“Whatever world you’re in, the drop looks the same. Pour sulphuric acid down your throat, the drop’s what your throat looks like after. There’s rips in space, rips in time, the raw torn seams of over-buckled branes. Tattered lengths of cosmic string hanging limp like cat-clawed knitting. The drop’s an abomination, somewhere no sane person would go.”
In a universe rapidly falling apart, Tanager Lee and her sentient dropship Tumbleweed race to deliver a precious cargo to a distant world. But to do so they have to ride the drop, and it’s not long before they run up against a whole heap of trouble. It’s bad enough when the stowaway wrecks the ship. The unexpected Planck bombs only make things worse. Worse still, Tanager no longer knows who she can trust. Tanager Lee’s used to operating alone. If she wants to fix her ship, complete her mission and avoid getting chewed up by monsters from another dimension, it’s time for her to decide who her friends really are.
Riding the Drop by Graham Edwards was first published in the April 2009 edition of Jim Baen’s Universe.
Extract from Riding the Drop
I popped the clutches, jerked the anchors loose, goosed the throttle. Tumbleweed’s treads slithered, then bit. She tipped forward. Stale food rolled from under the pipes, across the tilting floor. The horizon climbed the window. Then the gimbal caught up and the whole cockpit was swinging like a fairground ride. There was a groan from the exoskeleton. The tracks retracted, foils deployed. Suddenly we were free of the mud, free of the edge, falling free through chasing volts and powdery light, falling into the drop.
The slices rushed past like floors in an elevator shaft, one after the other, each slice a hole in the bulk, a gateway to another place. Most were blocked with flotsam: shattered cities, mountains of soil and slops, the crammed bodies of hapless refugees. The worlds were shrinking out of the bulk and this chaos was the result. I let Tumbleweed fall, ignoring the dead, and the creatures that fed on them.
On the wall behind me, the clicker counted off the worlds at the rate of two hundred and twelve per minute.
I kicked the throttle: time to really open her up.
There was a bang from the motor bay.
Tumbleweed shuddered, started corkscrewing. The clicker went crazy as the worlds bunched in. You start spinning in the drop, you find a whole new set of dimensions you never knew existed. I flinched as we glanced off the splintered edge of a recurved brane. Capillaries opened up all round, jabbing blacklight through the windows. The gimbal squealed once then shut down completely. The cockpit tossed me sideways. Tumbleweed creased down the middle, hit something hard, stopped.
The clicker fell silent. The cockpit rocked forward, then back. There was a thick grinding roar. The front window bulged until I was sure it would shatter. The glass straightened with a pop. Tumbleweed’s foils sank inboard; out came the tracks. The hull trembled as they tried to bite down. But we were stuck between the strings. There was nothing to bite.
I was on the floor. My head felt like an egg. It was silent except for the odd clank as Tumbleweed cooled. The windows were fogged with cracks. I had no idea where we were. Limbo, or maybe Oblivion.
The cockpit floor hatch opened. The hinges creaked, fighting the warped frame. A young man – scarcely more than a boy – climbed up. He was followed by smoke and covered in oil.
‘I’m sorry, miss,’ said the stowaway. ‘But I think I might have broken your ship.’