Dream of Spring, Red-B-5, 247 After Starfall, 4 Cheshvan
Fanny Margolis woke up that morning with a sick feeling in her gut.
Yesterday, she and her small group of confederates had agreed on a violent solution to the problem of the Earth ship Lewis and Clark. That night, she had slept poorly, despite a sedative, and this morning, she felt unrested and irritable, simultaneously angry and sad and yet resolved to action.
It would be wrong to say that Newer York had bred violence out of its people. You couldn't do that, not really. People were people--one of the foundational precepts of the Community. It meant both that everyone was to remember to treat other people like they mattered, but also to remember that people were G-d's imperfect reflection in spacetime. Those imperfections included a mind that was capable of consciousness, but not solely motivated consciously. Violence occurred.
This, however, was deliberate, calculated, cold-blooded violence. This Earth ship was not an attack upon the Community—not in itself. Every single report and even rumor so far was that her crew were absolutely friendly, civilized, educated, mannerly. At least one even shared the dominant Jewish faith of the City—and what a stir that had caused, to know not only that humanity had survived long past the fears of their ancestors, but Judaism, too, had survived.
These people were nobody's enemy. At least, nobody here.
But they were the thin edge of a wedge, a camel's nose in the tent, any one of a number of other pithy metaphors for "trouble on the way". When they got home, some greedy, hungry Earth corp, or government, or rich bastard with more resources than sense, some villain right out of all the old stories was going to reach out their hand and try to grab what rightfully belonged to Fanny Margolis and the people around her, her Community.
Margolis might just be a foreman on one of the construction gangs, but this was still her city, dammit, and no bloated slob from the dying world they left behind was going to have it.
So, that part was easy. Actually attempting an act of piracy to disable the ship so it couldn't actually go home, however, was not something Margolis contemplated with equanimity.
She was up late--most of her clan were off to their dayshift work. She'd taken the day off, ostensibly sick. It was not entirely a lie, given how she felt. But it meant she was home, sipping gingerly at her coffee and hoping it wouldn't set her stomach off, when the door rang.
Almost, she dropped the mug. She did spill some coffee as she jumped.
Some conspirator I am, she thought to herself, and hit an icon on her hand terminal to open the door.
Fortunately, it was just Felicia Adams, not the Boys in Blue. Newer York Police tended to be overeager, mainly because they didn't actually have a lot of work to do most of the time.
If Fanny was a sick and nervous wreck, Felicia was positively bouncy, but at least had the good sense to wait for the hatch to close before she said, "I figured it out!"
Fanny didn't trust herself to open her mouth and have words come out, so she just looked expectantly at her friend. Finally, Felicia said, "We can disable their drive, and we don't have to hurt anybody!"
Fanny did the only sensible thing she could think of just at that moment. She blacked out.
Two minutes later, on the floor, Felicia mopping up spilled coffee and otherwise fretting at her, Fanny came to. The good news was that her stomach had unknotted while she was passed out. The bad news was that her head now hurt abominably.
Felicia noticed. "You OK? Your head kinda bounced..."
Fanny groaned and sat up. "Never been happier we only spin to 0.3G in my whole life." She kind-of crawled her way up onto a couch and, with remarkably little guilt, let Felicia finish cleaning things up. At least the mug hadn't shattered—another thing to be thankful to lower gravity for.
Felicia brought her new coffee from the kitchen and let her friend collect her wits without bouncing at her too much. Finally, Fanny said, "Right. So. Run that past me again now that I'm expecting it?"
"We can disable the Skip Drive on Lewis and Clark without ever setting foot on the ship."
Looking back on it later, Fanny was actually sort of proud of the fact that her first question was not, "How?" but, "So...nobody has to get hurt?"
Unfortunately, the answer wasn't all she'd hoped. "Well...someone could still get hurt, if they're unlucky enough to be in the way. We don't have a full layout of the ship, so we can't necessarily avoid zapping through corridors. But we do have a full schematic of the drive itself—it never even occurred to them to withhold it. Maybe it's not classified information? I dunno."
Fanny looked at Felicia, relieved to note that there was only one of her and that she was probably not concussed. "What does that even mean, anyway?"
"I...dunno. They always use it on the old shows tho', right? Means something they don't want other people to know. Anyway, this was right out in the open in the library data they slung us."
"OK, so we know how the drive works...how does that help us?"
"It's got components that can be easily disabled by exposure to a focused stream of beta particles."
Fanny blinked. Was it really that easy? "Surely it's shielded against exactly that!"
"It's shielded well enough to prevent occasional strays, but this ship doesn't have an artificial magnetosphere!"
"What?! We had that when we left Earth, centuries ago!"
"And we took it with us. They forgot about it in one of their wars during the Long Collapse that we all thought would be the end of them."
Fanny sat back, as much to rest her head against the cushions as to think this through. "So...all we need is a focused beta emitter and a spacewalk suit?"
She could feel Felicia nodding vigorously nearby.
"What will happen then? I mean, when they try to use it?"
"Nothing. It just...won't. They may realize that before they leave, or it may not be obvious 'til they get out to the edge and try to Skip. Not sure about that."
"But it won't...like, explode. Or half-work and then leave them somewhere in between?" She was perfectly fine with them being stranded in TRAPPIST-1. It was a small system with a tiny dwarf star. The whole of it could fit inside the orbit of Mercury back in Sol. Even if the ship became disabled, they could be rescued in a matter of days. The only reason it had taken them three months to come to the station was they'd elected to conduct their intended system survey first, and use the time to exchange data and figure out language and make sure the immunologists were happy.
Felicia frowned, and was silent a few minutes. Long enough for Fanny to pry an eyelid open and see the frown. "Felicia...."
"I dunno, Fan. I don't think it will. Nothing I've seen in the docco makes it sound like it. I gather the Skip is sort of an all-or-nothing thing. It either works, or it doesn't. You have some broad control over how far it goes up to its outer limit of about 22 light-years, with a minimum of about three-quarters of a light-year. Then the capacitor needs to recharge, which takes a couple of weeks. The more mass you're trying to move, the shorter the outer limit goes. That's why that ship out there is so small for such a long trip. It couldn't be much larger without making the trip much longer..."
Felicia realized she was babbling on her own, which was good, because Fanny was too busy thinking to shut her up.
"Doesn't this just delay them? I mean...they could fix it. Or we could—I mean, if the Admiral and them wanted to fix it, they could fix it."
"Sure, but it buys us some time to figure something else out, and nobody...well, hopefully nobody...actually gets hurt! Maybe we can get enough people thinking about it to see things our way in the meantime!"
Fanny had her doubts about that, but she also was quite certain that, now that she'd stopped thinking she would have to, she was not interested in hitting some poor Earth-boy over the head with a wrench.
"OK. We'll tell the others when we sync up later. Then we'll need to figure out who's actually gonna walk...no, screw that. It'll be me. And if I'm caught, then it'll only be me that hangs."
Strangely, that left her far less knotted up than the previous plan had.
"Are you sure, Fan?"
"I'm the only one of us who actually spacewalks regularly."
That was that.
They sat in silence for a moment. Blissful silence, during which Fanny could hear her pulse in her head. Finally she said, "Well, now that that's settled, I think I need some food. And a painkiller. Definitely a painkiller."
She got up to get herself what she needed, not noticing, or choosing to ignore, her friend's worried look after her.