant Vatta Ren prescribe you this change of pace? I find it hard to believe that she’d use such a process in lieu of medication.”
“It’s a human figure of speech. I’m still helping AI calibrate the vocabulary database for the human translation matrix, so there are still things we’re missing.”
“Remarkable. You’re actively helping the AI integrate your language into our matrix? You’d need more than a passing familiarity with the various languages and expressions used amongst the species that populate the Pride of Vanatu. Do you not find it difficult or worse, tedious?”
“It’s not that bad. Besides, I’m cheating. AI is constantly helping me out. I just tell it what each human expression means and it automatically finds the closest equivalent in whatever alien tongue it’s translating.”
“I need to observe the next time you do so. I think I might learn something useful for my own research.”
“Research? I’m curious now. I am – was.” Gus paused. “I was a scientist back home. I have an interest in research.”
“I’m working on gravitronics and quantum locking signatures.” Noticing Gus’ blank expression, Trando elaborated. “I study gravity fields and their use. My other research is more esoteric. I don’t know how far you’d understand it.”
“Not very far I’m afraid, I’m more of a biology kind of guy. Anyway, I didn’t ask to meet you to talk about research porn. I need help with my vacsuit.”
“Is it damaged? You have a replacement vacsuit in your cabin if I’m not mistaken.”
Gus quickly shook his head thought the suit didn’t lend itself to that kind of action. The result was that his head was moving while the exterior of the suit didn’t move at all. He gave up on trying to convey negation through head shakes. “No, it’s not damaged. I just thought it could use some improvements is all. It’s functional but not very comfortable. It’s also unwieldy and I’m losing a lot of my range of motion when I wear it.”
“It wasn’t designed for someone of your stature nor was it intended to be used as you do now. Hmmm… What improvements did you have in mind?”
Gus’ neck was starting to hurt so he sat back down in front of the console and turn his back to Trando, feeling him move closer to him. “AI, display Project Plugsuit.”
“Confirmation. Displaying Project Plugsuit from datapad floating data stream. Displayed.”
“This looks like innerwear used for piloting.”
“Surprisingly accurate. It’s based on a fictional piloting suit from Earth media. I’ve been playing around some of the materials you have available here but the list is so exhaustive that I literally cannot find anything to use. I figured I’d wait for you and get your input.”
“Certainly, that seems to be the wisest move. I am intimately familiar with all the materials that are available for synthesis on the Pride of Vanatu. With your ideas and my knowledge we might come up with something appropriate for your use.”
* * *
It wasn’t until Gus checked his chronometer that he realised five hours had passed. Trando was a beast. He would come up with the best possible materials whenever Gus had an idea. He would listen carefully then shoot his down if the idea wasn’t feasible or suggest improvements for the unshaped mess that were his more viable concepts. He should have done this much sooner. The new vacsuit was shaping up to be a great success. It had considerably slimed and the material was much thinner than before but more comfortable or so Trando claimed. Gus wasn’t convinced though.
“It’s obvious we can’t say it’s going to work just based on the statistics we’ve assembled. It looks functional on paper but we need a prototype and a field test. I don’t need to remind you how different human physiology is from xenoi physiology.”
“You’re right. Hmmm.” Trando pondered the issue with a thoughtful face.
Gus really couldn’t read him thought. All he saw was the ever-expressionless, craggy exterior that was Trando’s face. Does he ever smile? Can he smile? How does he turn his head? He can tell where something is without using his eyes though. Extra sensory organs? I need to study his species more. He straightened as Trando slowly turned back to him.
“It’s decided then. I’ve already launched the synthesis of the latest prototype. Now we only have to carry out a stress test.”
“I’m surprised you still have to do that. Doesn’t the simulation accurately calculate the specs including the stress values for each material or component?”
“Indeed it does. There is however a variable that doesn’t exist in our databases and I need to account for it in the final iteration of the suit.”
“What’s that then?” Gus asked. Trando only looked at him. Time passed and his gaze did not waver. Gus was starting to get a bad feeling. He got up and turned to leave. “You know it was lovely speaking with you but I really need to get going. I forgot I left something on the stove at home.”
He tried to hurry away when a vice closed around his waist and he stopped moving. He heard a deep growl mixed with the disturbing echo of boulders crushing against each other. He slowly turned back and realised the deeply reverberating grating noise was in fact Trando laughing.
“No need to leave so quickly. I’ve heard many stories about you and I’ve always enjoyed testing new materials. I promise it won’t hurt. Well, not in the beginning.”
Trando’s laughter echoed in the Engineering Bay with the finality of a rockslide.