The Bright Green Dot: Lead Foil and the Chekhov's Gun Symphony
Posted By: 4642 Elitist Bastard<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 19 June 2009, 10:25 am
3. Lead Foil and the Chekhov's Gun Symphony
Thursday, 31 August, 2552
10:53 Ship Internal Time
UNSC Pillar of Autumn interstellar space via Slipstream
The Spartan looked up from the datapad he'd been staring at. His eyes looked listless, distant, and his jaw remained slightly clenched, as always.
"Do you mind making a run down to the bulletin boards? I have a message that needs posting," I said, holding out a data card.
"Of course," the Chief rumbled, standing up and taking the data card.
"Thanks," I said, smirking internally. He was none the wiser. Absolutely perfect. Of course, in reality, I could simply have issued a command from my terminal to display Jonesy's 'missing' poster on all the bulletin boards in the ship... but I needed the Chief out of the way for a moment. Besides, he had looked rather bored.
He'd already disassembled his armor, repaired it, cleaned out just about every cavity and surface there was, reassembled it and tested it multiple times, and had simply been staring at the datapad for the last couple of hours. Presumably one of the propaganda vids that had been picked up in the last burst from Reach.
I waited until his footfalls had receded down the corridor, slid the door to be partly shut, and picked up the phone on the desk.
"Did you say 'Cryostorage'?"
I sighed deeply into the receiver, exasperated at the incompetence of the archaic voice recognition system in the VCX, and opened my mouth to enunciate more clearly.
"You wanted to see me?"
I practically jumped out of the swivel chair as Cortana materialized in front of the bathroom doorway.
"God, Cortana... why can you not be more subtle? I'm a cripple, you know, I'm not supposed to get shocked intentionally."
Holographic eyebrows slid up her forehead, and her tall, slender figure tinged purple.
"I'll bear that in mind in future, Mr. Floyd. Anyway, what is it you want to see me about?"
"Well... I thought you would know."
"Let's take a wild guess... your letter to your fiancée yesterday?"
"How did you know who Carrie was?" I said, turning slightly red.
"Oh, I know all about her. Carrie Laura Temeris, born 2521 on Arcadia, blood group AB. You met her at high school twelve years ago when she was on an exchange visit to Earth. The last time you visited her was seven years ago, just after the incident with the Perpetual Righteousness and you'd lost your left leg, for R&R, where you two got engaged before you were prematurely recalled into a desk job.
"Since then, you have only heard from her once, when she wrote in March 2549 to tell you she was going to move to Earth. Six months later, Arcadia was glassed out of the blue, and you're still uncertain whether or not she managed to escape on time."
I sat, dumbfounded for a moment, staring at the transparent, bizarrely-clad woman who stood before me.
"When I grant myself administrative rights on the system," she said, dryly, "it reminds me that there are three basic principles of working with the sudo command: think before you execute, with great power comes great responsibility, and respect other peoples' privacy."
An odd turquoise color seeped up her legs and spread into her head.
"I hope you don't mind me ignoring that particular clause."
I took a deep breath, and sat up properly in the chair.
"Cortana... can we please get on with this. It is slightly related to the letter I sent to Carrie last night, yes."
"So is it about the Chief?"
"Yes, it is."
I opened up the drawer, and withdrew the scrappy note from within. The letters were prominent, with their careless, voluptuous curves leaking across the page.
"What's that?" Cortana inquired, suddenly looking less cocky and more concerned.
"Did you have the cameras on in here last night, Cortana?"
"No, I didn't."
"Well... put simply, I woke up at twenty past one in the morning to find the Chief had written this on a bit of scrap paper."
"He wrote it down?"
"Let me see."
I held up the letter to the camera above the desk; Cortana paused for about seven seconds.
A long time for a super-intelligent AI.
"That is... bizarre," she conceded, finally. "I mean, I knew he was affected by what happened on Reach, but I never realized..."
"I thought you were his attaché?" I interjected.
"I am," she rebutted, snappily, "but I can't read his mind. Besides, I wasn't actually in his armor, I was up here in the Autumn's computer."
"OK..." I said, folding the note and putting it away in the drawer. I leaned back in the chair, and locked my fingers, resting my chin on the resulting fist.
"So... what do you suggest?"
Cortana remained silent for a second.
"I just think it's a case of him being rather badly shaken up, presumably after what happened on Reach," she surmised, tersely.
I peered over a pair of imaginary glasses, giving Cortana my suspicious look.
"That wasn't answering my question, Cortana. What do you suggest I do?"
An even longer pause followed, made slightly eerie by the fact that Cortana didn't breathe, leaving the room in total silence.
"I recommend you avoid discussing it unless he brings it up in a conversation"
"Conversation? He never seems to make conversation."
"Well... is there a particularly mundane task that needs doing around the ship?"
I thought for a moment.
"Well... there's a few Pelicans in for servicing that need the lead foil replacing," I suggested.
"Why not ask him to help with that?"
I couldn't see a problem with her logic.
"That's... a good plan."
"What did you expect?" Cortana teased.
I sighed deeply. Genius, but cocky. No wonder the Chief was going nuts.
"Anyway, there's just a few other things: he doesn't like physical contact and he hates flip music."
"apart from Johnson."
"Practically no-one... I get your drift."
I paused for a second. Was it a silly question? Probably.
"Does the Chief actually have a taste in music?"
Cortana raised her eyebrows.
"Not that I'm aware of... no surprise, I suppose."
The data flowing across Cortana's skin ceased temporarily, and she replied in an emotionless mockery of an ONI agent's voice.
"Your security clearance does not allow me to divulge that information to you, as it is classified."
13:25 Ship Internal Time
I gently aligned the pin against the cross printed on the lead foil, and gingerly pressed down upon it. It perforated at exactly the correct point... absolutely fantastic.
I looked to my right. The other side of the dropship's shell was neatly covered in a coat of lead foil, consistent and aligned perfectly against the marker pins. The Chief peeled off the latex gloves and tossed them towards the hazardous waste chute. There was a slight tinkle as the weighted flap swung to accept the contaminated gloves.
"Um..." I muttered, "yes, Chief, what is it?"
"I'm done on this side."
"Well... I'm practically done on this side, too..." I said, punching the last alignment peg through the foil and securing it with some adhesive.
I discarded the gloves, wandered over and dropped them down the chute. Any attempt at this being a bonding exercise had failed miserably: the Chief had remained totally silent for the last three hours, robotically carpeting the chassis of the three Pelicans with radiation shielding, not uttering a word.
"Excuse me, Ensign."
I looked back. The Chief remained where he had been, fiddling with his fingers, staring at his feet. That was odd. He never made any unnecessary movements.
There was a slight pause between the Chief opening his mouth, and the sound actually coming out.
"May I ask you... a question?"
"You already have," I blurted, subconsciously, "but go ahead, ask another one."
There was another pause as the Chief's eyebrows edged slightly up his forehead... perhaps he was processing the double negative.
"Why did we have to do that?"
"Well... the technicians are either busy trying to get the number two reactor back online, trying to fix the remaining cryotubes, or in cryosleep themselves. And someone had to do it."
The Chief paused for a second, and spoke again.
"I meant... why do Pelicans need lead foil? They have adequate radiation shielding already."
"Well, they used to, but an edict came in from HIGHCOM months ago. Something to do with theoretical Slipspace physics... put simply, they discovered that if you put it in a deep enough gravity well, then it'll get dragged along with a ship when it transitions to Slipspace. Therefore, it needs extra lead foil, just in case someone tries that."
In a rare expression of surprise, the Spartan raised his eyebrows.
"I don't know anything about it, either," I mumbled, "I got a D in physics at school."
There was another pregnant pause.
"Actually..." I said, digging my datapad out of my pocket, "let's have a look..."
I opened up the rarely-ventured to scientific article folder, and searched by author. Dr. Fhajad Chandra, Journal of Shaw-Fujikawa Mechanics and Translight Physics. On Transitioning Small Vessels to Shaw-Fujikawa Spaces With Assistance From Larger Craft...
"There," I said, tossing the data pad over to the Chief. "It's eight hundred and twenty-three thousand words long, you can read the abstract over lunch."
He followed me upstairs to the mess hall, where the food dispenser was offering us a continental breakfast or a selection of bagels.
"Oh, shit," I muttered under my breath, "give me a second, I need to reset the clock."
I edged the machine away from the wall and shimmied behind it to the control panel, which the designer had conveniently placed just behind the water connection pipe. I guessed where the clock/reset button was and keyed in 1331.
"Is it working?" I called.
"Yes... it's showing the lunch menu now," the Chief said.
I untangled myself from the mess behind the machine, and brushed off the dust that had accrued on my lab coat before dragging it back against the wall.
The Master Chief stared at the panel, head unmoving, as if spoiled for choice. Finally, he brought his finger in front of the button labeled carbonara, and jabbed it once.
This would be interesting. Pasta dishes were generally of variable quality.
I played it safe and ordered the cheeseburger. True, the cheese was synthetic, but at least it was consistently mediocre. There was a clunk as it dropped into the exit tray.
"Right," I said, sweeping it up in one hand, "shall we eat upstairs? It's a bit drafty down here."
The Chief nodded, so we headed back to my quarters. He sat down on the bed, and gently put the tray down next to him as I began picking apart the cheeseburger.
Even worse than usual. The bread had stuck to the cellophane wrapping, leaving very little actually edible. Oh, well... it'd be best not to waste it.
"I'm going to put some music on, if that's OK," I announced, nonchalantly. I took a quiet "uh-huh" to be an affirmative, and called for the music program.
Anything other than flip music. Myras Tyla? Probably not. I couldn't imagine Sex Is My Life being particularly appropriate. Besides, her face looked like the mouth of a plecostomus, and Lord Hood probably had a better singing voice.
Neo-classical should do. I thought for a second.
"Goldsmith's theme from Star Trek."
"There are seven known variations on Goldsmith's theme from Star Trek. Please identify one, or"
"Any," I interrupted.
"Playing End Titles from the suite from Star Trek: Insurrection. Enjoy your music."
I swore and made a rude gesture in the general direction of the server room. True, the Autumn was an old ship, but did the computer software have to be so outdated and... stupid?
I finished the cheeseburger, and looked at the Chief, licking the mess off my fingers. He hadn't touched the spaghetti, and was instead reading the datapad, scrolling through it with his thumb.
"Interesting?" I asked, quietly.
The Chief gave a gentle nod, finished reading the sentence, and looked up.
"Yes... I can envisage several potential usages in escape scenarios. The mathematics is sound."
"Have you checked it?"
"No... but I used to know the man who wrote the paper."
The Chief stopped, pausing for a moment before he spoke.
"We used to work together," he said, tersely, handing the datapad back to me and picking up the tray.
I sat back down. Fhajad Chandra was rather famous back on Earth for his research into Slipspace mechanics, and I knew he had been instrumental in designing the long-range variant of the HEV. I vaguely remembered using one, years ago... the experience had been somewhat akin to standing inside a fruit as it was being blended.
I screwed up the plastic wrapping in my hands, and dumped it down the waste chute before re-opening the to-do list. Run checks on main servers. Ensure the armory is stocked correctly.
Cursing God inside my head for deliberately making life tedious, I opened up the drawer and started hunting for the data card with the UNSC/BSD manual on it. This was liable to take some time.