Lightspeed Magazine has reprinted my story ‘Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance’ today online for all to read. Also, Locus put the story on their 2017 Recommended Reading List. This is the story that will be in 3 of the Year’s Best anthologies.
I’m grateful to everyone who has highlighted this story and talked it up. Thank you so much for the word of mouth. I can’t tell you how psyched I am that anyone can now head out and read it online. I hope you enjoy it.
Here’s an opening snippet. You know what to do!
Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance
After battle with the Fleet of Honest Representation, after seven hundred seconds of sheer terror and uncertainty, and after our shared triumph in the acquisition of the greatest prize seizure in three hundred years, we cautiously approached the massive black hole that Purth-Anaget orbited. The many rotating rings, filaments, and infrastructures bounded within the fields that were the entirety of our ship, With All Sincerity, were flush with a sense of victory and bloated with the riches we had all acquired.
Give me a ship to sail and a quasar to guide it by, billions of individual citizens of all shapes, functions, and sizes cried out in joy together on the common channels. Whether fleshy forms safe below, my fellow crab-like maintenance forms on the hulls, or even the secretive navigation minds, our myriad thoughts joined in a sense of True Shared Purpose that lingered even after the necessity of the group battle-mind.
I clung to my usual position on the hull of one of the three rotating habitat rings deep inside our shields and watched the warped event horizon shift as we fell in behind the metallic world in a trailing orbit.
A sleet of debris fell toward the event horizon of Purth-Anaget’s black hole, hammering the kilometers of shields that formed an iridescent cocoon around us. The bow shock of our shields’ push through the debris field danced ahead of us, the compressed wave it created becoming a hyper-aurora of shifting colors and energies that collided and compressed before they streamed past our sides.
What a joy it was to see a world again. I was happy to be outside in the dark so that as the bow shields faded, I beheld the perpetual night face of the world: it glittered with millions of fractal habitation patterns traced out across its artificial surface.
On the hull with me, a nearby friend scuttled between airlocks in a cloud of insect-sized seeing eyes. They spotted me and tapped me with a tight-beam laser for a private ping.
“Isn’t this exciting?” they commented.
“Yes. But this will be the first time I don’t get to travel downplanet,” I beamed back.
I received a derisive snort of static on a common radio frequency from their direction. “There is nothing there that cannot be experienced right here in the Core. Waterfalls, white sand beaches, clear waters.”
“But it’s different down there,” I said. “I love visiting planets.”
“Then hurry up and let’s get ready for the turnaround so we can leave this industrial shithole of a planet behind us and find a nicer one. I hate being this close to a black hole. It fucks with time dilation, and I spend all night tasting radiation and fixing broken equipment that can’t handle energy discharges in the exajoule ranges. Not to mention everything damaged in the battle I have to repair.”
This was true. There was work to be done.
Safe now in trailing orbit, the many traveling worlds contained within the shields that marked the With All Sincerity’s boundaries burst into activity. Thousands of structures floating in between the rotating rings moved about, jockeying and repositioning themselves into renegotiated orbits. Flocks of transports rose into the air, wheeling about inside the shields to then stream off ahead toward Purth-Anaget. There were trillions of citizens of the Fleet of Honest Representation heading for the planet now that their fleet lay captured between our shields like insects in amber.
The enemy fleet had forced us to extend energy far, far out beyond our usual limits. Great risks had been taken. But the reward had been epic, and the encounter resolved in our favor with their capture.
Purth-Anaget’s current ruling paradigm followed the memetics of the One True Form, and so had opened their world to these refugees. But Purth-Anaget was not so wedded to the belief system as to pose any threat to mutual commerce, information exchange, or any of our own rights to self-determination.
Later we would begin stripping the captured prize ships of information, booby traps, and raw mass, with Purth-Anaget’s shipyards moving inside of our shields to help.
I leapt out into space, spinning a simple carbon nanotube of string behind me to keep myself attached to the hull. I swung wide, twisted, and landed near a dark-energy manifold bridge that had pinged me a maintenance consult request just a few minutes back.
My eyes danced with information for a picosecond. Something shifted in the shadows between the hull’s crenulations.
I jumped back. We had just fought an entire war-fleet; any number of eldritch machines could have slipped through our shields—things that snapped and clawed, ripped you apart in a femtosecond’s worth of dark energy. Seekers and destroyers.
A face appeared in the dark. Skeins of invisibility and personal shielding fell away like a pricked soap bubble to reveal a bipedal figure clinging to the hull.
“You there!” it hissed at me over a tightly contained beam of data. “I am a fully bonded Shareholder and Chief Executive with command privileges of the Anabathic Ship Helios Prime. Help me! Do not raise an alarm.”
I gaped. What was a CEO doing on our hull? Its vacuum-proof carapace had been destroyed while passing through space at high velocity, pockmarked by the violence of single atoms at indescribable speed punching through its shields. Fluids leaked out, surrounding the stowaway in a frozen mist. It must have jumped the space between ships during the battle, or maybe even after.
Protocols insisted I notify the hell out of security. But the CEO had stopped me from doing that. There was a simple hierarchy across the many ecologies of a traveling ship, and in all of them a CEO certainly trumped maintenance forms. Particularly now that we were no longer in direct conflict and the Fleet of Honest Representation had surrendered.
“Tell me: What is your name?” the CEO demanded.
“I gave that up a long time ago,” I said. “I have an address. It should be an encrypted rider on any communication I’m single-beaming to you. Any message you direct to it will find me.”
“My name is Armand,” the CEO said. “And I need your help. Will you let me come to harm?”
“I will not be able to help you in a meaningful way, so my not telling security and medical assistance that you are here will likely do more harm than good. However, as you are a CEO, I have to follow your orders. I admit, I find myself rather conflicted. I believe I’m going to have to countermand your previous request.”
Again, I prepared to notify security with a quick summary of my puzzling situation.
But the strange CEO again stopped me. “If you tell anyone I am here, I will surely die and you will be responsible.”
I had to mull the implications of that over.
“I need your help, robot,” the CEO said. “And it is your duty to render me aid.”
Well, shit. That was indeed a dilemma…