The Dock

The ship is a massive beast of iron rivets and flanges and tentacles. Its surface is bumpy and ugly. It’s got a ripply blue-green tint to it, one that Tau recognizes as vaguely oceanic. He can see it from the elevator, with a comforting depth of transparent plastic and a nice safe distance between himself and the hangar.The lift stops and the door dissolves. Next to him, the lieutenant gestures. “This way, son,” he directs, with a comforting smile. Tau looks up at the lieutenant, sees his eyes, knows that there’s a gulf between his bland comforting words and the boy’s own fears. He swallows and nods. He takes a step forward.

The two draw closer to the ship. Tau can feel the heat rising around him. It’s radiating off the ship itself; here and there he can see hoses connecting to the hull. They wriggle. Tau shivers. The lieutenant grins. “Smart plastic,” he says, as though that helped. “It’s pumping fluids into the hull in preparation for launch.”

The air is growing hotter. Tau reaches out. “Don’t touch the hull,” cautions the lieutenant, and now Tau can finally feel a connection with the man through the tension in his voice. The boy coughs. “What’s causing it?” he asks finally.

“Well that’s heat being radiated away from the ship. You see, traveling through space builds up a large amount of heat across the hull. So prior to takeoff we are refrigerating the outer hull, much like you would cool down juice before drinking it. We are also pumping free chemicals into storage chambers within the hull. Heat is shunted into this coolant during flight, and we use laser cooling to radiate it out into space.”

Tau listens; he digests; and at length he bobs his head in half-comprehension. “So… who thought up all that stuff?” he finally asks.

“The ship did,” beams the lieutenant, proudly.