In times of danger it’s frequently better to have everyone do the wrong thing than have one person do the right thing on his own. If nothing else the weight of numbers can ensure more people survive. That was why military command ultimate led back to only one person. When it came down to it and everyone had to jump one way there was only one person to say which way they should jump. It didn’t make everyone happy but it did get the job done more often than any other method on hand.
Every spacer knows that officers are useless, lazy pieces of shit who only show up when you’ve fucked up too bad to ignore. Not many enlisted kept in mind that this made officers people who were constantly cleaning shit up, every hour of the day with no breaks, when they were working some kind of punishment detail. Everyone just acted like the brass was there to push you around and take credit for your work and did their best no to draw too much attention from them. And Lang knew he’d never asked himself what happened if there was no officer there to call someone on their shit when it was going down. Now he knew.
Because, as much as he was a sanctimonious prick, Mond was right. The cost of being the man who said “Jump” was being responsible for every jump people made. Or didn’t make.
The cost of being the lazy shit was watching everything everyone else was doing and stepping in when it was about to go bad. He’d seen everything that happened, known it could have gone bad, but done nothing to reign Dex in. He hadn’t ever asked to be in charge but he’d been put in charge and the one time it really mattered he’d failed to do his job. He wasn’t sure what Mond had meant by his statement but Lang knew why Dex was dead. Sure, Mond had his share of responsibility but that was between him and his superiors.
Well, it was a war crime to summarily execute prisoners but Earth wasn’t a signatory of the Newtonian Accords so there were probably more than a few hurdles to pass if Copernicus wanted to prosecute him.
Lang rubbed his eyes wearily and tried to reign in his thoughts. He still needed to get Priss and himself out of the room and back into space somehow. And as bad as losing anyone was, Dex was the closest thing they had to an expert on Earth. Not that his college level knowledge had helped a whole lot, given the totally different perspective at work on Earth now. Finding where they were on a map shouldn’t be too difficult, finding the Launch Zone might be a bit harder, but doing it all in an alien culture would be next to impossible. They looked at everything in such different ways…
His eyes focused, unbidden, on the bizarre symbol on the far wall. And just like that doubt vanished from his mind. Lang bolted to his feet, with a triumphant shout of, “Launch Zone!”
No one said anything as he strode across the room, pushing past the cart to stand in front of the wall and it’s once mysterious symbol. Priss got to her feet and came over with him, gently taking him by the arm and saying, “What about it, Lang?”
“This is it. The Nevada Launch Zone.”
Priss looked slowly around the room, then soothingly said, “Why do you think that?”
“Look.” He put a hand on the left side of the symbol. “What is this?”
“No,” Aubrey said quietly, “It’s a book. I can see why you would think it’s a ladder at first, I thought it was a film strip, but it’s obviously a book. This is Schrodinger’s Vault, where books can change to reflect who we are, rather than the other way around. See?”
She got up and reach around Priss to point out what she was talking about. “The vertical strip is the binding of the book, the horizontal is the cover. The arc is a page turning, the star represents the possibilities.”
“Right. This is Schrodinger’s Vault, so the symbol means two things at once.” Lang thump his hand once on the vertical lines. “If this was the binding of a book the cover would run the whole length of it. It’s not a bad spin on the idea but that’s not what it was at first.”
“So what was it?” Sean asked, coming up opposite Aubrey and studying the wall with growing interest.
“It was a set of launch rails for a maglev launching system. Nevada used a magnetic mass driving system, like a bullet train, to throw rockets the first few thousand feet into the air. They would run along below ground, hit the ramp at the end, then fly up,” Lang’s finger traced along the bottom line, to the point where it met the rails, then up the curving line to the star. “Then the rocket ignited and carried the load the rest of the way into orbit.”
“So it traces the launch path and shows the rockets burning in the distance,” Sean said. “I can see that.”
“Except that the launch rails should be at a shallower angle to the ground,” Priss said, tracing a much less acute angle against the bottom line, “and the rocket’s flight path would continue in the same direction, not cut back over the ground it launched from.”
“If they were trying to show the literal path the rocket would take, yes. But it’s a symbol, it goes on patches, it needs to fit. More importantly, it needs to make the letters.” He traced one hand along the rails to the bottom, then to the right along that line. “That’s ‘L’.” And up again to the tip of the star that almost touched the rails, back to the curve of the launch trail, to the ground and back along the bottom again. “That’s ‘Z’. The callsign ‘LZ’ for a liftoff point is almost universal because of Nevada. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was part of the facility’s branding, too.”
“Oh…” Priss looked it over carefully. “Yes. I can see that.”
“So what?” Aubrey demanded. “Does that even mean anything? A man just died, Lang.”
“I know,” Lang said, some of the rush that had accompanied his revelation fading. “And that was my responsibility. Dex trusted me to get him home, and I’m going to do it. If UNIGOV did the same thing with the ships that were stored in the LZ as it did with all the weapons left lying around Earth after the Departure then there should still be some here somewhere. We just need to get out of here and find them.”
“Were the ships armed?” Sean asked.
“I actually don’t know,” Lang admitted. “I’ve never seen any first hand records from that time and it’s not something that comes up in the discussions in pilot ready rooms most of the time. But orbital space was an important strategic resource, even at the time, so I’ll bet they were.”
“More importantly,” Aubrey said, “space colonization is viewed as a hegemonic act it’s not… Not something a good sapiens would do.”
“Which doesn’t rule it out,” Lang said, coming out a bit harsher than he intended. He did his best to soften it. “Look, you don’t have to stay here with us. Go back to your other sapiens if you want. But I have to try and get us off this planet by any means necessary, that the laws of war allow. Think about what you want to do, just be aware I don’t plan to be here much longer.”
Lang turned away from the symbol on the wall and headed over to the cart, motioning for Priss to follow. As they went Sean said, “We can hear you, you know.”
Lang hesitated. “I’m sorry?”
“The medical systems don’t just keep us healthy. The nanotech also augments some things.” Sean tapped the side of his head. “Hearing and vision are two of them. We think that UNIGOV can also tap into the nanites involved and use them to monitor what we see and hear. So… just be careful what you say.”
That was something to think over. It did explain why he so often spotted the Terrans seemingly standing in the distance and listening over the last few days. He’d thought they’d just been absent minded but now it seemed they had been doing exactly what it looked like. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
Once they got to the cart Lang turned his attention away from his own thoughts and back to Priss. “What do we have?”
“Not much,” she admitted. “They may not keep prisoners on a regular basis but they did think of the obvious things to take from us. Mond got the weapons, it doesn’t look like they sent the cargo hauler exoskeletons at all. That leaves us with the food and water, enough for us to last maybe a day and a half, the medkit, my comm rig, Dex’s tools, a few changes of clothes and the AIs.”
“They didn’t keep those?”
“I’m wondering if they’ve been tampered with,” Priss said. “Especially know that we know they put watchdog programs in their lifesaving magical nanotech.”
“True. Still.” Lang knelt down and pulled the nanosealer out of Dex’s toolkit. “It looks like they missed one bet.”
Priss snorted. “They returned the tools but we don’t have any nanites to use them with. They weren’t stupid enough to send us anything like that.”
“I know.” Lang set the tool down and looked over at Sean and Aubrey, who were in one corner holding a quiet but very animated discussion. “I guess what happens next hinges on who wins that debate.”
She followed his line of sight. Thought about it for a moment. “Okay, I don’t follow. What are you thinking about.”
Lang smiled. “Oh, not much. Just where we should take our pound of flesh.”