August 27th, 2010
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They’ve been waiting for me for a month, give or take. It’s a shock, followed by rage; I’ll never find Kaetlyn like this. So much time lost.

August 17th, 2010
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When we split up, I ran straight into another time distortion. VITS found a place for Jon and Deirdre to wait, in case I survived. In case?

August 16th, 2010
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I round the next corner. Jon and Deidre are waiting for me. Weird – they went the other way. De’s hair is longer. Jon has a short beard. Oh.

August 11th, 2010
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We all head in opposite directions, the Voice In The Speaker shouting threats as we go. I round a corner and things. move. very . s l o w .

July 7th, 2010
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We split up, so frazzled by the constant attacks that the final decision is based on ewhat will irritate The Voice most, not what’s smart.

June 28th, 2010
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Jon suggests we split up. I mention that not to shift blame, but to… Actually, no: it is to shift blame – splitting up was not my idea.

June 22nd, 2010
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Threats keep coming. We keep moving. The Voice praises ‘proper avoidance’. When we *don’t* do what it expects it gets… exasperated.

June 21st, 2010
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Hot air through the vents. I get goosebumps through the sweat. Yes, space is cold, but the biggest problem inside a ship? Heat.

June 18th, 2010
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We’re able seal both hatches leading into this service area and catch our breath. The Voice can’t pop a manual hatch. Or so we thought.

June 14th, 2010
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“Daddy, I wanna do laser.”

I sniffed, hard, rubbing at my nose before stabbing the ‘pulse’ plunger on the console. The button vibrated under my finger for three seconds before popping back to neutral with a loud clack, the monitor pinged, and I dragged my eyes back to the display, blinking the readout into some kind of focus.

“Spectral analysis,” the V.I. intoned. “Albedo 0.03, indicating carbo–”

“Carbonaceous chondrite,” I muttered, trying to swallow past a sore throat.” I punched three fat, orange keys on the board, missed one, blew the sequence, and started over, kneading my temple with two knuckles.

“Daddy, I wanna do laser.”

“Not right now, babygirl,” I murmured, waiting for the board to go green. Eyes closed, I found and punched the plunger by touch when I heard the go-ahead. Again, the vibration, the pop-clack, the ping, and the spec graph.

“Daddy, I wanna do laser.

“Spectral analysis: albedo 0.06 to 0.08, indicating carbonaceous chondrit–”

I groaned, opening my eyes only far enough to find the orange release, reset, recharge keys.

“Daddy, me! Pleeeeease?”

“Sweetie…” I hit the recharge and rolled my head to my right. Kaetlyn stared up at me with what Jon called the “Couldahaveapony look.”

“Daddy.” Her face grew serious. She reached up and laid one dimpled hand on mine. “I wanna do laser.”

I sighed, which turned into a cough that I tried to direct away from her. “I know, Kaetlyn. C’mere.” I lifted her onto my lap, leaned to the left, and flipped up the shipcomms. “Anyone up for Kaetlyn-watch?” The preset cameras displayed mostly empty walls, except for the one labeled ‘Shtl1′, where Mira knealt, wiping at her smudged cheek with the back of her glove. “Aunt Mira?”

“Yeah, I’m here.” She glanced up at her screen, away, then back our direction, squinting. “Damn, you look like a six-pack of crap, boss.” Her tone changed and she waved at the camera. “Hi, sweetie… are helping your daddy?”

“Aunt Mira, I wanna do laser.”

“We know, bug,” I said. “Here, hit the big button.”

“The laser-baser?”

“Yeah, the laser-baser. You can hit it.” I turned back to the comms screen. “Any chance you could use two tiny hands down there?”

Mira tipped her head and made a face. “I’ve got open fuel lines down here, not good for tiny hands. Or lungs, according to the warning labels.”

Pop-clack, ping. “Albedo 0.04, indicating carbo –”


I pointed at the three orange buttons, and Kaetlyn pushed them, in order, with a solemnity usually reserved for state coronations.

I rolled my head back and forth on my neck. “Any chance you want a paid break from the drudgery and toil?”

“Love it,” Mira said, “but we can’t do planetside surveys until the shuttle’s nominal, which leaves us doing…” she trailed off, gesturing in our direction.

“Spectral scans on shitty C-class asteroid belts,” I said.

“Which you hate.”

“Which I hate.”

“Daddy,” Kaetlyn stage-whispered. “Can I do laser-baser?”

I checked to make sure the system had acquired a new target and nodded. Kaetlyn replied with a half-whispered squeal and pushed down the pulse plunger with the flat of her hand.

“I can come up –” Mira began.

“No. Stay there. Do the thing. I’ll teach my daughter to fire weaponized comm lasers at hunks of rock –

“Albedo 0.03, indicating –”

I shot scowl at the V.I. terminal. “We’ll bond.”

“Do. Las. Ser,” Kaetlyn whispered, punching release, reset, and recharge with each syllable.

“You should take something,” Mira said.

“I did,” I rubbed at my neck. “It’s just making me drag ass.”

“Okay, I’ll be done here in an hour.” She looked back at the open service panel in front of her. “Two hours, tops, then I’ll come up and spot you.”

“Sure,” I said. “Do what needs doing. I’ll live.” I flipped off the comms.

“Laser-baser,” Kaetlyn announced, and shoved down on the plunger.

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.06, indicating carbonaceous chondrite.”

Release, Reset, Recharge. Pudgy fingers on grime-stained keys. She’ll be flying the ship by the time she’s five. The thought made me unaccountably sad.

“Laser-baser,” she whispered.

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.03…”

“Good job, bug.” I kissed the top of her head. “You do laser. Daddy’s gonna close his eyes for a minute.

“Okay, Daddy.”

Release. Reset. Recharge.

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.04…”

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.03…”

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.05…”

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.04…”

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.10…”

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.11…”

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.53…”

Wrong. I frowned, licking at dry lips and trying to swallow past the ball of steel wool in my throat. “Repeat target,” I croaked, my eyes still closed.



“Do –” I swallowed again, grimacing against the pain. “Do the laser again, sweetie.”

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.55…”

I tried to open my eyes, squinting at the conduits networked over the ceiling. “Repeat target, one degree variation.”


“Do laser again, Daddy?”

“Do that laser, sweetie.”

Pop-clack. Ding. “Albedo 0.88…”

“What?” I sat up, trying to blink the V.I. into focus.

“…indicating synthetic amalgam.”

“OH Sh–”

“And that,” I explained, standing in front of the external comms screen, “is why we accidentally lased your hydroponics unit.” I quietly tried to clear my throat without grimacing into the video pickup at the very unhappy-looking science outpost administrator staring back at me.

“I sorry.” Kaetlyn whimpered from the console chair — the very image of toddler remorse. “I sorry I do laser on you.”