"Hey, Kip. How do you suppose these things work?" A gruff voice called from somewhere among the heap of dismantled machinery that was once part of a rock jumper, a small, but fast ship that was now in pieces.
Kip Heren stopped poking at the array of tiny fasteners he had been struggling to remove and wiped a gritty streak of sweat onto his sleeve. "That's not what I want to hear from someone who's supposed to be repairing my jumper." he called back to the twisted mass of metal sitting awkwardly in a desolate, rocky valley encircled on all sides by the jagged teeth of an ancient volcanic caldera.
"No, I mean these things." the voice replied as a greasy arm stuck out from a precarious little crawl space. In his hand was a thick metal cylinder with a highly polished hemisphere at one end and a jumble of connectors at the other. Kip put down his probe and stretched his back, then stared at the little device as if in deep thought.
"I have no idea." he eventually replied and went back to work. "I asked a physicist about them once. Some guy I met on a transport. He got really excited trying to explain it to me, but I kinda stopped listening when he told me something like 'Any moment in time is actually every moment in time.'" The delicate black plate he had been struggling with finally popped free. "It doesn't really matter. All I know is that it gets me from here to there faster than I can even pretend to understand."
The item in question was a Baek temporal relaxor, the heart of the little rock jumper and pretty much any other inter-stellar ship. And Kip knew quite a bit more about it than he let on. To be honest, he probably understood them as well as anyone, but he wasn't about to reveal that to his current traveling companion. Knowing too much could be a dangerous thing in this part of the galaxy.
They continued on with the repairs as the sun quickly carved out a low arc in the sky, finally dipping below the peaks in the distance. Gradually the scattered bits and pieces were coming together, and when the last glow of sunlight faded somewhere far beyond the walls of the caldera, the ship was almost back to working order. Almost.
“I guess we'll be spending the night here.” Kip sighed, packing up the assortment of small tools he had been using. “I wonder if it's safe to sleep outdoors. The air feels unusually good on this rock and I can't remember the last time I slept in real open air.”
“I don't know.” his filthy companion replied jokingly. “This wind grass might attack you. That's about the only thing living in this region.” He pointed to the sparse patches of short green grass which dotted the otherwise empty ground. His hands were black with carbon powder and withered with great age. “But if you need sleep, you should get to it. Night cycle only lasts about 5-6 standard hours here, and I want to get this thing finished early in the day.”
Kip wasn't particularly sleepy, but the air really did feel good, and there was a slight breeze rolling across the valley. As for danger, Kip felt more uneasy about the unfamiliar old man who had approached him days earlier begging for a ride to his home planet. Apparently the old farmer's rig had malfunctioned and smashed down hard onto the landing field at Falsem port leaving it hopelessly crippled. An event which was oddly repeated just a few hours and a few systems later with Kip's own ship, but thankfully with less disastrous results. At least they had managed to make it to the old man's planet, but they were far from any populated area.
A few minutes later they were stretched out on the ground munching on some dry food blocks and gazing at the incredibly vast portrait of stars above them. For some reason space always looked much bigger from the ground. When he was flying through it in his little ship, he felt like he was immersed and drifting through the endless expanse, but looking up from the ground it was like an immense picture hanging above him. One that might at any time come crashing down and swallow him up in darkness.
“Tell me something about this planet.” Kip asked, nibbling slowly at the crumbly block.
“What do you want to know?” the man replied.
“I don't know, anything, something... What's the story of this place?” Kip motioned to the dark, jagged outline of the mountains around them and took a deep breath of the cool air. “It seems kind of... nostalgic. You know, like someplace I lived a long time ago.”
The old man raised his eyebrows and glanced over at Kip for a moment, then turned back at the slowly drifting stars. “Well, it's been a while since I told any bedtime stories. Let's see... Ah, I've got a good one for you.” He said with a satisfied grin. “You see...”