Placeholder (NaNoWriMo Day 16)

The last place Simon expected to wake up was on an alien spaceship, but there are worse ways to start a NaNo novel…

This is the daily posting of my 2016 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) attempt at a novel. It’s a brand new world and new fictives and although I gave a shot at planning things (see: Chasing Falling Stars), it’s another pantsing effort. So MuseFics away! 🙂

Read at your own risk/amusement: There will most likely be spelling and grammatical errors afoot as well as flat out bad writing, info dumps, plot holes, contradictions/retcons, uneven characterization and pacing.

Daily Wordcount: 2,821
Total Wordcount: 23,669 (includes Title, Chapter Headers, etc.)

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~*~*~*~*~

Bug Busters R Us

“Library, sweet library.” Simon artfully pulled his comfy chair from the mists even as he sat down. He frowned as Cat summoned his beanbag right beside it. “Hey now.”

“I am the Cat that naps alone,” Cat intoned solemnly, “and all places are alike to me.”

“Well try not to get fur everywhere this time.” Simon grumped and pulled out a beer instead of an opened top drink. “You don’t go well with bourbon.”

“I don’t think any of you go well with bourbon,” the Writer objected as she settled in to write. “I’m thousands of words behind and y’all need to start working for a living.”

Her fictives made grumbling noises.

The Writer set the wordcount timer anyway. “Avast!”

~*~*~*~*~

Ship spun for a few cycles trying to figure out the best way to deal with whatever it was that was quickly spreading over his hull. Or more accurately over the raw materials he had attached to the outside of his hull for added protection. At this point he was very glad he had them outside, even if they might have been protected inside the idea of having the whatevers running around his corridors was disturbing.

The small critters, which weren’t quite bugs, didn’t seem to be doing any real damage at the moment, but a scan of the rock that they had come out of showed it had been stripped of iron and some related minerals. That didn’t bode well for him when they reached his aft side where the iron deposit was.

The fact that they seemed to be making dents in some of the other materials was also worrying. In theory some of it should kill them, if they were designed to process iron, but he wasn’t sure if that also meant they might find things they liked better.

Ship was handicapped in his sensor readings because he was keeping the other probes and ore processing robots at what he was guessing was a safe distance.

He still hadn’t figured out what had caused the first robot to malfunction, but as his processing speed only a few seconds had passed between the signal loss and his current ponderings. After a fraction of a second more Ship chickened out and redirected the other robots inside as a precaution, making sure they went in through the cargo airlock instead of the simply the nearest one.

He was pretty sure none of the asteroid critters would survive the atmosphere inside the ship, but he also wasn’t willing to find out.

~*~*~*~*~

“Space termites.” Ship had tracked the Writer down to the library and hovered accusingly behind her. “Really.”

The Writer pretended she hadn’t heard him.

It didn’t work.

“That was the best you could do?” Ship complained. “Not space pirates or space whales or solar flares? Space termites.”

“Technically they aren’t termites,” the Writer pointed out as she got ready to reset the sprint timer.

Ship made an annoyed burst of static in reply.

~*~*~*~*~

“We may have a problem.” The voice from the overhead speakers woke Simon and Cat from their impromptu afternoon nap. He was speaking in both languages at once and it was weird to hear them overlap.

“And?” Simon didn’t bother to do anything beyond rolling over so it was easier to talk. “What do you expect us to do about anything?”

“I expect you to think.” Came the curt reply. “There is something on my hull that is fond of eating metal and I need to find a way to get rid of it.”

That got Cat and Simon up.

“What sort of something? How big is it?” Simon asked. “How fast can it eat through the hull?”

“Where did it come from? Is there only one?” Cat rowled. “Why can’t you kill it?”

“It’s a collection of small lifeforms that were in one of the asteroids I harvested. I don’t have details because they disabled a robot that was close to them. They eat metal, which means my hull is hardly at risk, but the stockpiles of material I use to repair and rebuild myself are at risk. I have no idea how to ‘kill’ them as they live in a vacuum, hence my request for additional input.”

“Huh.” Simon sat back on the bed and frowned. “No idea what they did to the robot?”

“No,” Ship snapped, “or I would have said so. And I refuse to risk another remote to check on the first one.”

“If they eat all of the metal, what damage will this cause you?” Cat was pacing on all fours, his fur rippling with hunting marks as he strategized.

“None, but I will lose resources that must be replaced and there is nowhere for the creatures to go once they are done eating and no indication that they will die or leave.”

“Wait, so how did they move from rock to rock,” Simon said. “They can’t have just been living in one rock the whole time, unless you were picking up much larger rocks than I’d thought you were.

“The asteroids I gathered were quite small, we can’t risk the time or the resources to accelerate anything larger. I have no direct data on these things, but they have no apparent means of individual propulsion, so it seems reasonable to assume they simply waited for the asteroids to collide.”

“Could we lure them onto something and then let it go?” Cat said. “We can’t drive or hunt them if the robots can’t be used.”

“I don’t suppose you have spacesuits we could use,” Simon asked.

Ship didn’t honor that with a reply.

“I could possibly detach the metal they seem fondest of and tow it with a line.” Ship offered. “They’d have to run along the line to get to the food, which they seem quite capable of doing, and then we could let it go. But I couldn’t guarantee that would get them all, which means there is a good chance they’ll just come back again as soon as we attempt to restock.”

“So we need to lure them as well as drive them, only we can’t use the robots.” Simon pondered. “Is there anything they don’t like? Light? Noise? Well not noise, it’s a vacuum– vibrations?”

“I have no idea and I’m not wasting my robots to find out.”

“Why can’t you use a probe?” Simon said. “Don’t have it touching you, have it flying alongside, they shouldn’t be able to reach it.”

“Unless they can fly,” pointed out Cat.

“But it’s not tasty, why would they fly to it?” Simon retorted. “Look, we’re basing this on the idea that they aren’t intelligent and pretty much just want food. Unless the probe is made of food or is attacking them somehow, there’d be no reason for it to leave the food it has, right?”

“It’s a theory.” Ship admitted after a moment spent thinking of all the ways in which it could go horribly wrong. “But the probes can’t fly as fast as I can, we’d have to slow acceleration to do this.”

“And that other ship is right behind us, isn’t it.” Simon said with a sigh.

“How important is it that we do this now?” Asked Cat. “Other than they will consume your repair resources and we can’t send the robots outside, what will it hurt us to wait until we are far enough ahead so we are safe?”

“That will all depend on how fast these things eat.” Said Ship. “So far they have not reached the iron deposits, but at the current speed we only have a few hours. If I max our acceleration during that time it will not be comfortable for you, but we should gain enough ground to safely experiment.”

Simon and Cat looked at each other.

“How bad is ‘not comfortable’?” Simon finally asked.

“I’d recommend being asleep.” Ship said after a moment. “I can provide sedatives, if you are interested.”

“How about drunk instead?” Said Simon. “I don’t really want to sleep through my possible death.”

“Sufficient intoxication should be enough to stave off the worst of the reaction,” Ship agreed. “That might prove more difficult for Cat, but I can provide you with the requisite perception altering substances.” A moment later a cubbyhole popped open with what looked like bourbon and two sets of pills.

“These are just going to relax us, not knock us out, right?” Simon said as he handed Cat his half of the pills. Cat’s dose was a good deal larger than Simon’s.

“That is correct, although you may find you would have prefered sleep.”

“We’ll find out the hard way then.” Simon and Cat swallowed the pills and then went back to sit down and have a drink while they took affect. Within fifteen minutes they were both significantly less stressed out and ready to rumble.

“Acceleration will begin shortly,” said Ship.

And it did.

~*~*~*~*~

“I love that our current solution to this mess is to get drunk, high, and go really fast.” Simon grinned over at Cat who did a thumbs up from the depths of his beanbag den.

“Space. Termites.” Growled Ship.

“Be nice or I’m going to start playing ‘what’s the worst thing that can happen’,” threatened the Writer.

“Easy, we break our engines and the other ship catches up to us and we die.”

“Well something a little more creative than that,” the Writer frowned. “I was thinking more along the lines of ‘Going very fast scares the termites and they try and burrow into the hull’ or ‘Space Pirates see you going every fast and start chasing you.'”

“We’d just surrender and let the space pirates come over to board us and… bam! They have the bugs.” said Simon with a shrug. “That seems an easy way to get rid of the things.

“And I thought we already decided they can’t eat my hull.” Said Ship.

“They won’t eat it, they’d just chew through it.” The Writer made nomnom noises at the horrified spacecraft.

“You are horrible, horrible person.”

~*~*~*~*~

“This isn’t working,” said Ship after what seemed an eternity of new and interesting levels of pain and pressure. “If I go above a certain threshold they start burrowing into the material outside my hull and a few of them have even made a dent in the hull itself.”

“But you have self-healing walls,” Cat objected with a weak wave of his claw in the general direction of the nearest flat surface. Neither one of them was trying to get up from the bed any time soon.

“Yes, but that’s not magic. Those repairs take materials and those are what I’m worried about running out of.”

“Clark’s Law!” Objected Simon, who was in a lot of pain but also a hair’s breadth from laughing uncontrollably at how uncomfortable the idea of bugs in his hull seemed to make the computer. But he had a feeling having to explain why bugs and computers were funny together would ruin the joke. “How long can you go before the tunnels become dangerous?”

“Not enough time to get use safely ahead,” Ship said. “I did build in some wiggle room to the worst case scenario, but this is too important to risk.”

“So get what we can and we’ll think of something else to try.” Simon waved the ship on as Cat curled into an even smaller ball of feline misery.

After a moment, Ship complied.

~*~*~*~*~

“Can you please stop making things harder for us?” Ship snapped.

“That’s the point?” The Writer turned to look up at him. “Mwahaha?”

“Seriously though, how are we supposed to get rid of these things now?” Simon asked. “If we can’t go fast enough to safely experiment then we can’t find a way to drive and lure them off the ship. We need to get rid of them so we can finish making repairs to the last time the shadow ship caught up to us.”

“So what is it that is going to get rid of them anyway?” Asked Cat, who was still sunk happily deep in his beanbag chair. “Are we going with vibrations? Or light? Or something else?”

“There aren’t a lot of other ‘something else’s I can think of.” Admitted the Writer. “I like the idea that a vibration would make them move, but I don’t know if it makes more sense for them to move towards or away. Also a flash of bright light should make them move, since that would be relatively rare in space.”

“I like the idea of a combination,” said Ship. “We could fake explosions, or just do real explosions to be honest. I may not have weapons on me, but making a flashbang isn’t that hard.”

“That might be harder than you’d think,” said the Writer. “I know zero about explosions in space other than they don’t make noise.”

“I’m pretty sure chemical reactions still work, even if they’re noiseless.” Pointed out Simon.

“But would there be a shockwave? I’d assume so, but all of this is based on my vast movie watching experience.” The Writer sighed. “I really should go reread the Martian.”

“Pretty sure that doesn’t have space termites in it,” said Ship.

“I refuse to apologize for having a plot point!”

The Ship and the Writer glared at each other for a moment and then Simon set the wordsprint timer and then there was story sign.

~*~*~*~*~

Simon had lost the ability to track time by the time Ship stopped the acceleration. All he could think about was how much it felt like there was an elephant sitting on his chest and how much that hurt. If he could have taken more than shallow breaths he was pretty sure he would have been crying.

Cat didn’t seem to be holding up much better, although he was certainly more stoic than Simon. The cat was making tiny growling noises and Simon watched the fur flicker in static starbursts that walked their way in a curve down his side.

They lay there for a long while after Ship had stopped. Simon was the first to get up again, but that had more to do with needed to use the restroom than any real feeling of healthiness. When he came out again Cat was up on all fours, stubbornly trying to get his coordination back.

Ship opened another cubbyhole with water and additional pills.

Simon took one look at those and then went back in the bathroom for a bit.

After his body had decided there really wasn’t anything left to expel he made it back to collapse in a puddle on the bed. He opened one eye when Cat nudged him, but refused to take the water or the pills. He was able to get to sleep, so they let him do that instead.

~*~*~*~*~

“What result?” Cat asked the Ship. The feline was waiting for the second dose of pills to take effect and break what was left of the drugged state. He was hyper-aware of everything in the room and wanted to pace, but was trying to keep it quiet so Simon could sleep. The human looked half-dead, but had refused the medication which made Cat more worried and more inclined to pace.

“Safe, but wounded.”

Cat managed not to growl at the voice, but he hated their misuse of the wounded prey-word. He was not prey, even if they were the ones being chased. He made a mental note to go over prey and hunter terms with Simon when he awoke.

“Can the bugs hear us through the hull if we make noise?” He wanted to pound on walls and that seemed a decent way to vent his anger.

“What?” Said Ship.

Cat smothered a retort and tried to find a simpler way to get his point across. “Bugs are closest where?”

“In the corridor to the secondary engine room. Why?”

Cat mimed pounding on the wall.

“Oh! Right.” Ship opened the door quietly and Cat slipped out into the hallway. The lights along the floor pulsed in the direction he needed to go and Cat trotted down the hallway on all fours. He was slowly coming out of the medical haze, but he wasn’t ready to try walking upright yet.

“Here.” Ship broke open the door to the hallway that had been sealed off before and the wall rippled near where it started to curve into the ceiling.

Cat sat back on his haunches for a moment to steady himself and then rose up and gave the wall and experimental tap.

There was silence for a moment as Cat waited for Ship to check on a reaction.

“They seem to be moving away.” Ship was carefully remolding the hull by pulling material from the inside out, creating divots in the wall as it pushed the material outwards.

That was all the excuse Cat needed to wear himself out attacking the walls while they waited for Simon to wake up.

~*~*~*~*~

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Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!