Story 19 is “Course Correction” by
Kenneth B. Chiacchia, whose bio reads like a random sampling of events from different people’s lives. A defrocked biochemist from a defunct department, he has since been a public relations writer, freelance newspaper reporter, science fiction author, wilderness EMT and search-and-rescue dog handler, firefighter, radio commentator, and hobby farmer. In 2011, Ken won a Golden Quill Award from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania for Best Writing, Radio. He also won the 2008 Carnegie Science Center Journalism Award. His speculative fiction credits include Cicada, Paradox, Oceans of the Mind, and Triangulation: Dark Glass. In an unlikely turn, he’s recently rejoined the research community, publishing on the effectors of wilderness search in the peer-reviewed journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. Ken lives with his wife, dog trainer and writer Heather Houlahan, and an assorted cloud of canine partners and fosters, barn cats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and goats, on a 26-acre farm in Harmony, Pa.
By Kenneth B. Chiacchia
When an ex-boyfriend aims the equivalent of a 20-megaton bomb at an inhabited colony, it gets your attention.
“Please tell me this is just a bad joke,” Tanya said to the projected image of Sam, the Gotcha colony’s system-traffic controller. Her request was rhetorical: at this distance, a reply would take a quarter of an hour.
He had simply dumped the news of Amit’s suicide plunge on her, no preliminaries. Yes, she had a professional obligation, but considering her erstwhile relationship with Amit, and the smallness of the Gotcha community, Sam could have been a little less imperious…
She put the thought aside.
The systems of Fool’s Gold thrummed around her. The ship, Tanya’s baby, was now only a dozen or so exorbitant payments from being her very own interplanetary cargo hauler.
She floated amidst the dark brilliance of virtual space, the ship projecting the view outside in three-dimensional, 360-degree glory. Ahead and to her left glowed the corona of the system’s star, its body grayed out to save her eyesight; behind her the asteroid mining station had already shrunk to invisibility. The constellations that blazed all around were just different enough from those of Earth to remind her she was not home.
She maneuvered to a deeply padded accelerator couch. The chair’s automatic restraints wrapped gently around her. The minimal console in front of her offered only emergency controls. Four days into the coasting portion of the run between the mining station and the colony, she had not expected to need to fly her craft quite yet. Sir Isaac Newton should have been in charge for one more day.
“Clara, did you get all that about Amit?” she said.
Fool’s Gold’s artificial intelligence answered, “Of course. He can’t stop at this point, you know.”
“All too aware,” Tanya said. At nearly 900 kilometers per second, Industry, Amit’s 250-metric-ton craft, had become an unguided—guided?—missile. “He must have burned all his fuel to get that much delta-v.”
“There’s the possibility of a small reserve,” the AI replied. “Not enough to significantly alter his speed, but it wouldn’t take much at this point to deflect his course away from the planet.”
Tanya punched at projected controls, the panel’s intelligent materials already rearranging themselves to give her a full piloting board. Fool’s Gold’s fusion core began to reawaken from its coast-phase slumber.
The question, of course, was why Amit apparently wanted to destroy the planet—was this man whom she had thought she knew all too well capable of mass murder? Or had the mysterious transmission from the thousand-year-old alien ruins on Gotcha that preceded Amit’s course-change, somehow taken control of his ship?
The Gotchas were like that. Extinct bastards. Nobody knew why they had peppered their civilization with booby traps—both physical and electronic—that still worked a thousand years after they fought one too many wars. Some people believed that they actually foresaw their species-wide suicide, and wanted any aliens who came by to keep off the property.
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Reviews to date:
When Tanya’s ex-boyfriend threatens the colonists’ lives with his ship, Tanya has to use her own ship to do a “Course Correction” [by Kenneth B. Chiacchia]. It turns out that Tanya’s boyfriend is not even on the ship and has taken over her ship’s AI. This is a problem story of the Analog variety, an entertaining one.
– Trent Walters, SF Site.
From the bible story, we move to a hard SF tale, Kenneth B. Chiacchia‘s “Course Correction.” Tanya has broken up with Amit, so he takes a ship and goes to crash it into an inhabited space colony, former home of an extinct alien race called “The Gotcha,” named for their penchant for booby traps to catch unwary visitors. Tanya is the only one who can reach Amit, and tries to rescue the colony, overcoming his current anger at her. It’s a nice combination that leads to some great drama and with a difficult situation continually made more difficult, ramping up the tension in the story. – Chuck Rothman, Tangent Online.
What do you think? Don’t let it be said that we can’t appreciate a good hard SF tale, especially one with characters as rounded and motivated as these. A very good story here.