Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 12
I heard the faint chiming hum of the DD drive kick in just as the blaze of emergence from the Nexus faded. I glanced at Taelin, who was already grinning in his usual sunny way. “Still trying to get yourself and your passengers killed?”
“I have a bet on with Kyrell — you remember, Treyuusei’s big brother? — that I can’t get from this Nexus to Oro orbit in less than fifty minutes.” Taelin was already working the dimensional balance controls, something that required a combination of perceptual skills and gut instinct when you were pushing a DD to the limits, meaning that the only way you could automate it would require riding dangerously close to the edge of actual artificial mentalities — something no sane starfaring race experimented with, at least not more than once. So high-end DD piloting was still something only living beings did.
It was also something that often made the pilots (and their vessels and passengers) something described in the past tense. “Fifty minutes? You’ll have to push lightspeed to make that deadline! I know the Valabacal is fast, but –”
“– as fast as Heartstrike was, and maybe a little more. But she’s just as temperamental, so I was hoping you’d help me trim the generators just right — just like old times?”
“You,” I muttered as I sat down at the controls, “are completely out of your mind. What could you possibly bet that would be worth the risk?”
“With you on board, what risk? Didn’t we manage to –”
“Yes we did, but that was when we were younger and more stupid.” I found my gut was trying to ignore my head; the old thrill of trying something impossible was starting to work its tingling way up my spine. “Watch it, you had the carry-curve at least a tenth degree too steep.”
“And that’s why you have to sit there. I want to make this run in under forty-five.”
“What? Taelin, that means we have to break lightspeed on DD!” The protest was feeling even less convincing now, as I tried to flatten the curve just enough to keep Valabacal riding the distortion generated by the Distortion Drive rather than entering it.
“We did it once.” That grin was wider than ever now, as the indicators showed he’d pushed us over 95% of light.
I gave up. If Taelin Mel’Tasne was dead-set on doing this, we would both be dead if I didn’t focus on the task at hand. The problem was that the distortion could be affected by a ton of other things — massive objects like planets, other DD or Imbalance drive vessels within certain distances, really powerful Distortion transmissions, concentrations of debris that are just TOO close — and even if you could see the projection, it was often a matter of instinct to figure out just where the interference would kick in. If you were willing to play it reasonably safe — keep things down to 70% effective velocity or less — and take routes around the major problems, you could do it perfectly safely, automate it even; if you were willing to spend money like water, you could have automation that would be acceptable up to about 85%. But taking that approach, or anything even sanely near it, would not make Taelin’s deadline. Pushing beyond lightspeed was almost never done. We had, as he said, done it once, but most of those who had tried were never heard of again. Even with dilation compensators you pretty soon didn’t have the reflexes to deal with the problems; sooner or later you’d screw up.
I felt sweat trickling down the back of my neck. The distortion ridge was getting narrower as we pulled in all power to the distortion and focused it on increasing the effective velocity. Keeping Taelin’s yacht balanced on that knife-edge of insubstantial danger was something like trying to walk a tightrope in a high wind… with someone occasionally whacking the tightrope with a large mallet.
“98%… 99%… 99.6% effective velocity…” Taelin chanted. “Ohh, yeah, come on, let’s see those magic impossible numbers!”
“You are crazy, you know that? Torline’s Swords that was close!” I’d caught her just in time; at the very edge of hearing I’d caught the nearly subliminal thrum of the ship’s structure vibrating under the wavering tension of being possible in more than one place at a time. I felt a shot of adrenalin that left me tingling.
“You needed this,” Taelin said matter-of factly. The calmness vanished as he let out a whoop that almost caused me twitch disastrously. “HA! 101.32% effective!”
I restrained my own shout. Not only didn’t I want to lose control of the ship at this stage, but it would be embarrassing to so completely contradict my prior steady and sane advice. “Can we back off now?” I asked, though inside I admitted he was right. I felt great. For the first time since Diorre died, I felt like myself.
“Not until we get close enough so that I can put her back on automatics for the rest of the trip.”
“Oh, Niadeea’s Name, you have got to be kidding me! I can’t possibly balance her for another ten minutes!”
“You want to back off but have to keep balancing her SOME for another forty?”
I growled something incoherent. “Fine. When our atoms are spread evenly over the remaining space between here and there, remember that I warned you.”
“Okay, I’ll cut your time down some.”
“Well, that’s — huh? Oh, Towers, NO…”
“Heading up! 105.3%…”
The next several minutes seemed to crawl by as though the dilation compensators were seriously overdriven. Taelin managed to push Valabacal past our old record of 110.32%, but to his chagrin found that even his yacht’s oversized Tap didn’t give her enough power to break the all-time record of 119.76%. Finally I breathed a sigh of relief and groped around for an anti-pain inducer. “Back to 85% and your automatics can handle it from here.” I pressed the small headband on, letting it stimulate the right nerve centers, relax the correct muscles, trigger the release of endorphins. I began to relax.
The Dcomm buzzed. “Dellitama calling Valabacal.”
“Valabacal here. That you, Kyrell?”
“If you ever take my sister out on that deathtrap and fly it that way, I will personally kill you when and if you get back.” Kyrell’s voice showed his incredulity. “You can’t possibly have done that by yourself.”
“He didn’t,” I put in.
There was a pause. “Sasham? Sasham Varan? Oh, Taelin, you sneaking little tzil, so that is why you made that bet. They sent you out on courier duty to pick him up! I thought they’d sent Mollidan and its escorts, while you were off at Hyarani doing some practice racing!”
Taelin looked smug. “I know you did. The Emperor and Prime Monitor told me to keep it quiet, so I took tactical advantage of their own misinformation network.”
Kyrell mumbled something that sounded like imprecations in three languages. “All right, I can’t remember putting in any requirements that you had to do it by yourself. Sink it, you win.” His next words carried a warmer note. “Sasham, I trust you’ll be visiting us while you are on Oro? We missed you the last time.”
“If they’ll give me any time to do that, sure,” I said. “I don’t know exactly what the Prime Monitor has planned, but I’m sure it’s work, not just a medal and a slap on the shoulder.”
“I’ll have Lukhas put in a word,” Taelin said. “Shagrath sometimes forgets other people have things to do outside of security, but he listens to Lukh.”
“See you when you get in, then.”
“Sorry,” Taelin said before I could answer. “I’ve got orders to bring him straight to Silan-Luria Base.”
There wasn’t much else Kyrell could say to that. Silan-Luria was Monitor High Command and that of the Navy as well (the Guards were headquartered at Ternam Fortress on Oro’s moon Mystis). If we were landing there, clearly I was going to be briefed upon arrival.
“Luck, then,” he said finally. “Let us know when you can visit.”
“I will. Seven Standing, Kyrell.”
“Standing and Unfallen, Sasham, Taelin.”
Taelin waved the connection shut with unnecessary theatrics. “Now, let’s see how many people I can annoy on our landing approach!”
“Joking! Just joking!”