“How do you… work?” Asked Frank simply. “I find it’s easiest to work with things I understand.” he finished with a smile.
Boaz practically beamed. Explaining how he worked might be his third most favorite thing to do. Frank had been boring through Ceres with a Tplani mining frigate (not the newest, but just so good looking and well made), when the projection (he thought) appeared on his bridge and said,
“A little more to the left or you’ll fuck up lining up with the aft entry."
But let's rewind a bit
With both his Duroxan and Mylox ships pinging on Ceres, and that making no sense, he asked Grik. Grik, currently busy with the latest Aurora contract between Zeta and Earth. He didn't mind the distraction. He enjoyed being mean to Frank. And the second Frank brought up Ceres, Grik was very happy the connection was only audio because he was already smiling. Grik took great care to make sure that smile did not creep into his voice.
"Ceres is weird. Lots have seen what you are seeing. Lots have investigated. Nothing is found. It's like your, fools gold. Iron Pyrite." said Grik. "You really need to update your lexicon of slang. It's at least a hundred years out of date." suggested Frank. "Like I give a shit about your fucked up culture." said Grik. Frank raised an eyebrow and smiled. Frank waited and said nothing. "Sure, as teenagers we go through a phase. I built a muscle car once, pretending I was Norm Macdonald." admitted Grik. Frank laughed. "Still, many much smarter than you have investigated Ceres. It's a waste of time. Do you understand the expression waste of time? Is that expression too old for you, David Bowie?" asked Grik sarcastically. This made Frank laugh harder, but Grik was smiling harder. He knew Frank wouldn't be able to help himself.
And he was right.
Less than thirty hours later, Frank was approaching the "bright bulge" signature on the side of Ceres. Unbeknownst to Frank, Grik was waiting patiently nearby cloaked in his own stealth ship. His could only block all known detection. They could not stop visual detection. The ship worked around this by being very small and constructed of light absorbing materials. It could tuck into the shadow of an object and almost disappear. That's what Grik was currently doing in the shadow of Ceres. It offered him the perfect vantage point for the Bright Bulge, not to be confused with the bright ice outcropping on the other side. The Bright Bulge was a six mile wide area on the surface of Ceres that looked like barren surface, but pinged like a ridiculously rich carbon deposit. Which made perfect sense considering Boaz was about ninety-three percent Carbon of some form.
Grik would not be rewarded with what he wanted. Grik was suffering from incident bias. Every story he had heard about the ships destroyed or disabled by the bulge on Ceres were folks approaching with no caution. There was zero interest in mining slightly radioactive carbon deposits. They were everywhere, perhaps not this concentrated. So Frank did not cross the magic mass meridian and trip the natural repulse effect the deposit appeared to have on gravity. Instead, he hovered a good hundred miles outside the invisible line in space. Perhaps he had noticed the almost buried hull of a ship that had been destroyed by the anomaly roughly ten millennia ago. Grik had just barely noticed it doing his own scans. That would spook Frank. What Grik couldn't know is that Frank wasn't alone on the bridge of his Duroxan Battlecruiser. Thirty hours is forever in Frank time.
The second Frank was off the comm with Grik, he knew he needed Jarx. And since he was Frank and he was running on a tight schedule, he needed to convince Jarx fast. To do this, he decided on a knowledge swap. Jarx hadn't talked much about the propulsion technology on the Battlecraft. He only said it needed tuning "every few hundred thousand cycles of your homeworld. If you participate in any extended temporal event, gravity dwell event, that shows significant age on the hull ticker, I don't care how much, bring it back immediately. You can't trust any sensor during that kind of temporal event. Otherwise, it's non-tool tech that will break if you try to take it apart. It needs no fuel." and that all seemed just a little bit suspect to Frank. And he was himself. So Frank and his ruthless team of technojocks reverse engineered the entire stack in two years. Sure, it would have been hell for Frank to design his own interior. It was no issue at all taking it apart and finding out how it all worked. When Frank found the hidden recording in the drive os debug image that explained how the Lifeseeker function worked (read the story Run Away), he was stunned. Frank and the diminutive team he had hired spent hours playing with Lifeseeker, hopping around the known Universe. What started as Frank asking "Hey, could we bookmark some of these locations somehow and come back?" ended up with him and his engineers figuring out how to enter return coordinates. "They had to have figured most of this out." Frank tested this now by appearing three feet from the transparent wall of the Duroxan Craft outpost on Trappist A4. You'd think this was rude, but it was how close they parked. One of Jarx's assistants pointed toward the just appearing vessel. Jarx turned and jumped, stunned. He knew immediately Frank had figured out the Deference drive.
"Here's a freebie. Our UI and menu system. I know you don't have this." said Frank. Jarx was legitimately impressed at the hubris Frank was exhibiting. If he thought their efforts would match... oh this was elegant. So simple. So clean. Frank and Jarx had been negotiating for almost an hour. "Look, I know it's better than yours. We redid most of your interfaces. They were great but hid a lot of the underlying potential." said Frank and coughed a little. Jarx understood. A lot of effort had gone into attempting to protect "borderline technologies". Things they were not comfortable sharing with Frank. But Frank had found well, most of them and integrated them into a stunning interface that matched the brushed silvers and browns that were a hallmark of Duroxan design. "You can just have that. The source is there. See how we did it." offered Frank. Then Frank went in for the kill. "We also um, optimized Lifeseeker. It's about fifty times faster and twice as accurate."
After proving this to Jarx for over eight hours, Jarx agreed to go with him to Ceres. Frank had insisted that a full Duroxan sized bridge remain on his ship, even though it was useless to humans. "I might need help from you folks someday." was his reasoning. Jarx and his people found the gesture unexpected, but heartwarming, and had complied. They found a section over the main viewport on the bridge. This gave them their own main viewport above Frank's if they were visiting. Jarx currently sat in the captain's chair on the Duroxan bridge and was deeply scanning the surface of Ceres. Frank could use the scanners, but it was like asking someone that could just write their name to pencil sketch fractals. Jarx was amazing with them. So when others saw a vast deposit of mildly radioactive carbon isotopes in roughly the shape of a banana squash sixty miles across, Jarx saw the outline of a ship. He shot the output to the main bridge below. "It's stunningly camouflaged. Your ship has an amazing scanner that sends essentially a stream of temporally tained Muons forward about a tenth of light second, that then reappear directly in front of where they started. You can then tell based upon spin and drift characteristics of the returning muons a lot about the composition of solid objects in front of you. This is the first time the muons did not return. Mapping this was fun and challenging."
Grik watched with confusion when Frank's ship turned and simply shot off hours later. He waited another few hours before giving up and returning to his office on Earth's Moon. If he had waited a little longer, he'd have seen Frank return in the Tplani mining frigate. Frank figured out that you couldn't approach the Bright Bulge on it's side. You'd have to come through the other side and dig to it to see it. Laying against the wall of the inside of the carbon bulge appeared to be a ship over thirty miles long. He spent over twenty hours digging towards it. Finding an ingress point wasn't hard. He hit a layer of ice, and his progress sped up dramatically. Hitting that final shell of carbon was the killer. He could barely do ten feet of progress a minute without risking damage to the drilling mechanics. This was extremely hard carbon. many hours and over six hundred feet into the carbon layer is when what Frank assumed was a projection appeared on the bridge of his ship and told him to swing left a little.
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