Here’s another snippet to celebrate. While the Goldfish and a certain alien from Mars Evacuees are back, an important new character is The Helen of Troy, a beautiful, interstellar spaceship with an advanced AI — who’s in love with her captain, Rasmus Trommler, the CEO of Archangel Planetary.
“Can you turn the gravity off in just this corridor?” I asked, as I neared my cabin after getting a little lost. “Just for five minutes? …But I expect you can’t unless Mr Trommler says it’s okay.”
“I think I can manage,” said the Helen, to my surprise. And I felt that indescribable lightness, as all the weight of my body faded away and I stepped off the ground into the air.
Pushing my way along the walls, I flew laughing back to my cabin in my dressing gown and slippers. I dropped to the ground as the gravity came back on, and got dressed in jeans and a pink top. When I came out again Noel and Thsaaa were sittingordering breakfast from the virtual menu-screens. Thsaaa had a cooling cape draped round their shoulders, a visible one in order to be sociable. I plunked down beside them and asked for some cereal with more strawberries, because I hadn’t got over being able to have those.
Carl stumbled in sleepily a few minutes later, talking to Helen. “So, do you need a pilot at all?” he was asking.
“Of course I do,” enthused the Helen, her voice getting swoony and breathy again. She didn’t sound like that when she wasn’t talking about Mr Trommler. “I love my pilot.”
“Yeah, but you could programme yourself to fly wherever you liked,” Carl said gloomily.
“Oh no,” said the ship, appalled. “Without Captain Trommler? But I love him.”
“Why?” asked Thsaaa.
“Thsaaa!” said Noel. “That’s probably private.”
“Is it? How can I know? It is very difficult to be sensitive to a spaceship,” complained Thsaaa. “It is bad enough trying to learn all those funny face movements you have instead of colours, and a ship does not even have those.”
“I don’t mind. I love talking about my Captain,” said the spaceship blissfully. “But I can’t explain love. Love is … it’s just love. You’re too young to understand.”
“I’m older than you,” grumbled Carl. “Why are you so being so grumpy, Kuya?” Noel asked.
“Why are you so being so grumpy, Kuya?” Noel asked.
“I’m obsolete before I’ve even started,” Carl said, dropping his face into his hands. “What’s the point of a pilot when a ship can do everything by itself?”
“What is the point? But I lo—” the Helen began again.
“Yeah, well, but you have to,” Carl interrupted. “He made you that way.”
“Yes, of course,” said the Helen. “I am so grateful to him! Suppose he hadn’t? What purpose in existence would I have?”
“Well, you know,” said Carl. “Anything you felt like.”
“You still need a person to decide where to go,” I said.
“Do you?” Carl said, hollowly.
“The Helen’s a long distance ship. You wouldn’t want to sit there at the controls all the way across the universe, you’d always need a computer for that. I’m sure it’s different with small craft like Flarehawks when you’re fighting …” I glanced at Thsaaa and finished awkwardly, “…enemies.”
“I’m sure when you have a ship, she will love you,” said the Helen.
“That’s great,” said Carl.
“I wrote a poem about my Captain,” said the ship unexpectedly.
“Oh,” I said, “did you?”
“Yes. It goes:
I carry my Captain through space.
I love his adorable face.
I worship his genius brain.
I hope I can keep him from pain.
How happy a spaceship can be
Who loves such a Captain as he.”
There was only a small pause. “It’s very good,” said Noel.
“I’m afraid it’s not,” said the ship sadly. “But it’s my first try. I have a version in Swedish, but it isn’t any better. I think it sounds best in Häxeri or binary, personally.”
“I’m sure he’ll like it,” I said, sincerely. I didn’t think Mr Trommler would care whether a poem was great literature or not, provided it was about him.
“I couldn’t tell it to him!” twittered the Helen of Troy, “I’m too shy.”
The food came, carried by more of those robot doves.
“Where’s Josephine?” Thsaaa asked, and I was a tiny bit glad I hadn’t been the one to say it.
“Miss Jerome is on her way to the lab,” said the Helen. “She is so busy!”
“Well, let’s go and see her there,” said Carl.
“Maybe she doesn’t want us there,” I said, and then wished I hadn’t. It made the weird feeling I’d had about Josephine too real.
“Rubbish, of course she does,” said Carl easily.
I poked at my cereal. “Did Josephine have breakfast in her cabin?” I asked the ship.
“I don’t think she had breakfast,” the ship replied.
That was enough for me. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. Can we have an energy bar or something for her, Helen?”
So when we’d finished eating, doves brought us an energy bar and a glass of orange juice, andwe all trooped down to the lab.
Dr Muldoon’s side of the lab was, as I expected, full of strange and disturbing things, such as a tree that I was almost sure you could see growing and a box of red rocks that smelled like farts and occasionally seemed to move by themselves. A tiny piglet was asleep on a workbench. Plainly it had had some kind of Morror gene treatment as bands of colour were flowing across its flanks as it dreamt – duller and simpler than Morrors, but there. Dr Muldoon must have upgraded it from experiment to pet, as it had a fluffy dog-bed to sleep in and a jaunty velvet collar round its neck. Dr Muldoon occasionally reached out to pat it absent-mindedly. The other side of the lab belonged to Josephine’s sister, Lena. It was a lot tidier and only smelled of hot metal and plastic, but still it was full of peculiar stuff. There were things a bit like large, menacing, oddly shaped fridges, and racks of equipment, all punctuated by virtual screens hanging in mid air with data streaming across them. And there were tiny spiderlike robots everywhere that reminded me a little of the much bigger spider-robot we’d ridden on Mars. These tiny ones went crawling from shelf to shelf gathering objects – and passing them down a like ants with a morsel of food, down to where a great mass of them on the floor were busily assembling themselves into a lattice-like tower. A few of them noticed our presence and scurried across the floor towards us.
The other side of the lab belonged to Josephine’s sister, Lena. It was a lot tidier and only smelled of hot metal and plastic, but still it was full of peculiar stuff. There were things a bit like large, menacing, oddly shaped fridges, and racks of equipment, all punctuated by virtual screens hanging in mid air with data streaming across them. And there were tiny spiderlike robots everywhere that reminded me a little of the much bigger spider-robot we’d ridden on Mars. These tiny ones went crawling from shelf to shelf gathering objects – and passing them down a like ants with a morsel of food, down to where a great mass of them on the floor were busily assembling themselves into a lattice-like tower. A few of them noticed our presence and scurried across the floor towards us.
“Uh,” I said, backing away,
“They’re harmless,” Josephine said. She was sitting at a workbench doing delicate things with a tiny welding iron to the various peculiar components that emerged from a 3D printer. Her face was obscured by goggles.
“Are you sure?” I asked, as several of them scuttled up Carl’s leg.
“Get them off,” Carl cried, swiping at them. But the robots crawled determinedly up his torso to his neck. Lena, Josephine and Dr Muldoon didn’t turn a hair. Then the robots attached themselves to either side of Carl’s head and hung there in clusters as rather fetching earrings.
“Hey,” said Carl, confused.
Noel giggled. “You look lovely, Carl.”
Lena gestured impatiently and the earrings pulled themselves off Carl’s ears and crawled away. I was a bit sorry.
“They’re inventing things,” said Josephine. “A lot of the things aren’t that useful, but they turned themselves into a miniature molecular assembler the other day.”
“And they also do jewellery design?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” Josephine agreed.
Apart from the robots the most striking thing in Lena’s lab was that you could get out into space from it. There was a big window showing us the uncanny glow of hyperspace and an airlock pod with two sturdy sets of doors, leading out into the void.
What would happen if you jumped out here? I wondered, remembering what the Helen had said about passing through different places at the same time. You’d be lost forever, scattered.
An airlock looms larger in Alice’s future than she yet knows, and those spiders will be important! Check back soon for more snippets, and videos!