Panther looked up as the Hygiea cruiser, Peleus, powered past on its way to the Taslamin planet. “That receiver the Min have tuned exclusively to Poid and Tasla frequencies is picking up something now.”
“What is it?” Walsh asked.
“Just a minute, sir.” It was a few minutes later he said. “Um, it sounds like, ‘We’re coming, you little pip squeaks! Why are you communing with strangers from a distant galaxy? We’re going to make sure you don’t give them any of our DNA’.”
Walsh cursed. “That’s exactly what we need – another confrontation with the Tasla.”
First officer Heather spoke up. “The Tasla off-shoots on the planet were miniaturised by the infectious DNA. They just kept shrinking, extremely rapidly, in an evolutionary sense. No one knows how they stopped it before disappearing entirely. Hopefully the Min know. It might give us a hint about how we can make the infectious DNA not deadly to humans.”
“I hope we have a chance to ask them,” the Captain said quietly. He turned to his second officer.
“Jack,” Walsh said loudly, “take us to the opposite side of the planet from the expected trajectory of the incoming vessels.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” Jack said promptly.
“Rich,” Jack said fifteen minutes later, “we’re not going to make it in time. They’ll be within firing range of us before we can distance ourselves.”
Walsh winced. “How many?”
“A good dozen, I’d say. We can’t defend against them.”
“Do we have an hour to prep the QDD?”
Jack checked. “We do, barely.”
Walsh knew the decision had to be made now or never. He punched his hand into the com controller. “S6, get Roed down to engineering to prep for Quantum Displacement.”
“Right away, sir,” Gamma One answered.
Walsh stewed. A QD near a planet was the last thing he wanted to do. Except be blown up by aliens.
“Hugh,” Wash said into his Pocod, “Watch everything Roed does.”
“Aye, sir,” Hugh said promptly, “but I don’t think he’d try anything unwarranted for this.”
“Yes, I agree. I was wanting you to learn how to do a QD in case something happens to Roed.”
“Right. Of course, sir.”
Throughout the ship, people rushed to secure stations, research projects, and strap into their restraints. At the center of the ship, near the Quantum Displacement Tunnel that turned the ship into an elongated doughnut with decorative wings, Roed was intensely busy. Hugh shadowed him, asking questions.
“Sorry, I really have to concentrate,” Roed said. “I’ll try to think out loud so you can hear it too.” He muttered continually as he did checks and adjustments. Hugh recorded it all for later study.
“Ok, final tweak of the Field Generator. We have to go into the control room inside the Generator and make sure the field will exactly align with the ship trajectory to keep Chiron in the center of the Quantum Displacement Field.”
Hugh followed him into the small stark metal room full of physical switches, sliders, and many monitors. There were no holo controls or keyboards in sight. There was an odd, acrid smell, as if something was slowly burning.
Sweating a bit, Roed pulled on a slider, the other hand placed solidly on the wall to the heart of the generator. He closed his eyes and slid slowly, with held breath. Hugh watched in silent horror until Roed said, “Ok! We’re locked into the right Field Generation power level for our intended destination.”
“What did you just do?” Hugh asked. “How did you find the right power level? I thought we had that calculated a long time ago.”
Roed sighed. “We calculated it, and the level I just put it as was very close to it. We don’t have enough significant figures in the calculation to be sure we have it exactly right. So, I come here to do the final tiny tweak, to make sure it’s exactly right. It’s not essential to make a trip, but it ups the safely level.”
“Oh, “Hugh said. By how much?
“Nine point eight five six three one percent,” Roed said.
“Ten percent! Hugh said. “Sucking black holes, you gotta be kidding!”
“Anyway, you asked how I did it,” Roed said. “Put your hand on the wall.”
Hugh did so.
“That’s how if feels when it’s right,” Roed said. “I’ll change it for a second. Don’t worry, the right setting is set to auto-lock, it will go back there when we release the control.”
“Feel the difference?” Roed asked.
Roed went back and forth, saying ‘right feel,’ and ‘wrong feel’ alternately, until Hugh said, “I think I feel a difference. I’d hate to gamble my life on it, let alone that of the whole crew though.”
“Well, that’s what I do, and it’s been working,” Roed said. Hugh shook his head grimly as Roed added, “I’ll tell the Captain we’re ready.”
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