Max ran his hands down the edges of the coned paper hat, flattening it, before placing it carefully in his twenty centimetre cube of a personal locker.
He had just celebrated his thirtieth birthday. Throwing a party was difficult in space, materials were carefully managed. Space flight was calculated, minimalist and carefully measured. Parties were frivolous, spontaneous and wasteful.
Where his co-workers in the engineering department had managed to find some spare paper he dreaded to think. He dared not look too closely at the technical drawings on the side of his own party hat. They must have had a go at the generator manuals, the physical manuals. He didn’t even know where they were kept; they were a backup to start the reactors if an EMP attack took out the digital tablets the manuals were actually kept on.
That made them sound important, but everyone knew if an EMP got through the shielding there would be little point in trying to recover anything on board the ship – this thing was run by microchips. The captain and crew only tried to nudge them in the right direction.
Still, this was probably the most expensive party hat ever made.
He appreciated the thought, but he was thirty now. Thirty! Twenty nine still had the number twenty hiding in the name. It was still gripping on to that youthful reputation. Thirty was… the half way point, and things only seemed to go downhill.
People who are thirty have kids, wives and houses. Other people, he mentally corrected. How was he supposed to meet someone and have kids when he spent more than half his time off planet in deep orbit? He’d joined up straight after school. He’d not had a relationship longer than a deployment in his life.
Hitting thirty didn’t feel like it was something to celebrate.
A bell chimed a monotone sound in his inner ear making him jump. You never get used to the COM implants. You certainly never start to trust them.
He flicked his fingers to open up the link as it reported the name of the caller.
“Lieutenant Barnes.” He said.
“Sir… We’ve got a bit of an anomalous energy signature coming from Kerenhowser Three.” Corporal Maxwell, new fellow. Green. Chances are it’s a speck of dust on a sensor somewhere. In two years he’d know not to bug a Lieutenant about an anomalous energy signature after he’s found thirty that turned out to be nothing.
“What kind of anomalous?” You can’t let them know that though, they have to find it out for themselves.
“It looks like something is trying to connect, trying to form a gate. I…” There was a pause. “I think it’s old technology Sir, the protocols are ancient. There aren’t any scheduled gates today either.”
That caught his attention, if the ‘anomaly’ was detailed enough to look like an old protocol it can’t just be a blip or two…
Finally something to distract him. “I’ll be right down Corporal. Good catch.”
He sighed and closed the locker and deftly flicked his body into a slow spin and launched himself towards the door, its presence in the ceiling not even crossing his mind.
Turns out these kids are good for something…
Damning hell, I’m thirty.
* * *
When he was younger he’d dreamed of space, spending years drifting through the emptiness – seeking out new planets. Adventure.
Turns out it’s pretty dull. You quickly work out that emptiness is the main feature, and exploring emptiness isn’t much of an adventure. He had never been deployed to any of the new worlds, most of which turned out to be pretty inhospitable anyway.
Engineering looked fun on paper, working with such amazing equipment and going on adventures. More importantly, you weren’t as likely to get shot at as other jobs in the military. He was still on board a military vessel, its hunched hull bristling with the latest ordinance the scientists had invented.
But space travel was a big game of politics. It was all bluff, a silent war of threats, counter threats and ‘presence’. They hadn’t fired a shot except to test the weaponry in the whole time he’d been in the army. There was no ship against ship combat incidents ever recorded. For all they knew the enemy ships were just engines in empty shells, projecting energy signatures. No one was actually going to dare start a war in space.
This left his job one of the most boring things imaginable. He looked forward to having something break down, last month the toilet system had gone and that wasn’t so fun, not in zero-g. But when the coolant system malfunctioned it had been a good bit of excitement, for the three hours it took to work out what was wrong. Now, he’d been promoted above just a simple techie. If something needed fixing he had to tell someone else to fix it. The good bits, messing about with spanners, that wasn’t his job anymore.
So he was drifting down the corridor to the engineering suite in the vain hope that something was finally happening, even if strange energy signals usually ended up to be anomalous. He’d have a few minutes relief from religiously watching the system for updates, checking the statuses, hoping for something to do.
Coolant pressure: Green.
Engine temperature: Green.
Life support systems: Green.
He hated green.
* * *
He got to the engineering suite in time to catch the corporal talking with one of the coms team “I’d say that was an old Russian military protocol, look see that pattern there? I covered it in my COMS training, in one of the history modules, its ancient – they stopped using it ninety years ago.”
“What? That’s mad!” Max could hear the excitement in the corporal’s voice. He wracked his brain to think of a reason why the gate would be receiving a century old Russian signal.
“Can you tell what it is?” He asked.
“Of course, there is only one thing it was used for – the first gate. It’s an address, the early gate-to-gate connections. It’s lucky this system still has the technology salvaged from the wreckage after the First Gen disaster!” He said.
The Russians had been the ones that pushed for the salvage of the old system. Then he remembered the news from about a month ago, an article on an old space exploration. An early experimental near-light vessel sent to one of the most promising solar systems. Sent to Epsilon Eridani.
The Poyir Mirr.
They damn well made it!