Day 116. 143 pages, 64,886 words.
The repair of the Speed’s Virtues (Curiosity) proceeded swiftly once Predericon, Gyden and Lelhmak had fully recovered from their ordeal. Predericon still felt run-down after the heady Prime-like strength she’d enjoyed on the Bookwyrm’s diet, but ultimately agreed with the other two that it was better to have been cleansed of it. Whatever the Bookwyrm’s flesh had been composed of, and whatever the nature of the alterations it had wrought on her, the fact remained that anything related to the Worm Cult was probably best left buried in the Godfang’s noisome bowels.
Her new phobe physiology was surprisingly fit. Predericon had to admit that generations of culturally-reinforced prejudice and years of working with the truly ancient Kedane Lelhmak had left her with unfair preconceptions about how phobes operated, and how weak they were. They were not, in fact, weak at all – the catch being that their physiological and immunological strengths were rather dependent on the purity of input and environmental conditions.
Lelhmak, who made a point of reminding them that he was now some six thousand, seven hundred and fifty years old and going strong, also pointed out that Predericon and Gyden weren’t really phobes, although they had definitely benefited from having some of the physiological and genetic characteristics imposed on their templates. Without the full lifestyle and filters and diet, they couldn’t hope to really live as phobes.
Predericon was quietly of the opinion that this was a perfectly acceptable compromise. Gyden didn’t even bother to be quiet about it.
It became apparent as they were beginning their repairs that they would need to dramatically rethink the nature of the job. The Destarion was unable, for reason of her own design, stowage protocols, and ancient treaties, to provide them with a relative-capable Flesh-Eater vessel or even a workable relative field generator. That meant they would be flying from Lelhmak’s Moon to the apparent orbits of the inhabited Four Realms planets – some six hundred and thirty million kilometres – at subluminal speed, which would take them between four and six years depending on how hard they pushed and how lucky they got with the orbits. They also, unfortunately, lacked the hardware to make it any faster than that.
This, furthermore, brought them to the second major issue with the trip, specifically that the whole nature of spatial physics had changed in this volume of space.
The whole reason they’d crashed in the first place was to do with the gravitational shear and other malfunction-causing elements. The envelope of air and the immediately adjacent near-vacuum of the Four Realms had been stable, predictable, and easy enough for their specially-designed research vessel to handle. As soon as the star and hurtling planets had appeared in the suddenly-vast, completely airless void, they’d been in trouble. The simple fact that they’d been flying quite close to Cursèd and its neighbouring worlds, and had wound up half a billion kilometres away in a matter of moments, said everything you really needed to know about the Speed’s Virtues (Curiosity)’s disastrous inability to deal with their new reality.
The Four Realms no longer seemed to exist. The gravitational conditions of the flatworlds, and the background physics of the Face of the Deep, had been replaced with the unforgiving conditions of the upper half of the Void Dimension – in other words, vast and remorseless stellar vacuum. And they hadn’t signed up to fly a research vessel through that.
The take-away from this was that they couldn’t simply patch up the Speed’s Virtues (Curiosity) and fly off Lelhmak’s Moon, but would probably have to pare the vessel right down to a steerable, engine-heavy storage and life support facility capable of keeping the three of them alive and fed for six years. By removing most of the Speed’s extraneous sections and leaving behind the bulk of their computing capacity and research material – which hardly seemed important now anyway – they could manage it with the additional spare parts the Destarion had provided. They would end up with a seat-of-the-pants guided missile in disc form as necessitated by the radiation and debris shielding. A glorified escape capsule … but the important thing at this stage was escape.
It would be close-quarters, and require a lot of endurance and patience, but they were a good team. Predericon was confident they would be able to survive the trip without asphyxiating, starving, or murdering each other.
They dubbed the emergent escape vessel the Speed’s Virtues (Survival).