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always too preoccupied to hear me coming, but I couldn't completely shake the
feeling that the twitch was based on guilt. Though what specifically he might
feel guilty about I didn't know. "Captain," he said, the word coming out
halfway between a startled statement and a startled gasp. "I was just working
up the program."
"Yeah," I said, throwing a look at the shoes propped up on the desk and then
deliberately looking away. He knew I didn't like him doing that, but since it
was his desk and there were no specific regulations against it he'd long since
decided to make it a point of defiance. I'd always suspected Bilko of egging
him on in that, but had never uncovered any actual proof of it. "Did First
Hobson send you the mass numbers?"
"Yes, sir," Jimmy said. "I was thinking we ought to go with a Blue, just to be
on the safe side."
"Sounds good," I grunted, carefully not mentioning that a Blue meant Romantic
Era or folk music, both of which I preferred to the Baroque or Classical Era
that we would need to attract a Green. It wouldn't do for Jimmy to think he
was doing me a favor; he'd just want something in return somewhere down the
"What have you got planned?"
"I thought we'd start with the Brahms Double Concerto," he said, raising his
reader from his lap and peering at his list. "That's thirty-two point seven
eight minutes. Dvorak's Carnival Overture will add another nine point five
two, the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony will clock in at thirty-two point six
and the Berlioz Requiem will add seventy-six minutes even. Then we'll go to
Peer Gynt at forty-eight point three, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto at
twenty-four point two four, and Massenet's Scenes Alsaciennes at twenty-two
point eight two."
He probably thought that throwing the numbers at me rapid-fire like that would
have me completely lost. If so, he was in for a disappointment. "I read that
as four hours six point three three minutes," I said. "You're six minutes
overdue for a break."
"Oh, come on," he said scornfully. "I can handle an extra six minutes."
"The rules say four hours, max, and then a half-hour break," I countered.
"You know that."
"The rules were invented by senile old conservatory professors who could
barely stay awake for four hours," he shot back. "I did eight hours straight
once back at OSU I can sure do four hours six."
"I'm sure you can," I said. "But not on my transport. Change the program."
"Look, Captain "
"Change the program," I cut him off. Spinning around, I strode out the
hatchway and headed back down the corridor, seething silently to myself. Now
he was going to have to find something else to fill in the last part of the
program; and knowing Jimmy, he'd try to run it right up to the four-hour
limit. Finding the right piece of music would take time; and in this business,
time was most definitely money.
I was still seething when I reached the flight deck. "How's the vector?" I
demanded, squeezing past Bilko to my seat.
"Looks clean," he said, throwing me a sideways look as I sat down. "Trouble
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"No more than usual," I growled, jabbing my main display for a status review.
"How close to time margin are we running?"
He shrugged. "Not too bad "
"Bilko?" Jimmy's voice came over the intercom. "I'm ready to go."
Bilko looked at me, raised his eyebrows. I waved disgustedly at the intercom I
sure didn't want to talk to him. "OK, Jimmy," Bilko told him. "Go ahead."
"Right. Here we go."
The intercom keyed off. "What was that about the time margin?" Bilko asked.
"Never mind," I gritted. The damn kid must have had an alternative program
figured out and ready to go before I even got there. Which meant the whole
argument had been nothing more than him pushing me on the time rule, just to
see if I'd bend. No absolutes; no rules; do whatever works or whatever you can
get away with. Typical underbaked juvenile nonsense.
A deep C-sharp note sounded, and I felt my chair shaking slightly as the hull
vibrated with the pre-music call. I shifted my attention to the forward
viewport, staring unblinkingly out at the distant stars, and waited. Ten
seconds later the C-sharp was replaced by the opening notes of the Brahms
And with breathtaking suddenness the stars vanished.
I looked back down at my control board, disappointment mixing into my already
irritated mood. Only once had I ever actually seen a flapblack as it came in,
and I'd been trying ever since to repeat the experience. Not this time.
"We've got a good wrap," Bilko reported, peering at his displays. "Inertial
confirms four point six one light-years per hour."
"Definitely a Blue, then."
"Or a real slow Green," Bilko said. "Computer's still running the spectrum."
I nodded, listening to the music and gazing out at the nothingness outside.
And marveling as always at this strange symbiosis that humanity had found.
They were called flapblacks. Not a very imaginative name, and one which
subsequent study had shown to be inaccurate anyway, but it had stuck now for
five decades and there was no reason to assume it would ever get changed to
something better. The first crew to run into one of the things had
overscrubbed their meager sensor data until the creature had looked like a
giant pancake shape wrapping itself around their ship and blocking off the
At which point, to their stunned amazement, it had picked up their ship and
moved it.
As far as I knew, we still didn't have the faintest idea how the flapblacks
did what they did. The idea that an essentially insubstantial being that
apparently lived its entire life in deep space could physically carry multiple
tons of star transport across multiple light-years at rates of up to five
light-years per hour was utterly absurd. We didn't know what they were made
of, how they lived, what they ate, what else they did, how they reproduced, or [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]