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The Armada (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 33 - The Armada[]

In Orbit
SLDF Station, Terra
Wolf Empire
Sol Star System

"...Trillian never had you figured out, Sharon." said Alaric Ward

The First Lord had come to his Admiral, instead of summoning her to Unity Palace.

"She got close enough." Sharon Ngo's suited form floated in free fall, holding a lotus pose over the blue marble of Terra.

Alaric carefully adjusted his MMU and fell in beside her.

"I think I have.  News on the Tranh, seems old Captain Mike burned his corneas pretty badly looking at a sun with just the filters on his helmet."

"Should I have legal prep a statement of charges?" she asked, "or just jump on and record the ass-reaming of all ass-reamings for violating basic safety protocols?"

"I took the liberty of doing that latter part for you, Admiral." He said, "but it brought up an interesting topic...Hull Surfing."

"Don't try it." she responded.

"I would not, but you did." he accused

"I did it more than once, sir." Sharon said.  "It's a mix of absolutely awesome, and gut-wrenching frightening.  Skydiving doesn't even compare."

"A lot of your people do it." Alaric concluded aloud, "Don't they?"

"It's a violation of basic safety protocols." she said.

"I know, and you've done it several times.  Why?" Alaric probed

She was silent.

"Is it the thrill?" he asked

"Some of it." she said, "Sometimes it's curiosity, sometimes inquiry.  By the time I was twenty five I'd done it maybe....forty times?  The visions were something else, and the experience..."

"Like some old Novacat's vision quests then?"

"No, it's like taking a hit of the most extreme hallucinogen you can name, but it's not a 'vision quest' thing." Sharon told him, "It's more like a 'sensations you can't even find words to describe' thing.  Picket duty is boring, there are only so many times you can pull a regulation prank, only so many hours you can spend writing poems or entries into the cross-habitat prose and fiction contests.  The next step up then, is competitive extreme sports."

"How does it work, try to describe it." he told her.
"Okay, when you're hull surfing, you don't experience time the same way." she said, "In that split second between entry and exit. You can live a whole life, but it's all...blank. Your mind supplies whatever you're seeing." she explained.

Alaric wasn't sure she was telling the whole truth, but he let her go on.
"So, if I needed, say, a huge number of hours to just meditate on something, and I was going somewhere, like...the course to Tharkad while you and the Falcons were busy making mincemeat out of the Archon's troops on Tharkad? Fix the situation in my mind. Go out the airlock, lash up to one of the external service handles, and bingo. I have as much time as I need to work through the details...more even, because it's forever in there."

"That sounds like a good thing." he said.

"Yeah, maybe, if you have a problem that is complex enough and enough attention span to stay focused.  If you don't?  it can be a very, very BAD thing, because everything you see, and experience, you bring with you.  You...Absolutely...Shouldn't do it, Sir. We need a functional First Lord, not a lunatic with oatmeal for brains trying to struggle through his psychotic delusions.  I spent subjective decades working through my issues with my father and what he did to me. All in the space of a single jump."

"What did he do?" he asks cautiously
"Things bad enough that I'm glad he's dead. Things bad enough it took me until I was almost forty to really forgive my mom." Sharon told him, "She was dead by then. So I guess it doesn't really count, but I carried my issues with me every time I surfed a hull and in that colorless void? All that's inside you gets to party, including the worst experiences you've ever had.  The Guard loses around four percent of officer candidates to mental illnesses uncovered by hull-surfing."

"That sounds very...official." he noted.

"Yeah, well the unofficial of it is that sometimes you do see shit you didn't bring with you." she sighed, "Most of the time, you don't talk about that shit anymore than you talk about the nightmares from jumping when you're inside the hull. You don't have TDS, so you probably don't know a damned thing about what I'm talking about. You should be very happy you don't."

They watched storm systems form over the Caribbean for a while.  "Nguyen?"

"Are his eyes repairable on the ship?" she asked.


"Then I'll toss a disciplinary note in his file. We'll put it in the debrief if the Alcubierre experiment works out...and I'm going to want him to write me some essays on what he witnessed doing his damnfool stunt, because odds are good nobody else will get the opportunity in our lifetime."

[There is an old saying, but I don't know what it is....]

The drive...sort of worked.

The best that can be said, is that it turned on, and when the timer ran out, it turned off.

What was delivered?

Well, they didn't live long...fortunately.

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