The Nexus Project: Preview

Do you like cute and cuddly cats? How about fluffy Labradors? Are you maybe a fan of neurotic birds and slightly undervalued humans? What about a Lioness with a sordid past and a dark secret she refuses to tell?

If you answered yes to the last two, then you should probably visit a mental health professional– you know, just to be safe. But make sure you return before next Friday when The Nexus Project debuts.

A story of mystery, intrigue, action, and a solar system full of evolved, humanoid animals that join Humanity on the quest of conquering Sol’s numerous colonies. With the aide of a Lioness, and later, a cynical Wolf, Human Simon Corben must uncover the truth behind a theft at the Interspecies Scientific Collaboration– the foremost scientific institution in the Sol system. Will they be able to discover the shady villains orchestrating the act, or will they have to watch as Sol’s people have their greatest achievement plucked from their grasp? Find out here starting next week!

A small bot, like a lopsided gourd, nudged Simon’s foot. Its lone, ocular sensor, a flexible eye on a thin neck, stared up myopically. Simon swore he saw partied out red-lines in there somewhere, but knew it was just his imagination.

“You were off your charger all night again weren’t you?” He asked with a disappointed look. It beeped a binary lie of “No.” Simon rolled his eyes, “Great. You’re turning into a lying smart ass.” It beeped cheerfully. He sighed, led it to a table, and went about plugging a battery pack into its rear-panel. “You know you’re useless when you don’t charge properly. You were up data-changing with that maintenance bot again weren’t you?”

Rearden gave a few quick beeps as he switched on the batt-pack. A moment later, the bot hovered from micro-jets on its belly, beeped a “thank you,” then whizzed off for a computer across the room.

Short Story: The Grand Oops

The ship had lost control, the Pilot with his hands at its helm as useless as the Engineer in the decks fighting to restore lost power. The planet’s atmosphere set fire to the ship’s steep angle while the alarm klaxons blared inside of it. Sparks rained over the cock-pit from the largest bouts of turbulent friction that fried more systems, jolted the ship further from the Pilot’s grasp. Were he a less stubborn man, he’d have fled for the escape pods with the rest of the crew.

Unfortunately, even the inkling of fear he had was suppressed by his concentration and attempts to keep the stick straight. The Engineer would fight to her last breath to return control to him, patch the blown conduits and re-fire the engines. Until then, they were in free-fall at precisely the right angle to burn them up on re-entry or pancake them against the ground on impact. Emergency lighting kicked on through the ship, a main conduit severed on the exterior hull from the heat.

Another, apex up-heave from friction and the ship was cast sideways, helpless against the planet’s gravitational fury. The ship was certainly lighter now, beginning to spiral like a poorly thrown football. Still the Pilot fought, the Engineer cut, soldered, re-connected. Like the pilot, she knew of nothing else but the whims and will of her instincts exerted over her body. Long bits of copper cabling were yanked from one panel’s dark innards, sliced, spliced, and welded to another’s. Light flickered in the engineering compartment, then went out, plunged her into total darkness. She tripped over strewn tools, boxes, spare parts, groped for the dead-center of the room with a spanner in-hand.

The Pilot watched the blue sky turn red around him, become spackled and splattered with the gradated yellows and browns of a dusty, dune-laden desert. The ground approached at terminal velocity, ready to greet him with emptiness and death.

The Engineer’s hands worked double time. Her forehead poured sweat into already-useless eyes, burned them. She swallowed terror to crank back a nut that would re-seat the engines’ igniter. Then with a slap of a hand against a console, she lunged for the far wall, smacked a control panel.

“Light it up!”

The Pilot fought his turbulent tumult for a set of switches, tripped them up. Then with a mutter of “about fucking time,” he threw the ignition switch. The turbine-shaped engines at the ship’s rear glowed blue, sputtered and spit fire. Then with blast of thrust, the turbine’s rocketed the ship forward toward the ground.

“Woah, woah, woah!” The pilot said.

He yanked back on the stick, control returned to him. The ship’s trajectory made a wide, deep parabola, its vertex only meters from the ground. Another jolt said something was ripped off the ship’s belly as its rising ascent signaled a high-pitched, roaring laughter from the Pilot. It bled through the ship’s open comm to the Engineer’s ears with a heaving bosom in the darkened enclosure. She sank back against a wall, leaned forward with her hands on her thighs.

“You’re worth every penny, Em,” He shouted between laughs.

“Thank you, sir,” she panted. She took a breath, then, “We need to set down to asses exterior damage. We can’t follow the pods’ tracking beacons until I restore power to the Auxiliary systems.”

“Roger that, I’m on it.”

He straightened the ship out mid-way up the parabola’s far-side, jetted forward at full speed to come around again. The ship angled downward gradually, sank onto a damaged landing gear just over the rise of a high plateau that made a mockery of the ship’s ninety-foot height– even more so of its blocky, three-hundred foot length and hundred-foot wingspan. It set down at a lean, its left-most rear gear jammed in place from a severed hydraulic line somewhere in its housing.

The Pilot jogged through the ship’s innards with a set of flash-lights. All along the way, the random, over-loaded circuits of secondary and tertiary systems spit angry sparks at him, or arced the last of their currents over load-bearing struts and supports. He hurried into the Engineering compartment, ready to aid the woman doubled over against the wall.

“I wanna’ raise,” she panted at him.

He laughed with an affirming nod, “Consider it done.”

“Good,” she said as she straightened from the wall. “Let’s get this tub back in order.”

It was only a few hours before she’d gotten the ship fully-running again, retraced the escape-pods’ trajectory toward the crew. They were mostly intact, save a few cuts and bruises from their bumpy rides and rougher landings. In less than a day, the ship was repaired– even the landing gear’s hydraulics that required the ship to be re-started. It hovered above the ground as the last gear extended, and with an exhausted collapse, fell back to the ground more level than before.

The ongoing question all through-out the repairs was what had happened. There had been no epic space battle, no forced ejection from hyper-flight, nothing as an obvious prelude to damage. In fact, the flight had been rather dull; a routine delivery of medical supplies to a Galactic Alliance outpost– a high-paid, by the books courier job. Sabotage was the next concern on the list, but all of their advanced tech and good-old fashioned interrogation techniques told both them no-one aboard was guilty of wrongdoing.

All theories of foul play were thrown out as the Engineer set about searching for the problem’s physical source. The main culprit had to be a conduit between the engine’s cock-pit controls and the engines themselves. Indeed, it didn’t take much in-depth examination to locate the faulty part; a stripped and corroded, five-prong connector mid-way through the ship’s wiring.

“It was supposed to have been replaced,” The Pilot said cheekily to the Engineer.

“Yes, sir,” she dead-panned. “Then you said to leave it and if the tub was gonna’ fall outta’ the sky that you’d make sure it never hit the ground.”

“I did?” The Pilot asked blankly.

“Yes, sir, right before you unbuckled your pants and closed the door to the consort’s chambers in my face,” the Engineer said.

“Oh.” He stared off with a distant duality of shame and mortification, “Oops.”

“A grand “oops,” sir,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

He shrugged, shook off his trance, “Well, I was right though, we didn’t hit the ground. See? Gotta’ trust in your Captain, Em.”

He turned from the Engineering compartment with a smarmy smile. Em stared upward in defeat, shook her head.