Here is a short sample from the first third of my work-in-progress, tentatively titled “We Fulfill Prophecies” (it is, obviously, unedited, and I apologize for spelling, grammar, etc.):
Anvir fumed from the bottom of the gangplank, “It’s all a collosal waste of time you know.”
Amory helped Josh plug in the last few connectors, “Your position has been made known, Mr. Moore.”
“I’m just saying, isn’t it better to be rich, and happy in a quiet little country than being poor, unimportant, and outcast in the bigger universe?”
Amory turned to face him, “Your thoughts are well known, sir. You don’t want to go back, because you rightly fear incarceration.”
Josh piped up, “Okay, we’re all set.” Everyone stepped back away from the device. Anvir sulked at the bottom of the gangplank, while Tandy moved over behind the crates used to carry the radio down.
It looked like an oversized can, the sort one would use for carrying a large fuel tank. Along the outside, there were monitor lights, all quietly glowing green. In the center, near the base of the can, was a single monitor. Beneath the can sprouted three solid steel feet that extended in places to bring the radio around and aim it at the particular location they wanted to talk to. Wires descended from the bottom of the radio, and ran back to connect to the ship’s propulsion. On top of the can sat a large parabolic radio dish, with three smaller dishes inside it that whirred and rolled around a central axis.
Josh beamed up at it. He made one quick circuit of the can, checking to see that everything was in place. Once he had checked all the lights and satisfied himself that it was working, he turned back to the group.
“The way it works is very simple.” He said, “A standard radio signal could never reach as far as we need our signal to go. It would take hundreds of years to reach the closest waypoint. So, instead, I have set up a laser radio beacon. This radio will fire a laser in hundreds of different directions at the same time.” He pointed at a bulbous antenna that stuck out of the center of the radio dish. “Those lasers will be modulating constantly, at a very high frequency. That modulation carries the signal we mean to get across. Now, normally, a laser is only useful if the listening party is also prepared to recieve at the same time. Since we’re trying to get someone’s attention, we cannot assume that they are already listening.”
Anvir chuffed, “So, your choices are to send a standard radio signal, which would take hundreds of years to reach them, or to use lasers, which no one is looking for, and will never reach them. Brilliant. We’re practically saved already.”
Josh ignored him, “The positive side of using lasers is that they will reach further, with less dissolution of the signal. What’s more, anyone who gets the signal could tell just by the red shift how far out we were.”
“But you still have no one listening! Doesn’t matter how efficient it is if no one is listening.”
“That’s the thing. Nobody’s listening for us, but everybody’s listening for this message.”
Amory blinked, “Ah. You lost me there.”
Josh turned to face him, still grinning, “You see, every ship is required, at every waypoint, to do a basic scan of the area. It’s company SOP.”
“The standard sweep checks that the ship’s coordinates match up with star charts, and the observed stars in the sky. Every ship gets a snapshot of nearby stars, and compares that before moving on.”
Amory frowned, “I see that, but I don’t see how -”
“We will show up on their snapshot! We won’t show as a star on their charts, but they’ll be seeing the light from this laser. The message that’s hidden in the laser will look like a tiny dot, flickering on the ship’s viewports. The ship may not be looking for us, but they’ll be seeing a new star in the sky. And what is the SOP for finding a new star in the sky?”
Amory started to smile, “Stop immediately, and radio into headquarters for further instructions.”
“Exactly. And while they’re waiting for instructions, somebody clever is going to notice that there’s a pattern in the light. By the time they get the order to check us out, one of their comms guys will crack the code, and tell the captain that there’s a group in need of rescue.”
Amory nodded, “That’s still a kinda slim chance, isn’t it? That we’ll hit a ship in the area with a laser from so far away?”
Josh shrugged, “Yeah. It is kinda like hitting a missile with a speck of dirt, but it’s the best chance we’ve got.”
“Then let’s take it. Mr. Kemuel, please start up the radio.”
“Gladly, sir!” Josh stepped up to the immense can and hit two keys on the monitor. A low thrum sounded from the base of the can, and the satellite dish atop it sprang to life. It began orienting itself slowly on the target sector, “I’m going to have it look in the sector where we last jumped in. That way, we’re going to hit the closest ship around.”
The thrum built up to a bass rumbling, causing the can to vibrate a bit. Josh frowned and tapped a few more keys on the monitor. The bass rumbling subsided, as if multiple spinning internals synchronized with each other. The sound got louder as it reached a harmonic. Josh smiled and stood back.
“Now, obviously,” he said, “we’re not going to hear anything back. This is a transmitter, after all. It’s not meant to recieve transmissions. But even so, just letting them know we’re out here should be enough to . . .” he trailed off as he stared at the can.
Around the middle of the can, green lights winked off. A couple turned red, but more just switched off entirely. The top half of the can began to stretch outward slightly, wobbling on an unseen rotation. Josh stepped forward to deal with it, but Amory grabbed his arm, “Stay back!”
As they watched, the top half of the can began to glow with an eerie red luminescence. Most of the dummy lights were off already, and some were melting away. In the space where the can had started stretching, bits of the skin turned red and drained away, like melting ice. Josh tried to shrug Amory off, but he grabbed the engineer and pulled him away.
Josh reached for it, even as the low whirring rose to a fevered pitch. Everyone clapped hands over their ears except Josh, who ran for the radio. His powerful lumbering gait carried him up to the can and got him close enough to touch the monitor before the whole unit exploded.
The metal burst outward, spraying the area with hot metal. Tandy screamed and Amory fell back from the blast. Josh was thrown back about ten feet as the bright red bulb of the explosion knocked everything away. They all took cover, shielding their faces and eyes, but there was nothing more.
The noise of the explosion still echoed in their ears, making them all temporarily deaf. Tandy looked around to see the others unmoving. From behind the crates, she was not affected by the bulk of the blast. She staggered toward Josh, still unable to hear anything. Amory crawled up to his knees, and looked around. He saw Tandy dealing with Josh, and crawled over to Anvir.
Amory took the con man’s shoulders and shook him. The thin man blinked and reflexively covered his face, coiling up into the fetal position. Amory tried to tell him it was over, but neither one of them could hear it. After a moment, Anvir brought his hands down and blinked up at Amory. He asked something, but neither one of them could hear it. They looked over at Tandy and Josh.
Josh was still lying flat on his back, and Tandy was crouched next to him, feeling for a pulse. They ran drunkenly over to her and dropped next to her. Tandy put her head down on Josh’s chest, then brought it back up. She shook her head violently while saying something, but Amory couldn’t tell whether she was saying she couldn’t hear a heartbeat, or she was saying she couldn’t hear anything from anyone.
Anvir reached around her and ripped open Josh’s shirt. There were rents and burns in the shirt from where the explosion had hit him, and the skin underneath was no better. Anvir felt around the cuts, pushing down on some of them, covering others. He grabbed Tandy’s hand and put it down hard on one seeping wound. He caught her eye and said something she couldn’t hear, but the intent was obvious enough. She put pressure on the wound as best she could.
Josh was a heavy-worlder, which made his skin thick, and his heart strong. Anvir felt around on his neck until he could get a pulse. Then, once he was satisfied with that, he reached for one of Josh’s eyes. Anvir pried the eye open, and nodded, then made sweeping motions with his arms. Amory and Tandy both stared at him, nonplussed for a moment, then they grabbed Josh and began to turn him over on his side.
Once he was resting on one shoulder, Anvir inspected the back of his head. There were cuts on his head and back, but nothing life threatening. He told them to turn Josh back over, and everyone could tell that they were getting their hearing back as he said, “He’ll live, but we need to patch him up, and get him rest. I don’t think he’s concussed, but we won’t know until he wakes up.”
Amory looked back at the smoking husk of the radio. Their hearing was still patchy, so Amory shouted, “Anybody know what went wrong?”
They all looked at each other, but no one answered.