Just a Guy in Space
“So I just need to squeeze this ball?”
“Yes. Start off lightly then slowly increase the pressure you’re putting on it.”
“Right. That sounds simple enough. I have another question though.”
Gus glanced at the holoscreen and narrowed his eyes. “Why am I naked?”
Trando didn’t even have the decency to look embarrassed. “It’s an opportunity to get additional data for the medical and science departments. You’re a new species and you can never get enough data on new species. Why? Is there a problem? As I understand it humans tend to get naked quite often.”
“Yes, we do, but it all depends on the context. Being naked usually involves courtship rituals or reproductive activities. We don’t normally go around in a birthday suit.”
“Birthday suit? A human expression, I presume?”
“Yeah, it means to be naked.”
“Hmmm… Then do you feel embarrassed? I highly doubt you’d be interested in me sexually, what with your affinity for the good Lieutenant. If that is the case, I advise you to not mind it. I have seen many strange, naked beings in my time.”
Gus grumbled something under his breath before sighing heavily. “So, what with this ball anyway?” The object in question was perfectly spherical, had a metallic touch and gleamed silver. It was warm, the same temperature as his hand and felt oddly solid but turned soft whenever he pressed on it. “It doesn’t feel like anything I’ve ever seen on Earth.”
“One should hope not. It’s a synthetic material that was created through derivations. I doubt you’d seen it outside of Council space.”
“Derivations? What does that mean? You just calculated this into being?”
“Very close. Our main think tank got together and started working on theoretical materials, materials that were unfound in nature but were somehow discovered while rearranging the structural configuration of known elements and materials. From time to time, we get new, exciting discoveries and this material is one of them. It’s called phelante and its main use currently is in stress testing.”
“How does it work? It’s soft when I squeeze but it gets harder other times. Does it respond to stimulus?”
“Something like that. It’s a modular material which consists of groups of molecules which align in a particular pattern in response to an impulse. The impulse itself is generated by stress produced from a striking force on the surface of the material. This allows it to quickly harden when struck with a fast kinetic blow. However, the molecular modules will shift their alignment when subjected to a gradual force. It effectively means that with a sensor linked to a phelante surface, it is possible to read very fine gradual increases in pressure.”
“That sounds like a lot of trouble. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just use a pressure plate? I’d just press on it until I reached my limits. It would accomplish the same thing, right?”
“It would, and it this were some sort of backwater planet, that’s exactly what we’d do. Pressure plates are very nice and simple but are bulkier and on a ship like this, space is at a premium. So we try to trim whatever we can. In truth though, it’s just more impressive this way.”
“Fair enough. So back to squeezing then? A very light amount of force, then gradually increase to my maximum with one hand. Alternate to the other hand, get some rest, then switch to both hands. Is that right?”
“Exactly. You may begin whenever you wish.”
Gus started squeezing. “I’m warning you though, you’re gonna be disappointed. I grip like a girl.”
* * *
“I do believe the screaming was unnecessary.”
“It helps me focus my strength.”
“Does it really?”
“Nah, it’s more instinctual I’d say. Whenever a human is doing something strenuous, it will involve some sort of screaming or grunting.”
“Is that true for all humans or just you?”
“All humans, as far as I know.”
“I see. If you’ll direct your attention to your left, you’ll see an innerwear exosuit that fits you. Please wear it.”
Gus walked to the space-trolley and grabbed said exosuit. It was surprisingly light, with smooth material interspaced with rough blocks at regular intervals. He put it on, marvelling at how the measurements seemed to be just right and how comfortable the suit was. The blocks felt cool against his bare skin but he quickly got used to it. He stretched, testing his range of motion and noting that the blocks did not hinder him in any way.
“All good. What now?”
“Now we’ll be doing some more comprehensive tests. First off will be your endurance. Please get on the treadmill and start walking at a leisurely pace.”
The treadmill looked like something straight from a gym from back home. He got on and felt the machine beneath him thrum quietly as the belt started moving at a snail’s pace. “How do I adjust the speed?” He touched the handrails and the panel in front of him to no avail as the belt’s speed didn’t vary.
“No need to worry about adjusting it. The speed will slowly increase in small increments. I will be monitoring your body’s activity whenever you reach a new milestone. I’ll be looking at your reaction before and after changing speeds. To get consistent data I hope you’ll cooperate and keep your pace constant for every given speed point. Since this is a stress test, you might get a bit… uncomfortable.”
It was a while before Gus reached the first significant speed milestone and he decided to chat for a bit. “So Trando, tell me about yourself.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just introduce yourself, I guess. Tell me more about why you joined this crew. Why the military? How’s your homeworld? Tell me of your people. That kind of stuff…”
“Hmmm… I’m Lieutenant Trando Uvisulim. I am the head of the Engineering Department, as I’ve told you before. I’m a member of the Kmoz’iq species, from the Uruth star system. As you’ve no doubt guessed we are a species from a very high gravity world. The Uruth worlds are considered category six planets on the index of survivability. Nowhere near your homeworld but they present their own challenges, mostly when we’re off-planet.”
‘Too heavy to move around normally?”
“Exactly, which is why we are pioneers in the gravitronics department. Every member of the Kmoz’iq that goes off world must have a gravity harness equipped so that he or she doesn’t break any surface he or she is on. Every harness is calibrated for a specific Kmoz’iq and they are responsible for its maintenance. As such, many of my species end up in engineering or science departments. It makes it easier to continue our research of maintain our equipment.”
“That sounds inconvenient. That gravity harness, is it that the belt thing you’re wearing? And from what you’re saying you’re more worried about what’s around you than your own well-being.”
“Yes, it’s exactly that. Milestone reached. I am increasing the speed. Compared to the other environments, natural or manufactured, we are much sturdier. Our organs and dermis, our skeletal structure, everything has evolved to be able to withstand tremendous amounts of pressure. As such, when we can tolerate a great many conditions that others cannot. The gravity harnesses allow us to move unimpeded in lower gravity. Just imagine, hurting someone else or breaking the furniture around you simply because the gravity is too weak and you’re not used to the lack of resistance. Concerning myself… Well, there’s not much to say. I have a very strong interest in gravitronics and my research has actually been progressing very smoothly. I’d tell you more about it but your world doesn’t have sufficiently advanced science for you to understand it. Perhaps when you’ve had an opportunity to study it in more details, we can sit together and have a chat about it. How is this speed by the way? Any strain?”
“None. This is still pretty slow. Hey, this stress test business is pretty easy.”
“For a human perhaps. I remember reading from the reports that you mentioned humans being endurance hunters. This section of the test should be the easiest for you.”
“Endurance hunting hasn’t been in fashion for centuries. The humans you’ll encounter nowadays are mostly lazy fucks like me. I mean sure, we have pretty good stamina depending on the situation but there’s no way we can track an animal for three days and nights with no sleep anymore.”
“With civilisation, the need for such evolutionary traits was lost. Fascinating.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. You were telling me about yourself?” Gus prompted once more.
“Ah yes. I grew up wishing to see other worlds and wanting to expand my horizons. Joining the engineering branch of the military was ideal in that I could do both and I’d be getting paid as well. I got assigned to the Pride of Vanatu as a result of my research on gravity anomalies that might affect warp travelling during long hauls. Perhaps the higher-ups thought I might be of help if there ever was an incident involving gravity wells during warp travelling. Beyond that, there’s really not much to tell. Milestone reached. I am increasing the speed.”
Gus felt the belt move a bit faster. He now had to jog along to keep up. It felt surprisingly good to move his body again like that. He never thought he’d miss doing light exercise but being cooped up in his room – no matter how large it might have been – wasn’t a very good idea. He could feel the kinks and aches of his body fade into the all-encompassing weariness that accompanied exercise. He still had the leeway to talk so he asked another question.
“Hey Trando, as the Head of Engineering, you must have access to special manufacturing equipment right? I mean, you’d have military or factory grade synthesisers and no restrictions on materials whatsoever, right?”
“Assuming that is correct, what would you do?”
“I have some ideas for some really cool stuff that can’t possibly be made on Earth due to the lack of technology and I wanted to see if it was possible using your tech. I mean, throw me a bone here – I’ve been kidnapped by a coalition of super-advanced aliens and I don’t even get to play around with some new toys? That’d be really sad…”
There was silence for some time before Trando replied. “I’d have to check with the Captain. Giving non-military personnel access to those devices usually ends up badly. Your request will be put on hold pending approval. Milestone reached. I am increasing the speed.”
Gus was now at a brisk jog, arms pumping up and down. He was panting now, not quite struggling to breathe but feeling a familiar burn coming back to him like a long-lost friend, just dropping by to visit but overstaying his welcome and passing out on the couch. He tried to keep his head up but the white walls of the room were suddenly glaringly brilliant and he squinted through the pain of suddenly burning eyes.
“Milestone reached. I am increasing the speed.”
The treadmill sped up quite a bit. He had to genuinely run to keep up now. “Uh hey,” Gus said, huffing and puffing, “that’s kinda fast… Could you *huff* could you slow down *wheeze* slow down a bit?”
“What do you mean?”
“Slow down!” He nearly tripped over his own feet and decided he had enough. He grabbed the handrails and got off the belt. He was desperately trying to catch his breath when he felt a shock travel all over his body. He stiffened and yelped at the suddenness of the sensation of the muscles in his arms and legs clenching uncontrollably.
“What the actual fuck?! What was that?!”
“That is a countermeasure set up to prevent recalcitrant participants from completing the stress test. Please get back on the treadmill, for your own sake.”
“What the fuck Trando! I’m not some sort of- FFFFFUUUUCCCKKK!!!” Gus screamed as another shock, this time of higher amplitude, travelled though his body. “Dammit Trando stop that!” he roared as he tried to ineffectually rip the exosuit off him. It was much too tight now, trapping him in this electrical nightmare of a prison. His left arm was still twitching from the aftermath of the last shock.
“I don’t suggest you do that, the suit is designed to trigger the shock if it is tampered with. Getting on the treadmill and finishing the stress test is your best bet at this point.”
“I swear to fucking God, Trando, as soon as I get out I’m gonna kill you!”
“Yes, of course. The treadmill?” Trando prompted nonchalantly.
Gus hopped back on and immediately regretted his decision. The exhaustion that followed was almost as bad as the shock but he could somehow keep up until he heard the familiar words.
“Milestone reached. I am increasing the speed.”
He had to run for his life now, arms and legs pumping like mad, muscles positively burning in agony and mouth absolutely dry. He couldn’t fathom why Trando would be doing this to him.
Another case of the over-eager engineer? Fuck, I really fucked up! I knew stress testing wouldn’t be this simple!
“You must be wondering why I’m doing this. As I said earlier, this is a stress test and I must know your limits if I am to effectively design your suit. This also doubles as a medical examination. If I do this now, then you won’t be subjected to another more rigid examination when we reach our destination. Trust me on this, you do not want to show up with incomplete documentation. I know, I know, this is very painful and perhaps the electric shocks were a bit too much but I needed a way to ensure your cooperation. Given that you’re an unknown lifeform from a category thirteen planet, this much exertion shouldn’t be a problem for you anyway. You’ll thank me when you’re stranded on a hostile planet with nothing between you and certain death except the suit I’ll be making you.”
Gus was far too concerned with keeping up the pace than Trando’s words and honestly couldn’t spare a second to listen to him. His world had shrunk to the belt moving at break-neck speeds and his legs screaming in agony. He could see black spots and silvery flecks swimming in his vision and his lunch was coming up in a very distinct manner. He struggled to keep the nausea from overwhelming him until he heard Trando again.
“Milestone reached. I am increasing the speed.”