“Jump-point in thirty seconds, Jonah.”  Cleo sounded almost human this time.  He changed his voice at random intervals, claiming it kept me from getting bored.  I think he just enjoyed annoying me.  As an overqualified ship’s computer, he was remarkably human in his subset of skills I classified as “pissing me off,” but as a virtual co-pilot there were none better.

“Run another check on the drive array,” I said, tapping the display, “the number three unit looks in danger of redlining.”

“Unit three is nominal, Jonah.”

“Well, check–”

“And the cargo is secure.”

“How about–”

“And the Jump generator is functioning perfectly…and the collision detectors are operating.  Really, Jonah, we’ve done this more than once.  Try to relax.”

We were hurtling through space at two-thirds lightspeed, propelled by a creaky second-hand gravitic drive array, and he says relax.  Ninety-nine percent of spaceflight is boring, but that one percent…  Your ship hits .67 c., the Jump field can take over, and you cross light-years in less than a second.  Entry velocity and transit time determine distance traveled, but you always dump out into real-space at the same .67 c.  The exciting part is you don’t know what’s on the other side until you get there… and by then it’s too late.  I’ve never met anyone who heard their collision alarm, but that’s because those guys don’t make it home.

I pulled the chair around and strapped in.  Another unnecessary exercise, but one drilled into me from my days as a tug pilot.  Securing yourself was fine when you chugged lazily between ships in Earth orbit, but at relativistic velocities it was pointless.  Any ride bumpy enough to notice turned the ship and crew into their component atoms in an ever-expanding cloud of “ooh, that’s pretty!”

“We’ll finish this on the other side” I said, checking the displays again.  Seriously, with the current state of AI, is there anything more useless in-flight than a pilot?  But you don’t argue with the Guild.  It’s not profitable.  Or healthy.

“Ten, nine, eight–”

“Stop it, Cleo.”

“Hey, keeping you updated is one of my functions.”

“Really, Cleo, do you have to–”

“Jump!”

And that’s when everything went seriously, sphincter-tightening, FUBAR.

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