in transition

There's the slippage, that gets some folks off. You get this real, uh, disassociative sensation. When the boat splits. In transition.

'It's the grey stuff,' Pam's voice crackled. This was years back. She clipped her suit onto the tether ring beside the solar panel's jammed swivel joint, gripped the rail to bleed off her momentum, and dug into her tool kit. I was more or less in position over the panel and let off a few coughs of thrust to stabilise the recovery scamper. It made discomfiting muffled humming noises through the hull. Vibrated my teeth.

She tapped her helmet. She liked this next term a lot: 'Your head meat. So, it doesn't know what to do with the doubling up of information. Your body's sort of in two places at once, when the interstellar kicks in, and it can't—it's not totally right to say it can't cope, it's more that you sort of have two brains at the moment of split, both doing their best, and they've made different decisions on which of your bodies is real. Okay, I'm ready here.'

'Roger. Gimme a sec on the clamp.' I finicked with the scamper's clamp controls, which were calibrated like shit. We never got around to fixing it but you could compensate by under shooting everything and nudging it the rest of the way with light taps on the control board. Felt like guiding the hands of a drunk surgeon.

'Anyway,' Pam went on, 'that's why it's funny you used "out of body sensation". It's not really that or the opposite of that, it's . . . kind of both. For a second you have two bodies, but you're perceiving both their senses, and they're both rejecting the other.'

'Cool,' I said, trying to sound politely interested. I didn't want to arouse suspicion. Even a casual scavenger outfit like ours will boot a transit junkie faster than you can say 'doppeltrip'.

With the clamp in position I eased its grip tight. The scamper shuddered as I made contact. I released my held breath. 'I've got it,' I said.

'Clamp secure, okay. Releasing joint. Hold it steady, Si.'

We'd make a good return on the sale of that panel. After I guided it into our hauler's cargo bay without a scratch there was a lot of back-slapping and grins on board. It had turned out to be military grade, back when there was a military. A collector could be wrung the fuck out for a pristine piece like that.

But all I cared about was the jump we were about to make. As the rest of the crew strapped themselves down in their transit pods and got ready to wake up light years away, I bit down on the caffeine pill I'd scarfed from the medbay. You just needed a decent stimulant to keep you awake a little longer than the transit pods were calibrated for; you had to be real careful, because I've seen folks who went all out on it for a deeper hit, who gave themselves hard antisleep or some flavour of amphetamine. Who stayed awake through the whole split and were still awake for arrival, who swore blind, if they could still speak, that their jumptwin spoke to them; or that they were still in transit; or that if they went superluminal again there would be a very interesting and existentially confusing kind of suicide. But if you were careful, if you were awake for just a little longer than they said you should be—

It was a long way to the nearest trade port. We'd have to spend a while in transition.

James Firkins

Australian web designer & developer. I write, draw, and make games. I like quiet things.