When you’re making sweeps close to Pluto’s orbit—okay, where Pluto’s orbit used to be—the first thing you do when you’re conscious is check voice, holovid, and text mail. No matter how much the techs compress a transmission, it still takes 5-6 hours to reach this far Out West after they get it all together. So news wise, you’re always at least a half–day behind everybody else. But a few sports and news holovids, a perky or sultry hello from an old lover (”I miss you, Naomi”), even some bureaucratic smoke from the bubble heads at Godspeed Inc. help you feel less like Disembodied Ghost in Space.
So first thing, I check mail.
NOTHING. And no incoming either.
In fact, all the log files show empty as though an emergency system wipe blanked them. I figure a memory gelpak went overload, cascading through all the other gelpaks—something that’s not supposed to happen. But most sweepers experience this kind of gel crash enough times to know that it’s not “user error.”
That is, when there used to be other sweepers.
Until just a few years ago, this was a two–person job. And before that, right after planetoid Pluto got sucked through a rift in the spacetime fabric to dimensions unknown, Godspeed had a half dozen sweeper ships deployed here Out West, mending spacetime with special particle beams. A few even had faster–than–light Q–drives of their own—not that they were ever used.
Now, there’s just me in Sweeper Two, with the Q–drive removed, of course.
Even after almost twenty years, some of the space environmentalists, especially on Mars, are still pissed about losing Pluto and Charon. Still jittery about Godspeed’s FTL Q–drive punching holes in the universe, which is why they affectionately refer to my employer as “God Peed.” Officially, of course, Godspeed doesn’t admit direct responsibility for rifts—they just sometimes appear after a Q–drive launch.
Could Mars go missing in a spacetime rift? Sure, if some faster–than–light submoron pilot powered up near Mars orbit. But that isn’t likely—not with UN Security Units on board every active Q–drive ship. And not with their hot little fingers on the remote control of the pilot’s brain implant. One push and KA–BOOM: the inside of the pilot’s skull is applesauce.
Fortunately, there’s nothing but the usual pack of neurons inside my head. And nothing but some nutrient implants in my body. In fact, I had to lose some parts for medical reasons for this job, like my breasts and uterus, which I’ll get put back when I retire in about ten months at 32, with a big Godspeed Inc. pension and bonus. As a googol–buck corporation though, Godspeed can afford full body and organ restoration, plus whatever genetically engineered cosmetics my seductive little heart desires. Just less than a year more cocooned as a Godspeed tomboy caterpillar—then I emerge on Earth or Luna as the Femme Fatale Butterfly Goddess of Endless Fertility and Love. I’ve got all my bodily specs and a three–world tour worked out, especially Mars—which is still 100 percent retrovirus free.
That’s the plan anyway. The exact same one that my former partner, Bonnie Perez, is supposed to be enjoying.
Anyway, I’m not really worried about the gelpaks because anything quasi–electronic or mechanical eventually yields to my touch. Computers, particle drives, environmental control systems—all succumb to what others have called my “magic hands.”
Before I go to work on the mail problem though, I check for rifts on the spacetime monitoring screens. Eleven standard days ago from this sector, Godspeed slammed its most expensive luxury liner, Pegasus IV, on a 30–light–year journey to what sweepers call the Wild, Wild West. But, so far, no rifts.
Then I see something suddenly burst behind me.