Meriel screamed as she sat up in her bunk, panting and sweating, the ten-year-old image of her dying mother as clear as a vid. She grabbed the sim-chip and medal on the chain around her neck and took slow, deep breaths to calm herself, fighting not to close her eyes again. No wonder I can’t keep a roommate. Damn, I need more boost.
Still groggy, she sat up in bed and took a moment to orient herself. This was her first jump on the Tiger, a new ship with new routes. It was also her first private cabin in her new post as chief warrant officer of cargo, and the first time she had ever slept without someone else’s butt a few inches from her nose. Her new berth still smelled of disinfectant, and the putty-gray walls bore the shadows of vids and knickknacks of the former occupant.
She rose from her bunk and went to the cabinet for some juice. Then she went to the sink for a damp towel and sat with her head back and the towel over her eyes to help recover from the disorientation of the long jump.
The ship’s clock told her that they had dropped out of the jump early. Perhaps the nav system dumped them at some obscure singularity known only to the navigators. Being in the wrong place did not worry Meriel the way it had on her last ship. The Tiger’s routes were safer, and Molly Vingel, the XO, told her there were five other marines on board who could help in a fight.
“Incoming,” Meriel said to trigger the communications console. “List.”
“Security,” the link responded.
“Bah,” Meriel said and removed the towel from her eyes for the console to scan her retina. She then lay back down with the towel on her forehead.
“Littlebit. Harry, urgent. Bell, Jeremy,” the link recited.
Little Harry. Damn. They had torn him away from his older sister, Anita, and the siblings still missed each other. God, how cruel the law could be for the powerless.
“Bell. Go,” she said, and the message from her lawyer, Jeremy Bell, began.
“Enterprise Station, ET 2187:98:21,” the console recited, and Jeremy appeared dressed in a colorful Hawaiian shirt, lounging on a veranda with a view of a tropical beach.
Meriel moved the towel to cover her eyes again.
“Good news and bad news, Ms. Hope,” her lawyer began. “Good news: the case for the Liu Yang moved to up to Court-5. That’s the court of appeals on Enterprise.” Liu Yang. That’s what they called the Princess now to hide her while the Princess’s papers showed her scrapped and recycled. “That means if they decide in your favor, you get your ship back with no more legal hassles, and you can return the registry to the Princess. Bad news: Court-5 only hears pleas from licensed representatives, and they are expensive. It’s not up to me, M. I’m pro bono on this, and I’d do it if they’d let me, but the reps of the court are specialists and do not negotiate. It’s cost-plus and, there’s not enough money in the account. Estimate attached.”
“Pause,” Meriel said. She raised the corner of the towel to view the attachment and whistled. The estimate was two years of her gross salary. “Damn, I don’t have that kind of money,” she mumbled and leaned back again. “Well, Princess, I guess we’re just gonna have to wait. Play.”
“I know what you’re thinking, Ms. Hope,” Jeremy said, “but we cannot wait. There’s more bad news.” He waved a vid sheet. “Court says you have twenty-one days to submit evidence that the Princess was not carrying contraband when you were attacked. If you can’t, they’re going to auction her from impound to cover dock fees and expenses.”
Meriel sat up quickly, and the towel fell from her eyes. “What!” she said without thinking, and the console replayed the last sentence and continued.
“Some clerk wants to close the case, and the issue remains unresolved,” the lawyer said.
“They can’t take her. She’s ours!” The playback paused. The Princess was their only asset; her only means to get the kids back together and keep her promise to her mother. Without the Princess, they would all drift apart. Meriel stared at the wall with her mouth open.
“Play,” she said.
After walking a few steps to a file cabinet, Jeremy removed a vid sheet from a file within it. Above the file cabinet was a porthole with a view inconsistent with the tropical beach scene. Apparently, the beach was just a mural on one wall of a tiny office. The porthole showed what seemed to be a spaceship-repair station—or a junkyard.
He scrolled through the vid sheets and waved one in front of the camera. “They towed your ship from the boneyard at YR56 to the impound dock at Enterprise. Except for the patch on that big hole, she’s in good shape; she’s still inert at low pressure with supporting electronics asleep. I’m sure that decision saves on dock fees, but it’s good for her as well.”
Jeremy leaned closer to the camera and frowned. “About the kids and custody,” he said, “the cases are all weak until they have a place to go. The courts would never take the kids from the foster parents without proof of neglect, but we could negotiate for visitation. Only a few of you are of age now, and the contracts have a few more years to run. I’m working on it.” He glanced at his link. “I’m leaving for meetings on Lander in a few hours. Give me a call if you’re in-system, and we can chat more. Twenty-one days, Ms. Hope. Don’t forget.”
“End message,” the machine said.
Meriel sat with her head in her hand and rubbed the sim-chip on her necklace. “Never leave them,” her mother had said. But without the Princess, there would be no choice. She reached into her kit, took a vid sheet, and stuck it into a corner of the mirror. It was a sales brochure for the Princess when she was new—years before Meriel was born.
“It’s not fair,” she whispered. Without the Princess, her dream would die, and her promises to her mother would die with it. Without their ship, the kids would dissolve into the billions of anonymous spacers, lost to each other and without a future or family to help them.
She had been content to keep the Princess on a low priority at the edge of her attention while she worked out the funding and legal issues. Sometimes, she could even go a few weeks without thinking about her, hoping that things would eventually work out. Not anymore.
“Acknowledge,” she said, and a reply to Jeremy opened in the send queue. “Jeremy, I’ll try to see you on Lander. But how in hell can we clear her in twenty-one days? We tried for years to prove a negative. See ya. Send,” she said, and the message went into the send queue where it would wait until the Tiger could synchronize with the next communications beacon.
Meriel touched the vid sheet, and the Princess’s brochure displayed a white ellipsoid stretched on the long axis. It was sleek and featureless as a polished river stone—a shape that would be welcome in a closed palm.
According to the ship’s clock, her shift would not start for hours, but she dressed for work regardless. She was cargo chief now with a logistics-5 rating, and checking the cargo lashings before and after jumping was her responsibility.
She went to the cabinet and took out the pack of meds her contract obliged her to take for the nightmares and grumpy moods. She took out a pill and held it between her fingers. One pill and the nightmares and flashbacks will disappear for a few days, she thought, no cold sweats, no anxiety attacks. And I won’t have to wait until Lander to get boost. One pill and I’ll forget about the attack and freezing and…what I did.
She rolled the pill between her fingers. But if I do, I’ll also forget about Elizabeth and the Princess and stop caring again.
No, never again. I promised. She crushed the pill and sprinkled the dust directly into the toilet, just as she had done every morning for seven years.
She zipped up the high collar of her shirt to cover the long scar that crossed her chest and then flipped her hair to cover the white tip that ran behind her ear. The visor that fixed her hair in place included an embedded link that was much safer than an implanted link and made it less likely that a brief moment of stupidity would command a bot to take a shortcut through the hull and space the entire cargo.
“Crap,” Meriel said and walked to the cargo bay. There’s nothing I can do about the Princess now. She scanned the Tiger’s roster on the heads-up display of her visor. Let’s see. Maybe twenty-five crew and another twenty-five passengers.
A crewman in blues with silver bars on his lapels caught her attention. He’s a nav-4, she thought and scrolled the roster for photos. Let’s see…medium tall…brown hair. What’s his name? Smith, John. As she walked up to introduce herself, the view through the window caught her eye, and she stopped.
The window ran the length of the passageway and overlooked a sea of pearlescent green with red filaments of hydrogen weaving through towering pillars of black and gray.
“Makes you want to suit up and go EVA,” she said to break the ice.
“Uh-huh,” he murmured and just stared out the window. After a few moments, he noticed her reflection in the window and turned to her.
“Say, aren’t you the new cargo chief?” he asked, and Meriel nodded. “I’m John Smith.”
Meriel folded her arms and leaned against the bulkhead. “So where are we, Mr. Navigator?”
“Well, we jumped from Sector 48, so judging from the show outside, that should put us somewhere between Ross and Lalande.”
Meriel looked him straight in the eyes. “You’re clueless,” she said and looked back to the field of stars.
John smiled. “Well, that’s our flight plan. Wait till my shift starts and give me about ten minutes at the screens. By eight ten, we’ll be on our way.”
“I heard Jerri’s pretty good too,” she said, referring to the senior pilot. “Bet you a scotch she’s done before you get there. Say, you don’t talk like a spacer. How come you’re sitting nav?”
“I grew up on L5, and you do what you have to,” John said and looked back at the nebula.
“Damn,” Meriel said softly, surprised. Her face softened, and she looked at him more closely. John did not look like what she expected a refugee from L5 to look like. She expected disease and deformity and, well, damage. However, the man standing next to her looked perfectly normal—kinda nice, actually, with that smile. Meriel realized she was staring at him, blushed, and looked away.
“Sorry,” she said, but before she could say more, John’s comm link interrupted.
“Bridge to Smith,” his link squawked. “Your link says you’re awake. Report, please.”
“Smith here,” he said with a smirk. “I’m off duty, Socket. What do you want?”
“Jerri told the OOD that we’d get moving a lot sooner with your help. So he says to get to the bridge stat or let me know why not.”
John raised his eyebrows. “Jerri said that?”
“Uh-huh,” Socket said. “Get over it. So you coming or not?”
“On my way,” he said with a wink to Meriel.
Meriel smirked at John’s confidence. “The bet stands. Ten minutes.”
“Piece of cake,” he said. “See you at sixteen hundred.”
“Don’t you sleep?”
“A real scotch is worth it. See ya,” he said.
“Uh, yeah.” Oops…did he think I meant real scotch? she thought and watched him walk away. He doesn’t move like a spacer; he’s heavier on his feet, solid, not afraid of losing gravity.
“Hello, Meriel,” a voice behind her said. She turned to see Patrick Ferrell, the ship’s doctor, walking toward her.
Oh, crap. “Hi, Doc,” she said with a warm smile but took a step backward. “Sorry, but I’m in a hurry now. I need to check the cargo lashings before some crate turns into a projectile—”
“Then stop for a minute,” Ferrell said. “You left me in the middle of our conversation yesterday and haven’t been to see me like you promised. I thought we had more to talk about.”
“Sorry, Doc,” she said, walking slowly backward. “No more interviews. Nothing personal. I did all my talking on the Thrace and with the Troopers a decade ago, and there’s nothing left to figure out.” She paused. “My last ship had no complaints.”
“You’re taking your meds, right?”
“Sure, Doc.” She lied.
“The drugs help you cope, Meriel.”
“I’m coping fine. You see me ripping anybody’s head off?”
“Well, I hoped something like that would never cross your mind. The meds help with the blackouts, too. We can’t have you blacking out on a cargo loader, now can we?”
Meriel looked around, hoping no one else had heard him. She walked back to Ferrell. “I don’t have blackouts, Doc,” she said softly. “That was only when I was a kid. I just get nervous sometimes.” Damn, I just gave him more ammunition.
“I understand completely,” he said. “I’ll make an appointment for—”
Meriel brightened, seeing the possibility of escape, and started to back away again more quickly. “Sure, Doc. Before we complete the circuit.”
“No, next shift,” he shouted after her.
“Right. Next week. OK, I’ll be there,” she yelled back over her shoulder and ducked around the bulkhead.
John took a roundabout way to the bridge through the mess hall to pick up a mug of coffee from the replicator. He knew Jerri could find their way with the computer alone, but it would require lots of short jumps and fuel. Margins were tight, so the longer he delayed, the more they would appreciate his talents.
“Smith on deck,” John said as he paused at the door to the bridge. “Permission to enter, sir.”
“Jeez, there you are,” said Steven, the OOD, signaling for John to enter. “You stop for a manicure?”
“Seven twenty-three. Mark the time,” John said, walking to the navigation station next to Jerri.
“Sure. Just find out where the hell we are,” Steven said pacing the bridge. Jerri noticed the hot coffee in John’s hand and shook her head.
The nav-a station projected a star map with an overlay of what looked like an ice-cream cone with the point at the start of their last jump. The scoop of ice cream at the end of the cone represented where they might be now—their sphere of uncertainty.
“Sphere’s too big to plot a jump,” Jerri said and switched the projection to the smaller nav-b station, where John sat. “We’d end up in a star.”
“Did you try to triangulate the Doppler?” John asked.
“Nope,” Jerri said with an impatient frown, “just waiting for you.”
“What’s coming in, Socket?” he asked communications chief Suzanne Soquette, or just Socket—a nickname she rather enjoyed. She was beautiful, even for a spacer, and John always had to limit his gaze to avoid staring.
“Some chatter for the buyers and lots of encrypted garbage,” Socket said with an extra flash of her eyes which increased his discomfort. “All EM, clear as a bell. Who’d think anybody’s listening out here?”
“Pipe some of the chatter over to me,” John said. While he waited for the feed, John turned to Steven.
“Say, I met the new cargo chief in the passageway just now,” he said. “What’s her story?”
“Came over from Jeff’s boat, the Jolly Roger, saying she didn’t like the routes and had trouble sleeping,” Steven said. “Jeff said she’s the best cargo mate in the sector. Lifetime spacer who knows the boards. Said she could man any seat on the bridge if she wanted it, so Molly bought out her contract.” Molly was XO and rated exec-4 with laser-sharp instincts, so she would know. Steven’s link flashed, and he went back to his console.
Jerri leaned over to John. “Is this academic or are you interested?” she asked with a timid smile and raised eyebrows.
Socket leaned over. “She’s too pretty for you.”
Jerri dropped her smile. “If you ask me, I think she’s got a past. Something that won’t forget her, won’t let her go.”
“So, what’s got the hooks in?”
“Well, rumors say it was from a long time ago and bad,” she said, “something that needs drugs. Pirates, I heard, but that’s just a horror story. I really don’t know.”
“Done,” Socket said, hit a button, and leaned back in her chair. She turned to look at John. “Say, sailor, why don’t you just ask her?” she added with a wink.
“I’ll do that,” John said. His nav-b monitor lit up with comm chatter, and he pulled up a parser to extract the time stamps and origins from the packets. “Too many gravity wells to make this exact,” he said, “but let’s give it a go.” On Jerri’s star map, he added three rays from the center point that represented the vectors of the incoming signals. He rotated the projections until the sources aligned with the three well-known stations. A new sphere appeared around the locus of the rays—a sphere that was still much too large.
“Not good enough,” Jerri said with a smug grin. She folded her arms across her chest again.
John recalled the second law of navigation—everything is moving all the time; nothing stands still, ever. He adjusted the locations of the sources based on the time stamp on the EM and time dilation. This changed the position of the station from where it was currently to where it was when the EM originated, and the sphere contracted. He added some reliable EM from Earth and then added two more sources for fine-tuning. With each line, the sphere shrank until it was a point with a fuzzy halo. John zoomed into the star map—their current most probable location.
“OK, Jerri, check for a match,” John said and leaned back in his chair with a smile. “Say, did we get the score on the outbound?”
“Fourteen to nine, final,” Steven said. “Socket wins the pool.”
Socket smiled but kept her head down.
Jerri pulled John’s data to her station and matched the major stars by their spectra and red shifts. “There we are,” she said. Their actual position lay just outside the original sphere. “Mass was wrong.”
“Are we hauling military?” John asked.
Steven frowned and nodded. “They’re gonna get someone killed.”
“Who’d know?” Jerri said.
“Time seven thirty-one. Eight minutes. Remember that if someone asks,” John said with a smile and cued up a text to Meriel.
To Hope: 8 min.
“Stick around to check my course corrections,” Jerri said.
“Sure,” John said. He grabbed the visualization goggles, leaned back, and put his feet up.
Steven walked up to John, threw his coffee in a recycler, and knocked his feet off the console. “This is Meriel’s first post as cargo chief, John,” he said softly, “so don’t eff it up, OK? And don’t startle her. She’s qualified marine-three.”
“I’m parking the Cruiser,” Meriel said to Lev Tyler, her cargo-3, who waved back at her from the cargo-bay console. She backed the power loader to the bulkhead, secured it, and put the servos on standby. With a half-liter thermos of coffee wedged into the power loader’s cage, she watched Lev complete the data-integrity checks on the ship’s memory cargo.
Twenty-one days and I don’t have a clue, she thought and played with the sim-chip on her necklace. “It’s all here,” her mother had said ten years ago. But it wasn’t all there. The files were unreadable after the police returned the chip to her. She rubbed the medal, a symbol of the Church of Jesus Christ Spaceman, between her fingers. Is this what she meant? Have faith? No. Esther believed, but Meriel was sure she meant the sim-chip. They would have to try again.
Meriel thumbed a text to her only nonspacer friend, a hacker named Nickolai Zanek on Enterprise.
Panic. I need your help. I’ve got twenty-one days to prove the Princess was not a drug boat, or we lose her. Forever. We need to bang on the sim-chip again. There has to be something there. See you on Enterprise.
It would be a week before she could see him. What could she do until then?
She scanned the schedules for the other kids. Tommy Spurell’s ship, the Jennifer Edwards, would dock at Enterprise about the same time as the Tiger would. He was twenty now and stable as a rock. She texted him.
Let’s touch base on Enterprise. M.
What else? she thought. There’s gotta be something we’ve missed all this time.
The police filed the case as “unexplained,” but that left everyone with only the wrong explanation—that their cargo was contraband, and contraband meant drugs. Meriel knew it could not be true, but the slander would stick if she just walked away.
OK, then. Space is huge. How could pirates have found the Princess in deep space? Aunt Teddy might know, but she’s not here. How about a navy guy?
Meriel pulled up the display on the cargo loader and keyed in a search of the crew and, specifically, marine qualifications. Let’s see, she thought, marine-2, another two, a six. Meriel whistled aloud. Wow, a marine-6 as chief of security. Sergeant Major of the Marines, Charles Cook. That’s fleet class. How’d this little ship get somebody that good? She left to visit the security office and find Sergeant Cook. Instead, she found a note that said, “At the gym.”
The Tiger’s gym was unusual because it had open mats and did not smell like stale sweat. Meriel found a big man with short blond hair demolishing a training droid. Faster than his bulk, she thought and went to the mats and stretched.
She began her kata on the mats almost as a meditation, a ritual she’d started as physical therapy for her wounds. Her movements were smooth, except for the strike at the end of each position. The big man stopped to watch her during her second iteration, and on the ninth position, he intervened.
“May I?” he asked. Meriel stopped and nodded, skeptical that he might have useful coaching. “Your rear knee should be bent, not stiff, and your heel off the mat when you begin your strike.” He leaned over and touched the outside edge of his hand to the inside of her knee to flex it.
Meriel smiled. “And you are?”
“They call me Cookie. You’re marine qualified?”
“Yes, sir. Name’s Meriel Hope.”
Cookie raised his eyebrows at her show of respect. “Oh yeah, new cargo chief. Marine-three, huh? Weapons?”
“Blasters, pulse rifles, nothing heavy.”
“Combat?” he asked.
“S’OK. Shooting for marine-four?”
Meriel shook her head. “Not yet. I want to get better where I am.”
“OK, good. Then you do your kata, and I’ll oppose you.”
“I’ve never done that before,” she said.
“Yeah, that’s what happens when you train by holo,” he said and put an instrumentation cuff on his forearm. “Now, repeat position nine beginning from eight.”
Meriel lined up in position eight and rotated both feet for a downward strike with the blade of her hand. Cookie stepped back and blocked with his forearm raised and left hand poised for a punch, but he did not strike. Meriel struck his padded forearm.
“Hold that position,” he said and moved to her side. “See, if your heel is down before you begin your strike, the power comes from your muscles. That’s weak. We want the power from your center.” He slapped his tummy with his palm. “Drop the heel with your center and then strike simultaneously. Like this.” He demonstrated the strike and drop. “Now you.”
Meriel repeated the move. He frowned and tapped her forehead with his index finger. “Get out of your head. Your body knows the pattern. See from your center, not your eyes,” he said and patted his tummy again.
Meriel repeated the move until Cookie nodded. She felt as if her whole body had struck his forearm. He raised the instrumentation cuff to show her the readout. “See. Twice the impact force.”
Meriel raised her eyebrows.
“OK, next position,” he said, and Meriel pivoted.
“Stop,” he said. “Good. Pivot is fine, but just before the end, your rear foot is planted, and your body turns from the hips in a motion to strike, like a coiled spring.”
Again, Meriel repeated the moves while Cookie opposed her, and they finished her kata.
“OK, now from the start and speed it up. Don’t think,” he said.
Now her kata looked like a fight, each strike opposed by a block, each block followed by another strike. Cookie was huge but moved like a lion. At the end, they were both sweaty, and welts rose on Meriel’s forearms and shins.
“Don’t take the impact of my blows,” Cookie said as he toweled the sweat from his forehead. “Sure, it’s a kata, but I outweigh you two to one in muscle. Divert my blows, and don’t try to absorb the impact. Blend until you can strike. Improvise.”
They bowed to each other and went into the showers.
“Say, you’re marine-three,” he said over the shower partition. “You passed zero-g defense, right? Gymnastics and center of gravity?”
“That makes you an optional for my security team,” he said. “You OK with that? It’ll bump your pay a grade.”
“OK, let’s call that your interview.”
“Who’s on the team?”
“There’s Suzanne Soquette in comm, Nobu Draeger in the galley, and Lev Tyler, who works for you in cargo. Lev is my number two. Staff Sergeant Tyler, actually. Good man. Your marine-three cert will make you a squad leader like Socket. The captain’s marine-two rated, but I don’t count him. I’ll let you know when we meet.”
“Sure,” Meriel said. “Say, do they teach you how to attack ships in space?”
“Uh, yeah. Hull breach, hand-to-hand weightless, EMP weapons. It’s history mostly, not practice. Why?”
“How about defense in open space?”
“No,” he said. “They always tell us that surprise is unlikely, even impossible without betrayal.”
“How so?” she asked and finished her shower to listen.
“Well, if you are smaller than a moon, it’s too hard to find you in open space unless your attacker knows right where you’re going to be,” he said and left his shower. “If your attacker is waiting for you, you can see him before he sees you.”
“How does that work?” Meriel asked.
“Well, if you want a better explanation, you need to ask a pilot about coordinating in space and how hard it is. It’s just easier to find relatively fixed targets like stations. Nothing like sublight in atmosphere. Jerri will know, and Smith would too.”
Meriel nodded slowly, going over the implications. “What about smugglers? If it’s so hard to locate each other, why even try a drug drop in space?”
“Expense and time aren’t issues when it’s illegal or when secrecy is paramount,” he said.
Drugs again. This doesn’t help. She finished dressing and saw John’s text calling her bet. Then she met Cookie in the passageway.
“Just let me know when you want to do this again,” he said. “You can usually find me in the gym or the galley. I can qualify you to marine-four, if that’s your goal.”
Meriel nodded again. “Eventually, sir. Thank you.” She smiled, grateful for her good luck, and turned to leave.
“Hey, I don’t mean to pry, but is this about the Princess?”
Meriel looked at him silently. She did not talk about the Princess, because the first thing people usually said was “sorry” or “poor girl” or “oh my God!” The last thing she wanted was pity.
“Don’t misunderstand, Chief,” he said. “I got nothing against you. I’m head of security. I read the files. If you qualified marine-three and logistics-five, you’re good on my team.”
“Appreciate it. Just not ready to talk about it yet.”
Cookie nodded. “No problem. I’m off to the galley. Where you headed?”
“The mess to study. I have a nav-three test coming up.
“Isn’t it noisy there?”
“Sure, but studying gets lonely, especially since that’s all I do when I’m off duty.”
They walked together to the mess hall, and Meriel sat down at a table. Cookie brought her coffee.
“I’ll bet Smith can help you with nav,” Cookie said with a glint in his eye.
“Uh-huh,” Meriel said with a look that said, “Mind your own business.”
“Hey, just saying,” Cookie said and went back to the galley.
Meriel used her link to cast a holo of her test prep but could not concentrate. She was preoccupied by the threat of losing the Princess to the station lawyers and her helplessness to stop it. Calm down. Jeremy will have an idea.
The five-minute claxon interrupted Meriel, and she returned to her cabin to prepare for the jump. There she drank the nutrients, took the tranq without boost, and had another nightmare.
 Tranq boost: Tranquilizers, called “tranq,” are needed to overcome the long periods of disorientation during jumps. Tranq-boost is a stronger tranq that suppresses the imagination and memories, which can overwhelm during jumps.
 ET: Earth Time. A useful baseline for coordination in time. Loosely based on Earth Standard Time and the convenient assumption that there is one single time for everything in the universe, which is useful in all astrophysical calculations and has nothing whatsoever to do with the timekeeping devices on each ship or mass. An exact correlation is very difficult over light-years because everything of interest moves at fractions of the speed of light. Navigation computers only have a useful approximation.
 Pro bono: pro bono publica, or literally, for the public good. Lawyers and other professionals are often obliged by their canons of ethics to do free volunteer work for the general public.
 Communications beacon: The physicists had not figured out how to send radio and other electromagnetic (EM) signals faster than the speed of light (FTL), so FTL ships consistently outran their messages. At first, the stations started something like a postal delivery by running shuttles between stations and Earth to synchronize messages. They later swapped the shuttles for drones. Still, that was slow, expensive, and hard to coordinate. Eventually, every ship carried message and news-storage systems that synced with the station beacon every time they left a station, and resynced when they entered a new system. Each ship that downloaded the beacon received some revenue, and every upload was charged a small amount. People had gotten used to asynchronous messaging from letters and then e-mails for centuries, so this was not an issue. With the very regular syncing of information each time a ship passed a beacon, information was as current as FTL could produce. But things could get strange. Since messages were sent physically, and there were always ships faster than yours was, occasionally a response to your message would be waiting for you at your destination before you arrived.
 Nav-4: navigator, rating-4. This designation refers to the skill level of a navigator as assessed by an independent agency. In this case, John’s post is chief warrant officer of navigation. A nav-5 rating would qualify him to be posted to pilot and senior navigator for the Tiger, but Jerri currently held that post. The post is different from rank, such as captain, commander, pilot, chief warrant officer, petty officer, or seaman. Rank and post are also different from skill level.
 Mess hall: On ships, the kitchen is called the galley, and the eating area is called the mess.
 Sphere of uncertainty, sometimes just known as sphere: when you jump, there is uncertainty in time and space about where you will end up due to your lack of certainty of the positions and masses of everything along your path. This uncertainty is shown by drawing a sphere around a calculated destination. The second law of nav says, “Everything is moving all the time,” so it is difficult to calculate precisely where you will end up, unless you know every mass and where it’s all going. That’s impossible to do without infinite compute resources. So there is always an uncertainty of where you’ll end up, and that uncertainty can be shown as a sphere. It’s actually more like a sphere with a hollow center because there is absolutely no chance that you will hit what you aimed at. The sphere grows exponentially with distance, so shorter jumps have smaller spheres.
 EM: electromagnetic waves, like radio, TV, light, infrared, ultraviolet, gamma, and X-rays, which travel at the speed of light.
 Gravity well: a large mass that distorts space-time like a bowling ball on a trampoline.
 In common language, the three laws of navigation can be stated as (1) all positions are relative (there are no fixed reference points, only conventions);(2) everything is moving all the time; and (3) you can only know for sure where things were, not where they are A law 0 was included later to keep the math honest. Law 0: the arrow of time is unidirectional.
 Cruiser: Mark IX Cила Грузчик, or Power Loader designed on a Russian colony near Bernard’s Star. They are nicknamed “Cruisers” because in English, the name sounds like “silly cruischick.” Cargo handlers will sometimes refer to themselves as Cruisers, but it is considered an insult if used by anyone else, especially if referring to a woman.
 EMP: electromagnetic pulse. A strong EM wave that essentially zaps all nearby electronics.
 Wink-in: when an FTL object comes into your view, you have no sense of it before it physically arrives because it’s moving faster than the photons or EM radiation that would tell you that it’s coming. When the FTL object arrives, it appears along with its EM, and it looks like a weak flash or a wink.
 AU: astronomical unit. One AU is the distance from the Earth to Sol, or about 149-million kilometers. The speed of light is about 0.3 million kilometers per second, so it takes an electromagnetic (EM) signal about eight minutes to travel one AU. That’s a huge distance!
(c) 2014, 2015 Benjamin R. Strong, Jr.
(c) 2014, 2015 Benjamin R. Strong, Jr.