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There was the sensation of prickly freedom that comes after squeezing your way through a tight constriction, scraping skin as you go. I felt my body try to open up to breathe deeper, fighting the safety harness and the geefield. The acceleration had ceased.
"Damn it, what happened?" I shouted, fighting the connectors on the harness.
"We have achieved hyperstate after four pulses in close sequence. I am correlating sensor readings, both external and from Tiosyn's sensoria network. One moment." The Override sounded busy for the first time since I'd known it.
At least the link works, said the Tzun.
"We've all been hyper before, why wouldn't it?"
"You explain," said the Override, still sounding preoccupied.
"Explain what? Where are we?"
The Tzun's voice clicked live on the soundfield. "Better. We're hyperstate, in a minimum-energy transit pseudoarc for a point some fifty light-minutes from Eridani, north of the system ecliptic. We're projected to make statefall in two more minutes, and all systems are nominal."
"Explain what," I said, in a calmer but (I hoped) more dangerous tone.
"We're not in the same hyperstate that Uplifted starships use. Don't worry, we expected this," said the Tzun. "We're in an uncontrolled but predicted transit for our destination coordinates. Uplifted starships using vector taps retain mass- and time-elective control during state transit; we did not and will not."
"Okay. For the layman, please?"
"Think of it like flying between islands. Uplifted starships operate like conventional powered aircraft, maintaining their own position at all times through active means, and choosing their direction from moment to moment. What we did, on the other hand, was more akin to firing an artillery shell in a ballistic arc from one point on one island - Eridani's mass exclusion zone - to another point on the same island. We can't change course - well, not much - and we're not going to be able to bring ourselves out of hyperstate; we're relying on Eridani's massfield to do that for us when our energy state drops low enough. In essence, we'll 'hit the ground' and make statefall, with an equivalent velocity to when we made hyper."
I thought furiously for a few seconds. "That means that the Flyer, if that was really the Flyer, will still be within scan range of us when we emerge. Within scan range of our exit, at least. And within comm range."
"Yes," said the Override. "Assuming it hasn't changed position, it will be able to reach us handily with scan or comm. One minute to statefall."
"Okay," I said. "When we come out, can we minimize emissions? Is there a point to that, or will our exit signature make it moot?"
"Our exit will not be nearly as visible as a powered vector tap statefall, but there will still be frame shock enough for their sensors to track us."
"Can we see anything in hyperstate?"
"Yes," said the Override, "but not anything operating at the level that Uplifted do, except for the instant we pass through that state level on the way back to statefall. Which will occur in twenty-five seconds."
"Tell me what you see as we go past," I said, settling back in my seat.
"Of course. Fifteen seconds. Ten. Five. Exiting."
There was a violent shudder that rippled through the test vehicle's frame, transmitted to the Interrupt by our docking connections. There wasn't the same violent shock as the initial jump; I retained consciousness, peering at blurry holofields, trying to determine if anything was near us. Pointless, given that there were two AIs and the dedicated traffic control systems of the Interrupt doing the same thing, but what the hell. I needed to be doing something.
"I have several targets," said the Override, "in hyperstate. They are holding relative state in this region. I cannot determine their identity or purpose, but I am assuming they are Uplifted, and that they are there to maintain the blockade on hyperstate travel from this region."
"Incoming," said the Tzun, and switched audio.
"Ah, you're back," said a familiar voice. "Welcome to Euclid's place again. How're you boys doing these days?" It was the Flyer's voice, but...
"Check me on something," I said to the air at large. "Is it me, or does the Flyer sound...different to you?"
"There is a distinct change in speech pattern," said the Override. "The ship in question is broadcasting the Flyer's ID with the appropriate crypto. The most likely hypothesis is that your attack on the Flyer has produced personality changes."
"My attack? Look who's talking," I said.
"Very well, you and the Tzun," said the Override calmly.
The Tzun spluttered theatrically.
"Can it a second," I said. "If that's really the Flyer, and it's really been altered that significantly - I've never heard of an Uplifted undergoing personality change detectable in its speech patterns without significant trauma or alteration - then how do we know it's here in concert with the blocking force?" There was a brief silence, which was the Uplifted's usual means of letting the slow human in a conversation realize that they've just asked a question with a really obvious answer. I sighed and answered myself. "I know. We call and ask it."
"Opening communications," said the Override. "Connected."
"Hello the Flyer," I said. "This is Standard Kunir aboard the Interrupt."
"Ah, there you are," said the Flyer. "Nice trip, was it?"
"Flyer, are you here with the blockade, or on your own time?" I asked, cutting across its banter.
"I'm here on my own, but with the knowledge of my brethren," said the Flyer. "What blockade?"
"Please," I said, "don't play dumb. There are-"
Sixteen, said the Override over the link.
"-sixteen vessels in hyperstate around this system right now. The testing program has lost at least three test vehicles to situations which look awfully similar to Uplifted interference, with casualties. What the hell are you playing at? Eridani isn't in violation of the Sanction."
"Well, no, it isn't," said the Flyer. "That you know about."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"The sanction as read isn't the whole of the edict," said Flyer. "There's another clause concerning starflight. It's...oh, it's about what you'd imagine."
I felt the slow burn of anger rising in me again, dormant these long months in transit and working with the Eridanites. "So according to you and yours, all communication between systems must go via you or not at all. Why are you telling me this now?"
"I'm telling you because I'm a bit of a free agent at this point. I don't imagine it'll make my fellows happy. But then again, you can't prove it, so you can't use it to rabble-rouse. Even assuming you're recording me, I'm no longer core Uplifted, so it isn't a policy statement that you can hang a hat on."
"I've noticed your use of idiom, yes," I said drily. Override, tell Eridani to kick Tiosyn out the door and start calc-ing us an intercept jump followed by a long jump out of the system. Tell them we'll squirt the results to them on closest approach. Don't mention the blockade.
"It would suggest that my attack was successful," said the Override. Privately, it added Working. They are resisting. Tiosyn is recommending the ejection. I am starting dump calculations now. Stand by for pulses at irregular intervals.
There was a sudden pulling in an impossible direction. Instrumentation holofields told me we had dropped to .42 c and that the vanes were preparing for the next pulse.
"I'd strongly recommend you boys dump all the way down," said the Flyer. "My compatriots don't have any problem with you knowing what you do, so long as you don't leave Eridani system. If you try to leave, then you'll force them to deal with you."
"Can't you tin shitboxes ever just say 'kill?'" I shot back.
"Kunir, Kunir! Language!" the Flyer said. Then (I swear) it laughed. "I suppose I'd feel the same way, though."
We dumped again. The Override had apparently delegated ship conn to the Tzun, which amused me - a handgun flying a starship! - but which reaction I kept quite to myself. Final dump upcoming. Current velocity with respect to Eridani is zero point one four c. Final dump will bring us to ten kilometers per second or less if the model holds. The Override is working on calculating a return jump to provide for a high-speed pass of Eridani station, terminating in a longhaul jump. Do you have a preferred destination?
No, I replied. Tell it to pick somewhere out of the way.
Will do. Dumping in five, four, three-
My gut convulsed in a now-familiar fashion, and my eyeballs pressed against my skull. When I had finished swallowing convulsively and blinking, we were nearly at rest with respect to Eridani - meandering along at about three kilometers per second. The starfield spun as the Override realigned the test vessel, and perforce us with it. "Calculations complete. Interim flyby plotted. I have confirmation that Tiosyn has been ejected, and his trajectory. Ready when you are."
I swallowed again, not relishing the thought of the abuse my body was about to take in quick succession. I rubbed my palms together and felt the grit of dead skin sloughing off, testimony to the stress I had already endured. "All right. Do it. Once we have Tio, minimum separation pulses up to hyperstate. Will the Uplifted be able to read our 'trajectory' when we go for the final jump?"
"I don't believe so," said the Override. "On the one hand, there are sixteen ships up there, but they can't be everywhere at once. Secondly, I plan on taking evasive action immediately after retrieving Tio, and thirdly, unless they have matching sensor readings of our hyperstate entry and our state vector as we pass through their state layer, they won't be able to calculate our final exit point with any precision. If the Flyer is the only watcher insystem, it is unlikely that they will have those matching sensor readings."
"Okay. Do it."
SLAM. The pulse was harder, faster than the one taken during our test jump. I shouted in surprise.
"I'm sorry. We've modified the induction program with the data we gathered during the first jump. We should be able to make hyperstate on our third pulse, and sooner, with the increased efficiency," said the Override.
"Great. I'll let you know when that makes me feel any better," I managed to get out before leaning to the right and vomiting the meal I'd last seen going down in a tavern on Eridani Station. The Override (or maybe the Tzun, but it didn't seem the gun's style) kept my sick from touching surfaces using the cabin tractors, making it vanish into the waste chute, but there was nothing to be done about the smell. The blowers increased power, blowing cooler air into the cabin.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it..." I chanted, watching the countdown.
"Second pulse-" said the Override, cut off by the event in question.
"Point five nine c", said the Override. "We might be able to make hyperstate in one additional pulse despite our inbound trajectory."
"No," I said, swallowing again to hold everything down. "No, hold that in reserve. Let them think we need four."
"Understood. Third pulse in five, four, three-"
"I do not like this," I said to the air in general.
"Well, you certainly went through enough to get it," said the Tzun cheerfully. "Years of cryo, risked your neck, interfered with a whole system's survival chances-"
It did, but with the gloating silence of the needling contest winner.
"Final pulse and hyperstate induction, five, four, three-" said the Override.
...there was a brief feeling of glissando, of peace, of floating...
"-and EXIT," said the Override. "Braking, braking. Stand by for dump."
SLAM and I didn't like it any better on the way down than up. The 'more efficient' vane numbers and my stomach were really going to have to have a chat.
"We are at five kilometers per second relative to Eridani station, at a distance of two hundred kilometers," said the Override. I could see the glint growing in the holofield it was providing. "Tiosyn is on a Hohmann trajectory outbound, I have his capsule in sight. Prepare to match velocities. Take hold."
"Fifty meters per second relative to Tio's capsule, and..." the Override said, "...five, four, three, two-" there was a slight thump. "Retrieved. Prepare for evasive course changes."
I said something scatological.
What followed was indescribably uncomfortable, and fairly incredibly painful. When it was done, I could feel the bubbling of a burst blood vessel in my nose, and despite the geefields I had bruises where the safety harness crossed my torso. Gritting my teeth, I forced myself to sit still and wait for the Override to get us out of Eridani system. "Tzun? Any sign of the Flyer?"
"The Flyer appears to be in somewhat lazy pursuit, seven light-seconds back," said the Tzun. "No sign of other-wait one. Statefall, statefall. Three, four, six, eight. Eight inbound Uplifted on intercept, ranges between ninety-five and two-hundred ten light-seconds. Override, recommend-"
"Working," said the infoweapon pilot. "Prepare for pulses in close sequence. Three or four?"
"Four if we can afford it," I gritted through teeth already closed in preparation. "Go, go, go."
"Understood-"SLAM. "First pulse. Zero point two six c. Uplifted are moving in pursuit. Second pulse. Red light on secondary state tap interlink. Continuing-" SLAM. Zero point four one c. State tap holding. Secondary interlink offline. Abort?"
"NO!" I shouted in between throwing up again. "Tzun! What are they doing?"
"Incoming fire," said the Tzun. "Driven mass at vectors-" and it read off a skirl of numbers which I hoped it was passing directly to the Override and not bothering to vocalize. "Seven predicted intercepts with our course." The ship shuddered. "Five predicted intercepts. Four. Three. Course projected clear."
SLAM. The Override cut back in. "Zero point six one c. One pulse remaining. Course set. Arc limits set. Vanes charging. Charging. Charging. Induction-" SLAM. "Zero point eight one c. Particle shields holding at redline. Vanes charging. Charging. Charging. Charging. Induction sequence ready."
"GO!" I screamed.
"Pulse-" said the Override.
There was an indescribably bad feeling. Eridani system ran down the bathroom tap, swirled into a vortex of color at the bottom of the holofield, and we went out-
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