Fixer

(The other Xmas present story, probably time I should get around to posting it. |D Another humans and aliens story, but much happier than the last one.)

Warnings: mild swearing?


The smooth, steady rumble of the drill gave way to an unpleasant squeal of machinery.

Nngli flinched away from it, her arms contracting closer to her soft core protectively. Nothing further happened, fortunately, but the drill had stopped. Nngli contracted further in upset and disappointment. How could they possibly get the samples she needed now?

“Shit,” came the voice of her one companion on this tumbling asteroid: a human from Terra named Kendall. She emerged from the enclosed drill control station, bounding quickly across the surface in the minimal gravity.

“Hold on!” she called over the comms to Nngli, who followed anxiously after once Kendall had examined the drill and nothing else alarming happened.

“It is broken?” she asked, three arms reaching out and then contracting again. She had no help to offer in this situation. At least she could be grateful that someone (hadn’t it been one of the humans?) had finally worked out a proper translating device that would accurately convert Glion brainwaves into an audible signal for humans. She almost sighed in slight envy for the humans’ ability to produce physical sound, though they did lack the Glion ability to shift color and pattern.

Communication had certainly been difficult at first.

“Yeah, a little bit,” Kendall answered her, laying flat and peering down into the drill hole with a bright light. She stayed there for long clicks, but then pushed herself upright with the sound the humans called a ‘sigh,’ indicating frustration. “There’s something jamming it, which might have broken something. Won’t know ‘til we get it pulled back up.”

“Oh no! Then we shall have to wait for a Fixer to arrive,” Nngli said, all her initial disappointment rushing back. That could take a long time, and this work might not be considered important enough to send anyone. She’d had to find a human Operator to bring her here and work the drill, after all.

“A fixer? You mean someone to make repairs?” asked Kendall. “You’re looking at her!”

Nngli rippled her arms in confusion. “But, Kendall is an Operator!”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do a little repair work here and there,” Kendall moved her face in the shape that humans called a ‘smile.’ “Wouldn’t have kept my ship going so long otherwise!”

“Wait,” Nngli said, arms rippling more in greater confusion. “You mean that your brain allows you to have more than one specialty?”

Kendall stopped and stared at her. “Umm…yes? Do Glion brains…not do that?”

“All learn to think and communicate, of course,” Nngli explained, “but the pathways in our brains are permanently set by that which we learn. Many pathways must be set for expertise, so many must be focused on the desired skills. I am an Analyzer, what you call a scientist. I have studied only Analyzing. I could not learn to be a Fixer now.”

“Oh,” Kendall said, her eyes a bit wide. “That’s…that’s a bit— Well, it’s very different from humans. Our brains create neural networks and pathways, I think, but they aren’t…permanent? They sort of are, but we can make new ones too. So, I know how to operate machinery, like the ship and the drill, but I also know enough about how they’re put together that I can do some repairs too. I don’t know as much as an expert, but in this case, I think I can manage.”

“Really?” Nngli asked, knowing that underneath her vacuum-suit her skin had shifted into the light red color of hope.

“Really,” Kendall promised with another smile.

True to her word, Kendall had the drill unjammed, fixed, and running smoothly again in less than one wake-sleep cycle. Nngli had extended all twelve of her arms, waving them joyfully when the steady rumble had started up again.

“Thank you, Kendall,” she communicated, pleased to receive a smile in return.

“You’re welcome,” Kendall responded. “I think you’re right about this hunk of rock having the elements we need, so I’m glad to help out with this.”

“Achieved quantities will be shared fairly,” Nngli assured her.

“I know, and thanks for that. It’ll help both of us out this way.”

The drill bore down, and Nngli settled in to wait, finding patience and calm where she had been unable to before.

Humans were very different, as she had been warned. But this one, at least, was an excellent partner, and together, they would prove that these asteroids were worth the time and trouble to mine.

Nngli hadn’t ever thought anyone would care about this particular Analyzing work, but she was glad to be wrong. Alone, she could never have reached this asteroid or run the drill. Alone, Kendall would not have known where to look.

But together…together they could succeed.

October 14

Fictober, Prompt 14 – “I can’t come back.”

Warnings: none. Sci-fi.


“You have to come back,” he pleaded.

“I can’t come back.”

“You can! The Head Instructor said she’ll let you in again, and you haven’t missed too many lessons—”

“Let me rephrase: I won’t come back.”

“You’re way ahead on flight time, of course, and she said— Wait, what?” He stuttered to a halt, staring.

I looked back calmly, not caring to repeat myself again.

“But you— You have to! If you don’t graduate from the Academy no one will ever hire you!”

“That seems unlikely,” I pointed out. “Just because many space pilots train here doesn’t mean they all do.” I turned back to my packing. The cadet rooms in the Academy were tiny, streamlined and industrial. I hadn’t bothered to accumulate many personal items beyond the necessities; only a few small presents from my twin, always a tiny balm for our continued separation.

Xue continued to gape at me from the doorway. “But— Well, even if that’s true, it’s going to make it a lot harder for you to get work!”

“I know.”

“All you have to do is promise to be more respectful to the Instructors from now on!”

“More obedient, you mean.”

“Well…” he hedged. I wasn’t sure why he was still trying to convince me; he knew me well enough after two years to know that I wasn’t going to accept such an argument.

“But, your family,” he tried next, hesitantly.

“I’m sure my brother will be upset, but he will understand.” He was the only family I was speaking to, these days, and he certainly would understand. He’d be joining me, if he were here.

Xue was silent for several moments then, while I finished packing my bag and my one small trunk. I stripped the sheets off the bed and sent them down the laundry chute, and made sure that the computer terminal was wiped clean of my data. My handheld was in my bag, and then all that was left to do was to shut down the lighting, step out into the hall, and close the door behind me.

He followed me out, then asked quietly, “What will you do?”

“Work, first,” I responded. “Until I have enough for a small ship of my own. After that?” I mused over the question as we headed down the dim hallway. “I think there’s probably a faster way to make the run between Chi’dong and Binyun.”

“But no one’s ever done that run in less than five days!”

“This certainty that we know everything there is to know about known space is most of why I’m leaving,” I told him sternly. “The run that is used now can’t be done in less than five days. I think there’s a faster run along a different route.”

“But that’s dangerous—”

I stopped dead in the corridor, turning to face him and cutting this latest protest short.

“Good-bye, Xue,” I told him. “Thank you for your concern, and for keeping me company. But dangerous or not, it’s my flight to make.”

He opened his mouth on what was probably going to be another automatic protest, then closed it. He frowned, but when he spoke again it was to say, “You’re welcome. Good luck.”

I nodded in thanks and continued alone.

Luck wasn’t going to have much to do with it.