Jamie gave serious consideration to kicking himself. What had come over him, to tell the secret he'd kept all his life. Odessa didn't even like him. Did he think she'd throw herself into his arms if she knew that he could rescue her? What a laugh. He be lucky if they didn't kill him.
He added the bucket of clams to the miscellaneous findings on Kenya's table, and retreated to the shadows, getting as near to Bellefleur as he could, and still be part of the group. He figured he might as well stick around for the trial.
Odessa was the last one to trail in, and she circled well around him, kept Clint and Matt between them.
The heat of the day had sapped everyone's energy; there was very little talking.
Odessa started, sliding in sideways. "Why do we need Snatch pilots? What's so special about them?"
Clint looked over at her. "The neutrinos in the wormhole act to flood the nervous system with false data, and induces a form of mild epilepsy. That why the transit seems to take no time. The Snatches are immune to the effect. Their brains don't shut down, in the wormhole. They can see and react. Once they are inside the wormhole, the neutrinos are visible to them."
"But they're dead."
"Technically, they have no higher brain function. They're legally dead – possessed of no rights whatsoever. The computer takes their visual input and steers accordingly."
Zack spat into the fire. "They're supposed to have a bunch of genetic mutations that mess up the brain, and shrivels the arms and legs, except some parts of the brain are hyper-developed. I hear they breed them on purpose, to sell."
"I've heard they test all children, and the ones with the pilot gene are lobotomized." Allan grabbed a clam as Kenya started making the rounds with the steaming bucket.
Luke jumped up and took the bucket, so she was free to dole out the goodies as they circled the fire.
Jamie shifted in closer and held out his bowl for a scoop. "Is that garlic butter?"
"As close as I could persuade the food processor to disgorge." Kenya flashed him a bright smile.
"I'll kiss the ground at your feet as soon as I've finished eating." he promised.
"Why do Snatches have such a reputation for violence, then?" Odessa wasn't going to drop it, was she?
"Well, they say the pilot mutations aren't the only ones they have."
"Nah, I heard about a disease that take you over, makes you kill people and drink their blood."
"They don't let anyone onto the planet, not even their own people, after they kick them out."
"I heard they do genetic testing, and expel the normal ones."
"Call them normal if you want, but they got their reputation for violence the old fashioned way – they earned it." Jeri growled. "I've heard most pirates are exiled normal Snatchers."
Jamie tried to close his ears to their comments. Every single vile thing that had ever been said about a culture that probably deserved it. He picked at the salad greens, and gnawed at the latest attempt at bread, then gave up and crawled off to bed. What had he been thinking? She'd been horrified and scared. Scared of him, and he'd, he'd . . . why hadn't he backed off? Maybe he was insane.
Roll of the Dice
They'd gone all proper and labeled the three wormholes according to standard practices. The first discovered – by virtue of their having emerged from it, was now the Alpha singularity. Jamie's discovery was Beta, and Allan's Gamma.
The neutrino array was carefully disassembled and stowed. They'd manufactured hollow tubes, which were now fitted to airlocks, for easy travel between the ships. And extra space.
They locked themselves in place on the jump core in the same order they'd jumped before, with the scientists spread out among the ships, airlocks sealed for the jump. Clint was riding with Roslyn, and Odessa rode with Jamie.
He was relieved, actually. Whatever she thought of him, he at least didn't have to hide what he was doing from her, as he adjusted the magnetic field to nearly spherical.
The wormhole swallowed them and he steered easily down the center of a mildly twisting gullet that discharged them in short order.
Odessa started snapping pictures.
"That felt . . . easy."
Jamie flicked his radio's power switch. "Yeah, it was very straightforward. Umm."
"Sorry, I won't talk about it."
He flicked the switch back on. " . . . like a disaster area."
Jamie scanned his instruments. Lots of close contacts. He aimed a camm at the nearest and zoomed in.
"It looks like that beacon, only . . . "
"Someone's taken a can opener to it." Jamie muttered, and aimed the camm.
"That's a ship." Luke's voice over the radio.
"There's another one."
"They're all well dusted." Roslyn now. "They've been floating out here for a long time."
Jamie looked at the melted control deck of the ship.
Odessa wrapped her arms around herself. "There was a space battle here. Wasn't there?"
"Yeah. So . . . let's go exploring."
With considerable application of drilling and mining tools they managed to get samples from several ships. The melted edges of lasered holes, compared to the undamaged hull, and the accumulated micro meteorite damage on each, and the current micrometeor flux (high) led to a tentative age of the wrecks of about ten thousand years.
"That's the outside limit of age." Jamie pointed out. "In a post-battle debris field the micrometeor flux may have started out much higher, making the wrecks look older than they really are.
They counted over a hundred in their vicinity, and telescopes found more, and suggested that they were thickest in an arc that covered a third of an inclined orbit around the distant pair of suns.
"They must have been protecting a wormhole. Or several."
"Or attacking through a wormhole or several. This wormhole is right at the tip of the arc of wreckage." Jamie said. "Can we sort these ships into two types?"
"Yeah, large and small." Jerri was sarcastic. "Umm, some tend toward more rounded than others."
"Function is likely to dictate form, even if there were two different alien species building the ships." Zack pointed out. "Which one shall we go explore?"
"That's a jump frame. Let's take a look for symbols or anything else that could give us a clue.
The jump frame was huge, ten times the length of theirs, with a bulb at one end and nozzles at the other. Empty in the middle. Whatever it had been designed to carry was gone. So was what ever ought to have covered the front of the bulb.
"Someone broke the window." Odessa aimed the Bellefleur's spot light straight in. Jagged metal, nothing recognizable.
"Penetrating explosive." Clint sounded sad. "We won't find much inside."
As they slid along beside it, Odessa focused the light on a dark patch on the white hull. Some sort of lettering and square patches in various colors, half obscured by the ubiquitous dust.
Other ships had round patches with a design inside
Letter-and-square ships out numbered the circle-and-design ships three to one, and almost all the large jump frames were letter-and-square. Only on the smaller jump frames did the circle-and-design predominate. They argued for who was the defender, and who the aggressor.
"And no one won." Roslyn whispered. "No one cleaned up afterwards."