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By´╝ÜJennifer Foehner Wells

For that reason, he was forcing himself to go slowly and to work methodically. He could talk to Ron about some of this stuff, but Ron was an electrical engineer and computer specialist. He had little training in theoretical physics. The dude was brilliant in his fields, but he couldn’t really talk fusion with Ron. Well, he could, but not extensively.

He probably should talk to the Squid. He would get up to speed a hell of a lot faster with help from the tentacled bastard, but at this point he’d rather figure it out on his own. It meant something to him, this process of discovery. Occasionally Jane rounded them all up for shuttle-pilot training or bridge-console training or a nepatrox hunt, but overall his time was best served figuring this shit out. What could be better? This was every engineer’s dream.

He did feel a lot of pressure to learn as much as possible as fast as possible. They’d arrive in Sectilius space in just a few days. Who knew what would happen then? Everything was going to change and he wasn’t looking forward to that. He wasn’t done yet. He needed more time. He’d begun to feel almost a possessive feeling about the ship. Tech Deck was his. He didn’t want to hand it over to the Sectilius—he wanted to keep it for himself. Being there was the best thing that had ever happened to him. It was the culmination of a lifetime of dreaming. He loved every single minute of the process of understanding how it worked.

One of the things that surprised Alan the most about the Speroancora was that very little of what he studied was incomprehensible. Overly complicated sometimes, yes, but not defying human understanding. Science fiction led the average person to believe that when a spacefaring super race finally deigned to pay Earth a visit, their tech would be mind-blowingly superior. So far that wasn’t the case—okay, aside from the artificial gravity, the wormhole generator, and the fusion reactor he was looking for. But he suspected that if he looked at the math even those things would be within human reach. They’d be comprehensible, he was sure of it.

There was no reason to believe that the Sectilius had necessarily invented all of those devices themselves. They may have appropriated that tech from other cultures in their galactic wonder alliance. Maybe no single planet in that alliance was any farther ahead than any other, but the sharing of the technologies got them all farther faster. The only handicap humans had, as far as he was concerned, was the fact that they hadn’t known until now that there were others out there.

A lot of this stuff—the nanites, the ship’s computers, the medical equipment—human science was on the cusp of making happen or already had. And the sectilian shuttles—while awesome—were only a few steps ahead of the kinds of things NASA was imagining creating in the next few decades. It would take another hundred years, maybe less, for humans to reach the same technological milestones the Sectilius had with this ship—two hundred if he was feeling particularly pessimistic.

What the Sectilius didn’t have was also notable. Number one: no magic shields to protect the ship from external roughhousing. The escutcheon was a kind of shielding made up mostly of nanites. The concept of an energy barrier to protect the ship was a sci-fi crutch, a good storytelling device that had no practical application in the real world. There were no magic weapons either. This was a science and diplomatic vessel, so all it had were a few missiles and a couple of laser cannons—nothing he couldn’t have built in his garage back home.

The most magical thing they had—anipraxia—they’d discovered that. They hadn’t created it. They exploited a biological resource that benefited them.

The Sectilius weren’t a super race. They weren’t thousands or millions of years more advanced than humans. That simultaneously amazed, confused, and reassured him.

It was reassuring because it meant that no one out there was necessarily smarter than him…or humans in general. That was actually pretty profound. The big-dumb-object-in-the-sky idea didn’t necessarily have to mean that humans were the dumb ones.

The consensus at NASA prior to the launch of the mission to the Target had been that it would probably take decades to unravel the alien science. He wasn’t convinced that was the case. In fact he thought that if the bigwigs could just efficiently cut through the bureaucracy bullshit they could probably be building their own versions of the Speroancora and her shuttles within a year or two with the specs Jane had given them when she sent Walsh and Compton home.

And when they did, they’d streamline all of it. Everything about this ship seemed overly complicated. Nothing was straightforward. He’d mentioned that to Jane once and she had looked surprised, disagreed, saying that once he had met and spent time with the Sectilius, he’d understand the ship on a much-deeper level. He’d narrowed his eyes and blinked at her but refrained from saying anything else about it. She’d never met one either, and yet she acted as though she had. He didn’t think the Squid counted, but maybe he did in her book.