2951-09-13 – Tales from the Inbox: The Computational Dilemma
This week, we continue Nestor Palazzo’s account. Obviously, his claim of being involved in secret Kyaroh dealings is dubious to be sure, and is perhaps embellished, but it seems that he needed this embellishment to explain something about his changing relationship with his associate, the Gilehdat envoy Drase.
“You negotiated work? Just now?” Nestor Palazzo frowned across the table at his cloaked companion. “That can’t have taken more than a minute.”
Drase shrugged, her slight frame still not quite used to the gesture. “Hoyr and I spoke while you were seeing to your other business. I told him that I had no right to commit you or your ship until you granted me that right.” She flicked a long, golden finger into the menu, requesting a beverage. “He will pay very well.”
Nestor set down his spoon and pushed aside his still only half-eaten stew. “Okay. What’s the catch?” He didn’t have any real problem with the idea of working for a Cutter – other than Hoyr, he had never really spoken to one – but the ease with which Drase had found him work was more than a little suspicious.
“His time table is short, as he said.” Drase’s drink slid out onto the table, and she picked it up. “Also, the destination coordinates are quite secret. It is demanded by the leaders of the Kyaroh that no human may know the location.”
Nestor frowned. “If I can’t know where-”
Drase spun the token she’d been given like a coin. “The Kyaroh trust a Councilor to protect their secrets.” She peeled the film off the rim of the drink and took a long sip. “The only missing piece is your cooperation.”
Nestor held up his hand. “How am I going to program the Himura drive if I don’t have a destination?”
“You won’t program it.” Drase stopped the spinning disk with one golden finger. “You will teach me to enter coordinates into the star drive, and to purge its memory core.”
“Woah, woah.” Nestor shook his head. “Back up. It’s not that simple.” He held up a finger. “Firstly, it’s not as simple as entering coordinates. The navcomputer needs to compute the fold radials and transit points, and send those over to the Himura prior to a jump. The navcomputer records are protected information, you can’t wipe that without getting-”
“It is possible to directly configure the star drive.” Drase arched one eyebrow. “I have read of human spacers doing this in emergencies.”
Nestor thought back to the last time he’d done the computations for a jump by hand. That had been as part of an examination when he’d updated his solo-operator certification, nearly six years prior; he’d never done it for real, and very no spacer he knew had either. How did Drase expect to learn all that math fast enough to be within Hoyr’s timetable? If she screwed up even one step, it could badly damage Macie Kurtz’s Himura Transitor, or simply deposit the ship at some random nearby location in several glowing pieces.
Drase leaned closer. “This is a misunderstanding?” Still, her ruby eyes did not betray any hint of concern. Nestor resented how closed her thoughts were; even if she did know the enormity of what she was asking, she probably wouldn’t show it to him or to anyone else unless she wanted to. Every being was an open book to her, but her thoughts were her own.
Probably sensing Nestor’s annoyance, Drase drew back. “Even now, you think my arts work to my advantage, Nestor?” She looked away, and this time, he could read the hurt feelings in her bearing. “If you do not trust me to act as your agent, I need not do so.”
“Wait.” Nestor put one big hand on her shoulder as she moved to exit the booth. “I’m not sure you know what you’re asking.”
Drase looked genuinely startled, though Nestor could not guess exactly why. “How so?”
“You will have to do the computations by hand to keep their location secret. That takes weeks or months for most humans to learn. Even assuming you picked it up in a few shifts, I couldn’t check your work without access to the original coordinates.” Nestor shook his head. “If you do it wrong, it could kill us, or strand us to die in a wrecked ship.” He had only just begun to come to terms with Drase’s presence in his life and wasn’t terribly interested in having that process violently cut short.
Drase nodded slowly. “I see. This is not a problem I had anticipated.”
“Go and talk to Hoyr again.” Nestor dropped his hand. “Tell him that if time is critical, he needs to start trusting at least one human with the coordinates.”