Space Engineering Systems Help Desk

Based on my last few blog posts, it would be easy to imagine that the only thing I do all day is complain heartily about how bloody soul-crushing it is to research and then fail to connect with a literary agent. While it’s true I do enough of that, it not the only thing I’m up to – not by a long shot. I’ve got a handful of other projects in the works. None of them are moving particularly fast, but I am working on them. Here is a new first chapter excerpt of an Idea I’m working on – Enjoy in all of its very rough drafty glory:


This is a story about Randall Christopher Martin Pierce. Randall was a short, slight man with brown hair and brilliant, almost glittering blue eyes. For those of a fantastical mind, he could be mistaken for a fairy or elf for the brightness of those eyes. Other than that, he started out as a wholly, completely, and exceptionally unremarkable fellow. To truly understand the events of Randall’s life, which have been so carefully collected and embellished between these pages, you first need some context.

Though Randall was born on January 21st, 2278 his story actually begins on August 23rd, 2045. On that date, high in the Canadian Arctic, a city appeared. It wasn’t the sort of small mining city that usually pops up overnight in those sorts of places, it was a booming mega-metropolis of roughly 22 million inhabitants. On the 22nd of August the same patch of ground had been nothing more than a rolling plane of arctic tundra. Dwarf birch and shrubby willows punctuated with the odd lake or pond as far as the eye could see. At first, nobody knew what to make of it. All of the various mystics, psychics, LARPers and other weirder people around the world rejoiced at the appearance of a magical city. American protestants declared it a sure sign of the end of times, the British regarded it as something new upon the world that they had yet to invade though they hardly needed to, the Chinese were certain whomever these people were, they were inferior, and the Germans and Americans started plotting ways in which they could sell them cars.

It transpired that these new comers were not magical, but they were most definitely not human. They were short with a fur-like feathery covering and stubby snouts. Their hands each had one too many fingers. And most importantly they came from a small, perpetually frozen, planet near Bellatrix in the left shoulder of Orion.

The initial response from the governments of the world was notable only because of its truly underwhelming scope. After decades of alien invasion books, games, and movies one might expect waves of aircraft and tactical nukes. Nothing remotely like that happened. Instead, the Canadian government sent in a single helicopter with the only two diplomats in the country who hadn’t quit at the mere mention of the new city to ask them why they’d come and if they would, please, leave.

When the diplomats arrived, they found a thoroughly hospitable and excessively casual culture more thoroughly knowledgeable about humans and human cultures than most humans were. As a result, the diplomat’s visit was a tremendous success. The aliens explained they were in a bad spot, and just really needed a place to crash for a couple hundred years. They had set down in Canada, because they aliens knew Canada would understand. Not only did the aliens readily agree to to abide by Canadian provincial laws, but that they would, indeed, clear off as soon as terraforming efforts were complete on Mars. This last piece made every other government on the planet nearly uncomfortable enough to get together and do something about it. As such things go with governments, committees were formed, councils held and finally the people of earth wrote-off mars as a lost cause. After all, having aliens on Mars was rather a lot better than having them on Earth.

Upon returning to Ottawa, the diplomats were asked to describe the aliens, and the very first thing heard by the general public of Earth was, “well, they’re all Anglophiles, even speak English in a British accent, call themselves Dentrassi after something in a book by a British author I’ve never heard of, which they berated me for not having read. It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever encountered. Other than that, I’d say they were pretty chill.”

And while this is the story of how Canada became the seat of interstellar travel and trade for Earth, it is only just the beginning of Randall’s story.


Chapter 1

Randall stared at his array of screens. Over the past few days, he’d grown accustomed to staring at the exceptionally boring tritanopic blue-hued lines, lettering and diagrams sitting on a black background. His ability to speak and read Dentrassi was so rusty as to be practically non-existent so the text was near to meaningless, except for one word on his central screen, which he recognized to be something like heat or hot. However, he thought he could do the job well enough without being able to read all of the words. Provided all of his status screens remained blue, everything was fine and there was no need to worry. Really, Randall hadn’t wanted to go to Mars at all, but there had been a job opening on a small freighter that paid the equivalent of five years solid salary for a little more than three months of work. His friends had tallied up the amount of beer they could buy if one of them got the job. Being that he’d taken a few semesters of Dentrassi engineering in college, his friends immediately concluded he’d be perfect. It didn’t help that Randall was the least assertive of the group, and was easily badgered into it. Not to mention he was quite drunk when he signed up.

While he was as eager as any of them to earn the equivalent of 5 years worth of beer in 3 months, this was precisely the sort of thing that he would do almost anything to avoid, at least while sober. It was well outside his comfort zone and he couldn’t imagine being more out of place anywhere in the galaxy, even on the homeworld of the Dentrassi themselves. To that end though, it had thus-far been an easy job and was shaping up to be well worth the money.

While Randall still hadn’t quite worked out the full scope of his job, he had at least determined it mostly consisted of making sure the lines and diagrams on his set of screens didn’t turn white, and if he did say so himself, he’d been good at that. They hadn’t. At least not in the three days since he’d first sat down in the chair. The other thing that seemed to be his job was to help his partner William, which so far exclusively involved grabbing him another bag of chips from his dorm. William was a Dentrassi, just like 95% of everyone aboard. He looked, in form, just like every other Dentrassi, but just like humans and other domesticated animals, Dentrassi were as distinct from one another as anything, and this Dentrassi had large watery eyes, streaks of red in his dark brown feathery coat, and always wore Hawaiian shirts. Dentrassi weren’t particular about dress-code.

So, on that third day, three hours and twenty-two minutes into his shift, when the lines on one section of his central screen, the largest, did turn white, Randall didn’t react right away. As a knot of stress started rapidly forming in his gut, he hoped it was a glitch, but the white grew to encompass every line, diagram and bit of spindly Dentrassi lettering on the screen and especially the word that he was pretty sure had something to do with heat. He tapped on the console and looked up at William. William, who had his feet propped on his side of the console, was leaning back in his chair, fast asleep, and drooling all over himself. Randal opened his mouth to say something that might get his attention and the door to the engineering systems room swung open.

Standing in the small ovaline doorway was Bert, the operations officer. In Randall’s opinion the operations officer was the most intense Dentrassi he’d ever met, which was still a great deal calmer than most humans. “We seem to have a slight engineering-related problem.” he said in a perfectly crisp British accent.

Randall had always thought it the oddest thing in the universe that Dentrassi, covered in the furry feathers and having a dog-like snout should speak as if they belonged in an English period mystery.

William opened his eyes and straightened up, slow as you please, keeping his feet propped on the console. “You know the rule Bert. If you’ve a problem, you need to log a ticket.”

Bert blinked. “Put in a ticket? I’m not at all sure we’ve got the time for that. The reactor is overheating.”

William nodded slowly, narrowing his eyes in an almost comically human expression. “Sounds serious, you should log a ticket.”

Finally, Bert started becoming what Randall interpreted as impatient, even by human standards. “We’re all going to die and you’re worried about a ticket?”

“How else will we know what to do, and how will the captain know we’ve done it?”

“The captain will absolutely go into fits if this isn’t sorted,” Bert said.

“Will she?” William asked with interest. “Do you think she’ll get upset? Oh, she is gorgeous when she’s upset.”

Feeling more than slightly alarmed at the sound of overheating reactor and even less reassured by the thorough lack of speed on the part of the Dentrassi, Randall decided to pipe in. “Does this have anything to do with it?” He, pointing at his white screen.

Bert stepped up. “I’d say it does, this is the reactor display. Can’t you read man?”

Randall looked at his screen again and to the word he was pretty sure meant hot – which was now flashing aggressively. Suddenly, something from his university classes slipped into place. What he had been staring at was a warp drive reactor display. Randall shot to his feet. Two things crossed his mind at once. The first was that he was going to die, the second had something to do with the fact that they shouldn’t be using the warp drive on a trip from Earth to Mars.

“Bang on the display a few times. That usually clears it up,” William said unhelpfully and with entirely too much ease for Randall’s tastes.

Randall beat on the thing mercilessly. Though, he knew that wasn’t going to do a damn bit of good. He tried to remember how these things worked and started searching for the kill switch.

Bert joined him in pounding on the screen. Still nothing happened.

William swung his feet down and leaned forward to pull a bag of potato chips off of his console. As he did, the display in front of Randall started turning blue. Slowly at first, and in segments, until finally the entire thing was blue on black, as it had been just a while before. Bert’s eyes slid up Randall’s display to William. Randall slumped back in his sear, trying to catch his breath and not throw-up over the near miss.

“You know what I love about Earth?” William asked, as if nothing whatever had gone wrong. “Crisps. They’ve got to be the best snack in the universe.”

Bert straightened up and stroked the hair on his chin. “That did seem to fix it. What did you do over there William?”

“Just eating my crisps. I feel they always make everything better, don’t you?”

“Well, that’s sorted. I’m off to update the captain,” Burt turned and made to leave.

“Do put in a ticket so we can log this,” William called after him before door thumped closed.

For a long minute, Randall drew in deep breaths in a failing attempt to stop his shaking hands. He watched William carefully extract potato chips from the bag one at a time, until he finally had enough control of himself to ask, “what would happen if the reactor shut down at full warp?”

William shrugged. “We’d fall out of the warp field. It would either tear us apart, or we’d get stuck in a decompressing warp bubble for a few thousand years. Then, there’s a chance we might be rescued. Really, you don’t want to try it.”

“Warp?” Randall felt his chest tighten, that was the other question he had to ask. “I didn’t think warp was used for Earth to Mars travel?”

“It’s not, but you’re not on your way to Mars are you?”

Randall’s mouth dropped open and it took him several tries to get it back into service. “Wait, we’re not going to Mars?

“Clearly not.”

“How could I possibly tell? I’m locked in a giant metal box without any windows.”

“Didn’t you hear the captain’s message after launch?”

“Well, yes, but I couldn’t understand it, it wasn’t in English.”

“And you didn’t think to ask anyone?”

Randall could feel the heat rising from his collar into his neck. He should, of course, have asked someone. “Okay, fine, we’re not going to Mars. I need to know where we’re going.”

“Humans are far too serious. Everything according to plan and so on. Life is so much more fluid than that,” William leaned back, as if nothing more need be said on the matter.

“Can’t you just tell me where we’re going?”

William scratched his snout. “I think you call the star Sirius.”

Randall thought about this for a minute and started to feel slightly less concerned, but only slightly. Sirius wasn’t far as interstellar travel went and he could be back to Earth in six months. Warp was, after all a prodigiously efficient way to travel. It was considerably longer than expected, but he could manage that. “Then we’re headed back to Earth after?”

“Do you mean immediately after, or after in the sense that this ship and some of it’s crew will return to Earth at some point?”

Randall had to rest his hand on the console to steady himself. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“It’s fascinating how often humans say that sort of thing. Does your lot like anything?”

“Yes, but if this is how things go aboard a Dentrassi ship, I can see why you rarely find a happy human.”

“Eventually, this ship will make it back to Earth. We’ll probably pop into a few other systems, maybe double back a couple of times, take a good long holiday on Belatrix – oh you’ll love it there, best beer in the galaxy, then maybe we’ll head back to Sol. Tough to tell though. You never really know where you’re going until you’re on your way do you?”

Of course, Randall felt as though one should know precisely where he was going before he left and he was certain most humans felt this way. Instead of the angry rant he felt aching to burst out, he just asked the simple question, “how long do you think that’ll take?”

“Not long, maybe ten years.” William said casually.

“Ten years!” Randal shot out of his chair, now feeling thoroughly ill. “I can’t stay out here for ten years.”

“You humans are such a jumpy lot. Is there nothing that doesn’t excite you?”

“Ten years is a long time for humans. My girlfriend will have certainly have moved on by then, I won’t have any friends, they’ll all think I’ve abandoned them or I’m dead.”

“Your friends can’t be very good if they’ve send you out on a Dentrassi ship, and I know full well you haven’t got a girlfriend.”

Randall could actually feel his eye beginning to twitch. “Okay, maybe I don’t have a girlfriend, but there was a girl I was sweet on and I certainly do want a girlfriend. There’s no way that’s going to happen if I’m meandering around the galaxy for a decade. There are five humans aboard. One is me, the other four are men.”

“But think about how much more sexy you’ll be if you’ve been to a dozen star-systems. Not many blokes going to have that on you are there?”

“No. Just no. I can’t be cooped up on this ship for that long.”

“See – too serious. What other things have you got to do, except try land a girlfriend? Why not hang along for the ride?”

“Because, I just can’t,” Randall sputtered. “I don’t belong here in the first place.”

William gave a little shudder that Randall had learned was the equivalent of a human shrug. “You did sign up.”

“I signed up for three months, not ten years.”

“I’m sure the captain will let you off at Sirius. You don’t have to stay longer than you want to. You do get the odd human ship through there. Otherwise, the Woka’ni sometimes take on passengers. They’ll probably get you as far as Proxima Centauri, there’s an Earth embassy there.”

“Is it an American embassy?”

William leaned forward and started poking at a screen on his console. “Ah, no. That one is Chinese. I must say, you humans with your complicated politics is absolutely confounding,” he poked at the screen a few more times, “no, Canadian. Most of these are. I don’t suppose you can catch a ride home from the Canadian embassy?”

“No, the Americans and Canadians aren’t exactly on the best of terms at the moment. I’d be as likely to be arrested as sent home and at that rate I may as well just stay where I am.”

For a few more moments William poked at his screen. “This seems promising.”

“What?” Randall asked.

William cleared his throat to read, in that melodic way Dentrassi do. “The lost and misplaced Earth travelers society, specializing in the return of humans to Earth. For a modest fee, we furnish transport back to Earth for the unlucky human who as happened upon the wrong ship or has unexpectedly found themselves light-years off course.”

Randall took a deep breath and sat down. That was it. That was his ticket home. No problem. All he had to do with hang out for a few months while they were in transit.

“See,” William continued. “Nothing to worry about.”

A moment later, Bert re-entered the engineering room. He was holding a small stack of books, the top had title that read, A Human’s guide to Dentrassi. With the sub-title, a traveler’s guide to not getting lost in space.

Bert handed over the books, “The captain and I would take it as a kindness if you wouldn’t mind freshening up on your Dentrassi and also your engineering. I’ve put a few manuals in the stack. We would prefer not to die from a reactor malfunction.”

Randall blinked, and eyed the books.Once again, Bert left the room. A solid minute passed before Randall asked the question he should have asked on the first day. Perhaps even before then.“What exactly is my job?”

“You’re the chief warp-drive engineer and reactor technician. If it goes wrong, you get to fix it.”

Randall fell out of his chair.


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