Felix and the Frontier is a story told in six episodes, posted serially by me, your dutiful host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Related reading: Simon of Space, Free Felix, Life & Taxes
Welcome, new readers from SFX 2007! To catch up to us in the current tale, use the chapter links above.
A robot waits.
Its plastic body is bathed in the golden, reflected light of a fat yellow gas giant filling the view outside the nearby row of windows. The gas giant looks like a disembodied egg yolk in space, girdled by a flotilla of dark moons. With its striped face as a backdrop the robot stands like a statue, mute, motionless, and infinitely patient.
The gatehouse generators spin down. Exhaust pours from the vents. The locks on the outer chamber withdraw with a series of clicks, and then the door yawns open. The smoke clears and Felix steps out, one lone and battered staff member following at his heels. They both leave dirty footprints on the polished floor.
"Oh!" says Felix, stopping short. He blinks at the robot, brow furrowed. "Where's Mr. Tandimoor?"
"He's no longer with us, Mr. Felix," says the robot.
"Oh," says Felix again, this time more quietly. And then, "What happened?"
"You haven't checked in for over two hundred years, Mr. Felix," replies the robot evenly. "He died."
"Oh," says Felix a third time. He frowns. "Who are you?"
"I'm Eckhart," says the robot, extending a plastic hand to shake. "It's an honour to meet you, sir."
Felix looks down at the proffered limb without moving. "Since when do robots shake hands?"
Eckhart's simple face flickers with a brief smile, something else robots don't tend to do in Felix's experience. "A lot of things have changed back home, Mr. Felix," he explains. "Rowboats have come a long way."
"Rowboats?" echoes Felix, brow raised.
"Pronunciations have changed, too," says Eckhart. "Language never stops moving, Mr. Felix. I have a modern Common Verbal Protocol module ready for you, so you don't have to sound so outmoded."
"I prefer to think of my speech as classic rather than outmoded."
Eckhart shrugs. "With all respect, sir, same difference," he says. "The point is that nobody back home can make heads or tails of half of what you put in your reports."
"Times change, Mr. Felix."
Suddenly Felix finds himself clapping his hands over his ears and wincing as a wide-banded signal blasts through him, the floor beneath his feet rumbling in sympathetic reverberation with the violent, multi-layered noise: "Two! Three! Five! Seven! Eleven! Thirteen! Seventeen! Nineteen! Twenty-three! Twenty-nine!"
He glances up to see Eckhart watching him with amused indifference. "Are you alright, sir?" he asks.
"What is that?" Felix cries.
"It's the colonizers," says Eckhart, gesturing to the tall bank of windows overlooking the yolk-like gas giant. "We've got a fleet of them parked here for upgrades, and it annoys them to be moored. When they're upset they bleat their Solar sentience signature message. There doesn't seem to be anything I can do to dissuade them, sir -- the prime call is reflexive, too deeply buried in their instincts."
Felix wanders over to the glass and looks out. This waystation clings to the face of a small, pitted moonlet; in close orbit are a dozen massive colonizers, their cigar-shaped hulls silhouetted against the gas giant, their tentacles tethered to tiny tugboats with winking formation lights. As Felix watches one of the colonizers bucks against its moorings, then bellows across space: "Two! Three! Five! Seven! Eleven! Thirteen!"
"It's awful," says Felix, rubbing his head ruefully...
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