03/08/2023 Snippet, GHOSTS ON AN ALIEN WIND.



I was doing ‘cosmetic maintenance’ in the shuttle docks when they throttled back the security coverage. It was my professional opinion that fussing over the haulers until they were humming improved their performance efficiency, and I had the reduced downtime statistics to justify it. It was my personal opinion that nobody liked being reminded that the haulers were quasi-organic in nature. Intellectually, I could see why, but it never bothered me personally.

All of which means I was waist-deep in a hauler’s jet intake chamber scrubbing down carbon buildup when the lights flickered — and went out. That didn’t startle me. What did was the tiger alarm; I nearly bruised the hauler while yanking myself out.

“Process!” I shouted (despite myself) while reaching for a pistol that wasn’t there. “What’s the situation?” Silence. I started to get alarmed, then remembered that the power was out, and relaxed. Then I saw that the power was back on, which made me stop relaxing.

I instinctively stopped myself from calling out again. The last thing The Process needed right now was any distractions. Instead I looked at the regular communications channels — and nearly threw the phone away. Everything was jammed up, with static, feedback, and strobing lights that horribly tickled my stomach. I didn’t throw up, myself, which put me among the twenty percent of the people who didn’t. The vomiting were lucky, at that. Five people ended up with burst blood vessels in the eyes, and one had a partial stroke. All easily treatable, sure, but still painful as hell.

The Din (that’s what we called it, after) lasted five minutes and twenty-three seconds, and I don’t remember any of it, really. I dimly remember running around, pulling people out of workstations and hauler pits, while futilely trying to turn off every screaming communications device. It was impossible to think more clearly, with that Din pounding in our ears, but XHum trains its people properly. Our reflexes were the right ones; pull people out of danger and let the horrible noises flow over us. Until it stopped, as suddenly as it began.