Sailing the dust is the working title of a story that I started last year. I wrote two sections which will connect at some point but there’s a lot more work to do. Here’s one section. I would be grateful for any comments or points for improvement.
Two days out from Kwa 59 the dust takes a different form. The pulsing nebula of colour dominates the sky of every planet in the system, but now it changes, now the pattern becomes clear. Trapped by the interweaving gravitational fields of three suns is an ocean in which the tides of dust ebb and flow.
“Ok Drd, close enough. Cut the engines”
“I know you know” I replied “Just thought I’d pretend I was in charge for once”
He gave me a toothy grin and then busied himself at the controls. The clever, long fingered hands on each of his three arms danced quickly over the instruments. He was typical of the Kwa-nrt, the small, intelligent race that had dominated the Kwa home world, in spite of the fact that the other sentient species, the Kwa-doon, were much larger and stronger. The two had formed a symbiotic relationship with the Kwa-nrt running the show and the less intelligent Kwa-down providing the muscle. I once explained this to a girl in a bar and she said she could see which one I was. I took it for a complement, but I was younger then.
The ship fell silent as the engines cut out. We were gliding now, sailing the gravitational fields, the great electro sail spreading out to capture and harness the forces that held the dust cloud in place.
“Bring her in slowly” I said “I’ll see to our guest”
Mr H was already on deck, sitting on the step of the fighting platform, beer can in hand. The open stern was surrounded by a field that contained the air but allowed solid objects to pass through and as I watched he pitched the empty can out into space. It sailed out over the stern before being caught and drawn in a tight loop towards the cloud. It vanished into the dust leaving a bright orange swirl that eddied and grew before fading away. He looked up at me.
“How’s it looking?” He asked.
I looked out over a sea of purple and indigo, shot through with touches of green. One of the Suns was high in the sky while another was slowly dipping below the horizon as we moved over the great curved surface of the cloud.
“There” I pointed to starboard. We were running parallel to the line where two great currents converged, flowing in the same direction but at different speeds. The line where they joined was a hazy mist of yellow, white, silver, and orange as the dust particles collided. A ring appeared on the surface, a circle of orange, then, a second later, another, before fading away. Suddenly the surface was alive with rings and splashes as a cloud of creatures, slick metallic green, burst from the surface.
Mr H blew out a long breath. “Skitters” he said, nodding.
“A good sign” I agreed “time to out the trails”
I turned to the control panel and punched in the commands that extended the trail arm. Crane like, it rose from the side of the boat before opening on its central hinge. Using the joystick I manoeuvred it to just this side of the current trail, and then punched the button that deployed the trail. From the end of the arm five fingers spread, a giant hand reaching out towards the turbulent dust. From the ends of the fingers cables unwound and on the end of each a curved mirror flashed before dipping under the surface. Five gold lines now ran parallel to the course of the ship. We didn’t have to wait long. A chime sounded from the controls as one of the lines whipped straight and something swirled in the dust. Two more chimes in quick succession, then as I reached for the controls two more. Behind the trail arm the dust boiled as the skitters tried to escape, lines jagging from side to side, suddenly slackening as a skitter leaped from the surface of the dust. At the control panel I began to bring the trail back in. The five skitters jerked free of the dust, twisting convulsively as the trail arm lifted.
“Stone me!” I looked up. Mr H was staring out to starboard, pointing a shaking finger to a huge eruption in the dust.
“Did you see it?” I asked.
He nodded and still staring at the spot where the great beast had surfaced, started to back up onto the fighting platform. Suddenly we were at full speed, Mr H quickly strapping himself into the fighting chair, while I swung the skitters inboard. For a second they twitched in the air before I killed the power to let them fall into the keep tank.
He grunted in reply, eyes intent on the surface of the dust. My hand hit the controls again and the great rod swung up and out over the back of the ship. Mr H reached out to grasp the butt which hung, suspended above him on the power assisted cage. I grabbed the end of the cable, thumbed the controls again and dipped it in the keep tank. With a click, one of the skitters attached to the electromagnetic hook, and I flicked the cable up and out to trail over the stern. Mr H thumbed the control to let out more cable. I waited a couple of seconds.
“Enough” I watched the cable pull taught. Three ship lengths astern the skitter twisted and rolled just below the surface. Orange swirls appeared and then faded in its wake.