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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Forty Two

Journal by mcgrew

Boarded!
        Me and Bill hauled ass out of there towards Mars as fast as his crippled boat would take him. I did another inspection because first, I hadn't done a full inspection yet that day, second because I'd pushed her pretty hard, and third because I sure didnâ(TM)t need any new surprises. We were at a third gravity because of Bill, and he was having a hard time keeping up. A third gravity? On batteries? I need to have him teach me some of that nerd shit. I'd given up on docking; if we did run across pirates I'd need to fight, and you can't do much maneuvering when you're docked.
        The whores wouldn't like the low gravity a bit, so I tried to stay away from them.
        I trudged down all those damned steps to my "dungeon" to inspect the engines and generators. Engine seventeen and the port generator were still not working, of course, but everything else was shipshape. Amazing since I'd been pushing them pretty hard.
        On the way back to our quarters there were fifty whores in the commons all arguing. Damn it, Tammy! But we were at Mars gravity, maybe a little less. As I was cursing Tammy in my head she came towards me. "Damn it, Tammy!" I said. "The whores sound like they ain't got no drops. I don't need this, not now. There's pirates."
        "They're going to get the minimum. The low gravity is helping, too. You'll thank me."
        "I'll thank you? For a boat full of pissed off droppers?"
        "Yeah," she said. "For a boatload of pissed off droppers. I've learned an awful lot about them on this trip, much more than we can learn on Earth. Now if you'll excuse me I have to go play dope dealer. Just hope my calculations are accurate." She walked towards the commons.
        I didn't get it. What kind of calculations? Well, screw it. I went back to our quarters.
        "The movie's still paused," Destiny said. "Took you long enough! Are the pirates gone?"
        "Yeah," I said, "I had to inspect the engines. The pirates are gone for now, I killed 'em. Loosed an atomic on 'em. I'm sorry you're on this boat, Destiny, 'cause I'm scared. They surely hate me so much now they'll be willing to give up my ship and cargo to kill me."
        "They don't know what your cargo is. John, if they don't blow us up..."
        "I don't think they can," I said. "In fact, I'm pretty sure they can't. Not even with an atomic unless it goes off less than two hundred meters away. But with enough vessels they could board us. If they do that we're all dead. I'm more scared for you than I am for me."
        "John," she said, "don't worry about them boarding us, if they try we'll be fine. Jesus but you're dense sometimes. Didn't you read Tammy's book?"
        "Yeah, but it didn't say anything about pirates."
        "Shut up and start the movie, dumbass, you'll see. Jesus, John. These girls are dangerous when they don't have drops!"
        "Yeah, and it makes it worse for me."
        "God damn it, John..." she said before the alarm rang and interrupted her.
        "God damn whores," I said. There was a melee in the commons. Shit, I thought Tammy was going to give them whores drops.
        When I got there, Tammy was on a medic with blood trickling from the side of her mouth. Those things are fast! It already had a blood pressure cuff around her arm and something on her head, I'm not sure what, I ain't no doctor. And the whores were fighting over the drops Tammy had brought; I didn't know it then, but it was because she didn't want them horny and sleepy, she wanted them mean. I still couldn't understand why.
        I can really be a dumbass sometimes.
        The medic took her to the sick bay with Destiny following Tammy and the robot, and I pulled out my fone and locked the door to the commons. Shit. "Computer," I said to the fone, "flood the commons with, uh..." damn, what was the name of that stuff again? "Computer, what gas will, uh, cause the people in the commons to, uh... lose consciousness?"
        "An inert gas will..."
        "Computer, list inert gasses."
        "Nitrogen, Helium..."
        "Flood the commons with nitrogen and open the door when the people are all, uh, unconscious. And have a robot bring plastic handcuffs, about a hundred."
        "Acknowledged."
        A few minutes later the door opened, and I went in and put plastic handcuffs on them, wrists and ankles. Damn, hundreds of years after they were invented and there's nothing cheaper or works better.
        Then I went to talk to Tammy. I hoped she wasn't hurt too bad.
        The readout on the medic said she had a slight concussion, but not too serious. She was still unconscious. I said to Destiny "Do me a favor, hon. Please. Go make sure the whores I roped stay alive."
        "What? John, what did you do?"
        "There were fifty or more of them fighting over not enough drops for everybody. I don't have a clue what Tammy was thinking but they knocked her cold and fought over the drops. I knocked them out and tied them with plastic cuffs."
        "How can I keep them alive?"
        "Find some drops," I said. And Tammy had woke up, it looked like.
        "No!" she exclaimed. "Half a dose each. We need 'em mean!"
        "Got it," Destiny said. I still didn't get it. Tammy gave her a dropper from her pocket and said "Here's a weak dose. One drop in one eye only!"
        Destiny said "got it" again and hurried off.
        "I don't get it," I said. "Can you explain..." and the damned alarm interrupted me again. More fucking pirates. Lots of 'em.
        Shit. "Take care of the whores as soon as the medic lets you," I said, and ran to the pilot room.
        This was a bitch. The medic would keep Tammy from getting thrown around, but any sudden maneuvering would throw Destiny and the tied up whores all over the place; you need to be strapped in for that kind of shit. So I gave it all my lone generator had, and prayed. And I'm not even religious, I was just scared shitless. I called Destiny. "Hon, you have to strap down. Now. Forget the whores."
        "No!" she said. "Only three more!"
        "God damn it, Destiny, we have less than five minutes, we're surrounded by them. They're coming from all directions. It's like a swarm of bees."
        "That's all I need," she said. "Tell the women to strap down!"
        I did. And launched a dozen EMPs and an atomic, all the while spewing deadly radiation from the still-working generator. Then I did a lazy turn and did it again. Must have disabled dozens of ships, maybe hundreds, but these damned things were swarming. Destiny called. "Everyone's secured."
        Good. Now I could maneuver, and maneuver I did. I'm sure maids were busy cleaning up puke and piss afterwards because gravity was really weird for quite a while. I made my boat into an outer space roller coaster.
        But God damn it, there were too many of them. One ship latched on to the port airlock. Fuck, I was a dead man. I ran to the crippled generator, leaping down the stairs a flight at a time at half a gravity then running down that long hallway as fast as I could run.
        I couldn't maneuver with that mass on my side anyway. At least I could slow down a boarding party. But I was going to be dead anyway, and so was everybody else. But I had an idea... I could at least kill these assholes and they wouldn't be able to use this docking ring, at least if I was lucky.
        I got to the ruined generator before they could get through the airlock. Thank God for small miracles, I guess. God, get me through this and I'll go to church every damned Sunday for a whole year! I swear! My heart was pounding, from running and from being scared, and sweat was pouring off of me.
        I worked on one of the batteries as they tried to get through the airlock. Damn but I was scared, of the pirates and of what I was doing. I was actually more scared of what I was doing than I was of the pirates.
        What I was doing was making a really big battery into a really big bomb. Bill showed me how to do that years ago, I told you he was kind of a nerd. It really wasn't all that hard, since training was about how to not turn batteries into explosives. Those things hold a hell of a lot of energy.
        I wired it into the light panel. Turn on the light from the next room and BOOM! Dead pirates.
        I barely got out and locked the next bulkhead, kind of close to where the motor that hadn't been working was, before they got through the lock, and I flipped the switch after they were all inside.
        They all died. Good. It blew their ship away from mine. Bad. That meant the next wave would have an easy entrance, since there wasn't any thing blocking the door and no way to lock it; they had ruined the airlock's security lock. So much for praying. I was hoping their boat docked to mine would⦠oh, hell. I ran up the five damned flights of stairs as fast as I could run. I had to get to the pilot room and steer this tub.
        When I left the stairs and went into the hallway my worst nightmare was waiting for me. Two hundred dropheads, pissed off dropheads without any drops and with those scary bloodshot eyes, although they weren't as red as that one woman's had been, all with big knives.
        I was a dead man. I was sure of it.
        "You stole our drops!" and similar stuff, they yelled and screamed, coming at me with those damned knives. I stood there like a stone, petrified.
        And they all stormed past me, like they didn't even see me! What the hell?
        Tammy and Destiny were drinking coffee in the commons, seeming to be completely not worried at all about pirates. Jesus but educated people can be stupid. I went to the pilot room, but it was too late â" another pirate boat had docked. Damn it!
        And then... nothing happened. No pirates. What the fuck? It fell off the ship and another one docked... and another, and another. Five hundred times! Holy crap! What the hell, they had to be running out of bad guys by now, five hundred pirate ships all full of pirates. Christ!
        This went on for days. I was too damned busy trying to dodge pirates and shoot at them to try and figure it out. But I couldn't dodge them because cargo wasn't strapped in so I couldn't do anything fancy and they didn't take over the boat and I couldn't figure out why not. I didn't get any sleep at all, except two or three times when I passed out in the pilot seat despite all the coffee I was drinking. If I ate I don't remember what. I'm not sure I did eat.
        The fleet finally showed up. By then I was exhausted and there were hundreds of abandoned and disabled pirate ships scattered across the solar system, or at least part of the way from Earth to Mars, and the few hundred pirate ships that hadn't tried to board hauled ass out of there, with half of the company's destructor fleet on their asses. How about that, they had one, after all. So why are there still pirates?
        I still didn't know why the pirates hadn't overrun the boat. Destiny and Tammy were still drinking coffee in the commons, with two dozen stoned, naked whores laying around the big room. I hadn't slept on purpose for days and was living on coffee, I wondered if they were, too.
        I sat down and poured another cup of coffee. I was so full of coffee my hands were shaking so hard it wasn't easy to hold the cup still enough to drink. "I need a bath and a nap," I said. "What the hell just happened?"
        "Jesus but you're a dumbass," Tammy said. "You read my book and you still didn't get it. John, get it through your head -- these women are damned dangerous. I told them the pirates stole my drops before they hit me."
        I finally got it. "Have to hand it to you," I said. "I guess they were one hell of a weapon!"
        "You guess?" Destiny said. "John!"
        I blushed. "No, they were one hell of a weapon. And you controlled it well, Tammy."
        "Hey, asshole, me too," Destiny said, grinning.
        "Yeah, you too. I'm stupid. Why do you like me so much?"
        "Because you know what a dumbass you are," she said, grinning even wider. I was crestfallen.
        "Oh, come on, you big baby, we're still getting married, aren't we?"
        "Well yeah," I said, "If you still want to marry a dumbass."
        "Excuse us," Destiny said to Tammy, and took my hand and started to lead me back to our cabin. I almost threw the nearly full coffee cup in the trash. I was really tired and wasn't thinking straight, completely forgetting that I had to inspect downstairs again; it hadn't been inspected in days and I'd really been pushing it.
        I also forgot about the monsters.

User Journal

Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Forty One

Journal by mcgrew

Interception
        I had the computer wake me up at six so I'd be ready for the pirates. Of course, when the alarm went off I thought "damned whores" until I looked and was reminded that I'd set the alarm myself. I started coffee, took my shower, and ate a quick breakfast. Huh? Steak, egg, and cheese wrap. A small one.
        Then I went downstairs to do a quick inspection of the engines and generators. Thankfully, nothing was broken or being worked on and everything was all right except number seventeen and the port generator. I only did a cursory check looking for red or yellow lights. I usually spend two or three hours down there, sometimes a lot longer if there's trouble, checking readings, but the most time I had then was forty five minutes or so.
        I went back to my quarters and checked the holo map; they'd be here in forty five minutes. That would be about quarter after eight.
        Destiny was awake by then, so I had coffee with her while she ate and we watched the news. Nothing new in the news. More people dead in orbit around Venus and everyone on the station was sick. Cops had tried to arrest a nest of Pirates in San Diego, but ten cops and two pirates died and fifteen cops and five pirates were hospitalized. The rest got away, more than fifty of them.
        About quarter 'til eight I went to the pilot room with a cup and a full pot of coffee, and at eight I did my normal checkouts. Good, everything was okay.
        At five after eight I picked up the fone and addressed the PA system. "Strap down, ladies," I announced. "Gravity changes in two minutes and it's going to be dangerous." I masered Bill to change course and gave him coordinates to change to and had the computers lazily turn the boat around and head towards the pirates.
        I lifted us to point eight nine gravity, the best I could do on one generator. Better than pirate boats can do, unless they've captured some of ours, which I didn't think was very damned likely.
        They took chase when they saw me, and I turned around and headed to Mars on a different course, one that wouldn't take us anywhere near Bill's boat. The droppers were going to be happy, even though it was an hour later when I changed course again to a more direct route towards Mars and dropped it to half a gravity, a bit more than we'd been going before eight but we needed to go that fast to outrun the pirates.
        I unstrapped and went back to my quarters, and alerted passenger and cargo that it was safe to unstrap.
        "John, you need to talk to Tammy," Destiny said.
        "Huh? Why? Talk to her about what?"
        "Pirates and droppers!" she said. I didn't get it. "Look," she said, "Tammy has a last ditch weapon; you read her book and didn't get it but it's clear to me what she can do. Tell her about the pirates, I promised you I wouldn't. I know even telling me about any danger was against the book and I understand, but she might wind up saving our lives. I'd say she has an operational need to know."
        Women. "You're right, I don't get it," I admitted, "and it looks like you have an idea. Talk to Tammy for me, would you? No restrictions, I trust her. But I still don't get it."
        "Christ, John, you can really be dense sometimes but at least you know you can be. Why can't you understand? These women are incredibly dangerous! I can't believe you read that book and missed that!"
        "I know they're dangerous, but they're a danger to you and me and themselves and the boat, not the pirates."
        "Tammy's a psychologist and an anthropologist, dumbass. She can handle these women!"
        She's right, I'm a dumbass. I don't know why she likes me so much. I still didn't get it, though, how in the hell can anybody handle a redeye monster? Christ, tasers have no effect at all and bullets only work if you hit an artery or a vital organ, and there weren't any guns inside the ship, anyway.
        "Okay, okay," I said. "I told you, talk to her. I hope we don't get boarded," although I still didn't see what she had in mind.
        "Boarded? You said we were safe! She might be our last chance if they actually manage to board," Destiny said. "That's what I was talking about."
        "Yeah, usually we're okay but shit happens, you know? I like to be as prepared as I can. They'd need a hell of a lot more boats than are after us to do it, and they can't catch us, anyway."
        She kissed me. "What you lack in education you make up for in wisdom," she said. I have no idea what she meant by it. "Look, I'm going to see Tammy, try not to get into any trouble."
        I laughed. "Want to watch something when I get... SHIT!" My phone was alerting me; pirates ahead of me. How the hell did that happen?
        "Destiny," I yelled, "Pirates ahead!"
        She laughed. "Poor pirates!" she said. I didn't get it.
        I went to the pilot room, calling Bill over the maser with my fone. "Bill, we got pirates, see 'em?" I didn't know how far away he was, and hoped he was too far away to hear me or to get picked up on the pirate's radar; our boats are stealthy but can be seen if you're close enough. "Go to zero gravity if you can hear me and they haven't spotted you so you won't leave an ion trail, I'm gonna nuke the sons of bitches."
        I switched to the PA system. "Strap down, ladies, weird gravity almost immediately. We don't need nobody getting hurt today."
        Rather than changing my heading away from them, I kept on course to intercept. Yeah, I learned that word in boat training. And yeah, this was strictly against company regulations, but fuck regulations. I was in too much danger from my cargo to have to worry about a bunch of God damned pirates.
        Ten or fifteen seconds later I got a "roger" from Bill, he must have been pretty damned close. He should have been way away by now, did that damned fool follow me or was it orbital mechanics? Orbital mechanics is way over my head. Ten minutes later the pirates were coming towards me. I grinned. Poor bastards... die, you motherfuckers! I dropped my atomic right when it would be in the middle of them, and made the boat's portholes, which were all in the bow on the ceiling, turn black. Not sure how this shit works but it works. I plan on going to college.
        Gravity got a little weird, of course, but not near as much as I thought I'd have to make it.
        That bunch was easy, the blast from that one atomic got all of them... but there would be more, I was sure of it. There were half a dozen pirate gangs and they all hated each other, but they hated us so much more that sometimes they would band together. This was probably one of them times.

Next: Boarded!

User Journal

Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Forty

Journal by mcgrew

Sneakers
        I woke up a little early, maybe ten or fifteen minutes after seven. I started coffee and did my morning bathroom... oh, shut up, head, bathroom, what difference does it make? "Head" is a dumb name for a room you take a bath in, anyway, almost as stupid as bow, stern, port, and starboard. At least those make sense in an ocean ship even though they don't on a space ship. "Head" don't even make sense in an ocean boat. What? Well, that's a good reason they started calling them that but even ocean boats weren't like that was for over five hundred years back.
        Anyway, I was in the dining room drinking coffee and watching a zero gravity baseball game... What? You never watched zero G baseball? It's kind of like zero gravity golf except there's more to baseball; it has teams throwing and catching a ball that's bigger than a golf ball while people "run" (I guess that's what you'd call it, even though they were flying) from one pole to the next and golf is one on one and you just hit the ball into a hole. The sticks are similar, a zero gravity golf club isn't anything like an Earth-side golf club. Baseball bats are really similar to ground-side bats, though.
        I can't believe you guys never watched zero G baseball or golf. I like them almost as much as zero G football. Anyway, when I was watching the game Destiny came in the dining room wearing a robe. "What are you watching?" she asked.
        "Zero gravity baseball, St. Louis against Chicago. Six to two Chicago's favor, they're in the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded. If McMurtrey doesn't get on base the game's over, and probably will be anyway unless he hits a home run, and home runs are really rare in zero G. If he does hit a homer I'll miss the end of the game because I have to go to work at eight." Of course, if he'd hit a single the game would still be in play unless they threw anybody else out...
        She poured a cup of coffee and McMurtrey struck out. I switched it to the news and we had corned beef and cheese omelettes for breakfast. The epidemic on the Venus station was worse and three people had died from it. It was completely quarantined and supply ships couldn't even dock, they had to leave supplies floating in space and somebody from the station or maybe a robot, I don't know, the news didn't say, somehow they had to get them in the space station.
        At eight I went to the pilot room to do my eight o'clock chores. It turned out to be a light morning, the computers were all agreeing and we didn't need a course correction. All the droppers were asleep except the German girl, who was in the commons eating. The generators were fine, except that one of the two wouldn't work. all the engines were fine except seventeen, which wasn't going to be lit before the Mars overhaul, since it destroyed two mechs and damned near ruined the last generator. There weren't even any robots working on any of the other ones.
        We had an early lunch, ham sandwiches and... yeah, I was just checking to see if you guys were paying attention, we really had Italian roast beef sandwiches and chips, and Destiny put a movie on.
        We was watching the movie when I saw a light on the holographic map again. Huh? An old twentieth century western, Rawhide I think. Short movie, maybe forty minutes or so. It was in two dimensions, like I already said there wasn't no hologram movies back then. Hell, they didn't even have lasers and holograms need lasers. Haven't you guys been paying attention? I mentioned that show a bunch of times already. This one didn't even have colors, just shades of gray. Weird. A lot of old movies were like that, I mentioned them before, too. Why? What difference does it make?
        The map was a holo of nearby... huh? Maybe five or six light minutes. Come on, guys, it's standard, haven't you ever been on one of these boats? Anyway, it was a holo of any bodies close by and any EMF sources, didn't I say that earlier? ...and one lit up; it was another radio transmission. I hoped it was just another shipping company like the ones that had shown up earlier. The computer would record it, so I had Destiny pause the movie while I saw what the EMF was, and listened in.
        Shit, pirate traffic! More pirates this far out? I sure didn't expect that! We were two weeks from Mars and the company fleet wouldn't be accompanying us for another week, which was twice as far as pirates normally went. I didn't expect anything but false alarms until we were almost to the fleet.
        "Sorry, hon, gotta work," I said.
        "Is this movie boring you?"
        "No, keep it paused until I get back. Look, hon, I have to go, there's pirates. This is serious and I have work to do." I kissed her and went into the pilot room and looked at the holos there.
        For once I caught a break, but unfortunately at some other boat captain's expense. It wasn't our company, I don't remember what company, I didn't really care. Anyway, the pirates thought he was me and started chasing him.
        I masered Bill, hoping he was close enough that the signal would be strong enough to be understood. "Wild Bill, John here. Pirates ahead, go around if you have enough batteries. They think some other company's ship is me. I'm slowing down until they engage, then I'm hauling ass."
        I addressed the women. "Ladies, it would be a really good idea to strap in right now because gravity might get weird." By now they knew what I meant when I said gravity was going to get weird. Unless they were short on drops and they probably wouldn't even feel it then anyway.
        I reduced gravity, which probably pissed the whores off. Good, payback is a bitch, bitch. They're monsters, pains in my ass. Glad Destiny and Tammy was there, I'd probably have been dead by then, along with everybody else. They'd have killed me and then each other.
        I went back to Rawhide. "That didn't take long," Destiny said, unharnessing. "And is gravity less?"
        "Yeah."
        "The droppers won't like it."
        "They wouldn't much care for pirates, either," I said. "Pirates would make them slaves if they could live long enough without drops. There's pirates chasing some other poor son of a bitch who they think is me. He's hauling ass and they're hauling ass and me slowing down helps us. When I see a battle I'll haul ass. I masered Bill, he's behind us, hope he can get around."
        And right then Bill answered. "What should we do, old buddy? I'm on batteries! The best I can do is a quarter gravity."
        "Arm all your shit and we'll try to sneak past when they're attacking that other company's boat."
        Bill had seen me in action and was probably grinning right then; he was too far for video, at least with our equipment. "Poor pirates!" he said.
        "Fuck all them God damned pirates," I growled. God damned sons of bitches. I hate pirates.
        My holo showed more EMF; a battle. "Hit it, Bill," I said. "I'll follow."
        "Roger."
        Destiny asked how long it would take.
        "I don't know," I said. "You need to strap back down." I kissed her and went back to the pilot room.
        I gradually increased power while Bill gave his boat all it had, which wasn't much, being on batteries and all. We were doing maybe point two gravities, if that. I followed. I saw, thankfully, that they were still battling the boat they thought was mine and I almost kind of felt sorry for the poor bastard the pirates were after because they thought he was me.
        Lucky pirates. For now. I was pissed and I hate pirates anyway. Yeah, getting pissed is unprofessional but professionals went to college and I ain't, so fuck you, I'm retiring anyway. Now shut the fuck up before I just walk out of here, there ain't nothing you can do to me.
        Yeah, asshole? Prove it.
        Okay, I accept your fucking apology. Now shut the fuck up and let me finish this God damned thing so I can go buy a ring for Destiny. Where was I?
        Oh yeah, me and Bill was trying to sneak past the God damned pirates and get to Mars alive. Anyway, I told everybody it was safe to unstrap. It was all right for quite a few hours, but they must have finally boarded that other company's boat, and no doubt killed its Captain and commandeered his ship for their own use. Poor bastard, I felt sorry for him.
        It looked like me and Bill was okay, at least for now. I went back to Destiny and my movie.
        Huh? Christ, guys, what does it matter? It was a show about driving cattle across the ancient American west. And God damn it, I'm hungry and I'm getting some God damned lunch. Excuse me.
        What? You're all hungry, too? Well, okay, a hamburger and brogs and a glass of Shike will do for me. Yeah, with caffeine. Thanks.
        I put a plug in my ear to hear the pirate traffic without bothering Destiny and still be able to hear the show myself. Huh? Really? You never heard of it before? Jees, guys, a lot of the greats that shaped culture for well over half a century had a hand in it. The art form was in its infancy then, barely half a century old. Go watch it, there's a series of 'em, just pull the library up on your tablet, it's there. I guess Destiny's wearing off on me, she's big on movie history. Actually, she likes history, period.
        Anyway, when that was over Destiny put a really silly one on, an old two dimensional movie that was hilarious. I don't think I ever laughed at puns before. I don't remember the movie's name, sorry, but there was one place where a woman wearing a dress is on a ladder with a man looking up saying "nice beaver." She says "Thanks, I just had it stuffed!" and then hands the guy a stuffed animal, a beaver a taxidermist had worked on. I laughed my ass off all the way through -- at least, until the pirates realized they'd boarded the wrong boat and knew I was still alive.
        Shit. I'd hoped they'd been fooled. They must not have been. I wonder how they figured it out.
        They knew I was alive, wanted me dead, and had an extra ship, full of whatever cargo the boat was carrying. I hoped it wasn't weapons. I'm glad it wasn't one of ours, not just because I work for the company but because we have the best boats and especially the best weapons. Guys from the other companies are always bitching about their crappy boats and especially about their crappy weapons, but they get paid better than we do and they say the robots on their boats make okay coffee.
        At the rate they were traveling they'd catch up to us in maybe twelve hours. We were in trouble. I was in for some serious trouble, because if I lived through this I was going to be in some deep trouble with the company because of what I had in mind.
        I got back on the PA. "I'm sorry, ladies, but everyone is confined to quarters because of an emergency that's come up. You will need to strap down again at seven forty five tomorrow morning, I'll let you know over the PA when we need to strap down. If you get hungry, call the computer and it will send food to you."
        The doorbell rang, it was Tammy. "John, I have to be able to treat the droppers," she said.
        "You're not confined, that's just to help keep them under control until we can speed back up. Just pretend you sneaked out or something. Have a robot deliver drops if you can."
        "What's the emergency?" she asked.
        "I can't talk about it right now."
        "Okay, I'll adjust the dosage so they'll sleep through most of the low gravity," she said, and left.
        We watched the end of the movie but I didn't laugh much after that. It was still early but I was going to need a good night's sleep.

The last several chapters are the latest chapters written, with the exception of the book's final two chapters, so they're pretty short. Most of the rest have been pretty heavily edited already; edits usually add words. I keep track of progress by recording a daily word count, when it gets to single digits or below I'll just count changes.

User Journal

Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Thirty Nine

Journal by mcgrew

Arena
        I woke up about seven, maybe a little earlier. I laid there a while before I got up and started coffee.
        I did my business in the head, and Destiny was just getting up. We had eggs over easy, sausage and toast. It was hard to hold the fork; I had blisters on my fingers from the plug on that stupid damned robot.
        They were trying to worry people even more about the Venus virus; someone had died. One of our competitors had a fire in its factory in Peru and somebody died in that, too.
        Someone tried to assassinate Britain's Prime Minister and their bobbies put seventy three bullets in the would-be assassin, as well as a few more bullets in some innocent bystanders. Why in the hell can't cops shoot straight?
        I was hoping today would be a lot lighter than yesterday. At least all I had to inspect was downstairs. The eight o'clock readings were normal so I sauntered down the hall to the damned stairs. Lek and Tammy were in the commons drinking coffee and reading. I marveled at the job Tammy was doing with Lek, Lek was really coming along.
        As I walked past I heard Tammy telling Lek "Your eyes are really getting bloodshot. Better have a dose before you start hurting and I can't help you." I didn't hear what was said after, I was just passing by.
        Two droppers were arguing in the hallway so I called Tammy, and she said she'd take care of it.
        Down my damned stairs everything was okay, except another robot was trying to plug itself in to seventeen, but was too stupid to know it had to unplug the plug I'd cut from the burned up robot. I logged it and trudged back up those damned stairs.
        Tammy'd had to spray one of the two I'd called her about, and the other one was being treated in sick bay for two black eyes. Luckily, Tammy hadn't been injured. Destiny and her was just coming out of the commons as I passed. "Rough one," Tammy said. "I'm sure glad my bottle worked!"
        "How did it happen?" I asked.
        "The one in sick bay had stolen her drops. The one I sprayed was almost redeyed. Quite frightening, but it turned out all right. Maybe Karen will think twice about stealing drops from now on after that, but I really doubt it."
        "Those poor women," Destiny said.
        "No kidding," I replied. "I wonder what time it is?"
        "I don't know," she said, "but my stomach says it's lunch time. Want to have lunch with us, Tammy?"
        "Sorry, I can't. I have a paper to work on and don't have time to eat right now, I want to get a passage written down before I forget what I was going to write."
        We went home and had fritter dogs and Turkish potatoes. I'll bet there's no way at all to tell that God damned stupid computer to make roast turkey and Turkish spuds.
        We had the news on as we ate. The closing of the Mexican hog farm, a huge operation that used a lot of human labor, caused a ripple effect through the Mexican economy and its two biggest banks went bankrupt. The closing of the banks had caused riots and Mexico had to get help from the American military. There was talk of Mexico becoming part of the United states. Most Mexicans wanted it, but few Americans did because of fears of what it would do to their economy.
        Tammy put on a short, really stupid twentieth century two dimensional science fiction movie called Arena about a spaceship's captain who has to fight a giant sentient lizard with a really bad costume. It was so stupid it was almost funny. Traveling faster than light was dumb enough, but the rest of the show was even dumber. No robots and everything looked really primitive, especially the costume the actor playing the lizard was wearing.
        We watched another Emergency; that one was pretty good. Then a short western, I forgot what it was called but it was a gray movie about a nineteenth century rancher and his young son.
        We ate some Irish sandwich Destiny said was an ancient Irish working man's lunch, with French fries and cole slaw and she put on a modern holo named Yesterday's Promise. Then we cuddled to some old classical blues and went to bed.

This is the newest chapter, so it's also the least edited chapter which is why it's quite a bit shorter than the following chapters. They've been edited extensively.

There are 11 more chapters.

User Journal

Journal: The coldest Night

Journal by mcgrew

It wasn't in the nineties when we had a series of very cold winters in central Illinois. Not even that frigid day when the high temperature was ten below (-23C) and I was trying to replace a heater hose in my old car. I finally wound up taking it to a mechanic, because my fingers were too cold to work.

No, the coldest I ever was was in the month of August, forty years ago sometime this week; I don't remember the exact date, although I'm pretty sure it was today or tomorrow.

Two days earlier I was in Thailand, where I'd been stationed for a year. Four of us were scheduled to go home the next day and decided to celebrate our upcoming trip on top of a large hill, where we could overlook the base for a final time and have a little "going home" party with wine and that great Thai ganga.

The bottles were empty and the weed as gone, so we got up to start down the hill, which was a pile of dirt and rock they had excavated to build some new barracks. A voice yelled "freeze!" and we all froze like statues; you could tell from the tone of voice there was a firearm involved. It was just like in the movies.

A guy came up the hill carrying what appeared to be a huge automatic pistol, and he was shaking like a leaf. "G-G-G-G-GIs?" he stammered.

"Yeah, man, don't shoot!" someone said.

He yelled down the hill, "Hold your fire! Hold your fire! For Christ's sake hold your fire!" and then asked us for I.D. After showing our IDs the five of us walked down the hill, where we were met by what looked like a whole army, with jeep mounted fifty caliber machine guns, rocket launchers, M-16s, all of them pointed at where we had been at the top of the hill. If one round had been fired we'd have all been MIA, because there wouldn't have been anything left of us.

That was certainly not the coldest night, though. The low that night, usual year around in that tropical jungle close to the equator, was well above 80 (27C). We all left for the US the next morning.

We reached Alaska (I don't remember if it was Fairbanks or Anchorage) about ten PM for a connecting flight to San Fransisco and got off the plane, and damn but it was cold. It had been over a year since I'd been in a temperature lower than 76 (25C), which was a record low, and they had been keeping records for thousands of years. The thermometer outside the terminal said it was 60 (15.5C). I was wearing a uniform designed for the jungle.

We got bumped off the flight so they could carry a fire truck somewhere and were all going to spend the night in the terminal.

I walked inside, the cold wind blowing through its open doors, as cold inside as it was out. I thought I'd succumb to exposure.

All the headlines on all the newspapers in the newspaper racks screamed "NIXON RESIGNS!"

It was the first I'd heard of it. Being stationed in Thailand, the only news I'd gotten was the Stars and Stripes and the Armed Forces Radio Service. Rent Good Morning, Vietnam to see how badly our news was censored; there had been no news about Watergate, streakers, or the Arab Oil Embargo whatever.

I was outside the Base Exchange, shivering and covered with goose bumps when it opened the next morning. I bought a blue jean jacket that I still wear, not caring a bit about uniform regulations or an Article Fifteen, I was freezing!

Nobody complained about me wearing it, though. I sure was glad to get the hell out of Alaska, with its tiny, weak sun.

User Journal

Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Thirty Eight

Journal by mcgrew

Heat
        It was only a little after seven when I woke up. Destiny was asleep, so I put on a robe, started coffee, and went to the head to take a piss. I turned on the video; nothing on but the news. Nothing new, some "special report" about Martian piracy. I finished my cup and took a shower. Destiny was waking up as I was getting dressed.
        "You're up early again! Another alarm, sweetheart?"
        "No," I said, "I just woke up early. I don't know why I fell asleep so early last night. It isn't like yesterday was a busy day or anything. Hungry?"
        "I don't know, what time is it?"
        I had to ask the computer. It said seventeen after seven. She got a cup of coffee and told the computer to make a turkey omelette, and again the stupid damned thing said "There are no Turkish omelette dishes listed in the database."
        Stupid computer. She sighed. "Stupid computer," she said, "I want an omelette with turkey meat. A turkey omelette has nothing to do with the country called Turkey."
        The idiotic thing replied "Parse error, please rephrase."
        "God!" Destiny exclaimed, "Jesus but Dad's computers are stupid. Computer!"
        "Waiting for input."
        "I want an omelette with turkey meat."
        "There is no meat that has come from that country."
        "Turkey the bird, damn it!"
        "Parse error, please rephrase."
        "What meats are available for omelettes?"
        "Chicken, duck, turkey, and beef."
        "An omelette with turkey meat."
        "There is no meat from that country," the idiotic thing repeated.
        She was becoming annoyed. "Damn it, computer, I want an omelette with bird meat."
        "Please name the bird."
        "Turkey."
        "Acknowledged, complying."
        "That must the dumbest computer I ever saw," she said.
        "Waiting for input," the computer stupidly said, obviously picking up on the word "computer".
        "Damn it," she started.
        "Roast beef and cheese omelette," I said.
        "Complying."
        By the time breakfast was finished cooking I only had fifteen minutes to eat, the stupid computer had wasted most of our morning time together because its programming was so idiotic.
        The "special report" didn't have anything I didn't already know. The news is almost as stupid as the stupid computer.
        I left for the pilot room with two minutes to spare. I hadn't even finished my breakfast. God damned computer!
        There was a light on the map as I went into the pilot room. Damn, but that computer has shitty timing; I had to do readings and couldn't check it out.
        Luckily everything was normal; the computers were agreeing, we were on course, and it showed nothing except engine seventeen and the port generator had anything wrong with them.
        The light was pirates, about four and a half light minutes away, but they weren't headed anywhere near us. A few minutes later it was off the radar.
        Still, it was worrying. Even though we had tangled with pirates farther out, this was the first trip I'd ever seen pirates anywhere near this far from Mars. And it would still be well over a week before we met the fleet.
        I went back to our quarters to fill my coffee. Destiny asked "Trouble?"
        "Pirates," I said. "They showed up at the fringe of radar but are gone now."
        The robots hadn't thrown the rest of my breakfast away, so I finished eating before starting inspections, chatting about droppers and pirates with Destiny. I kissed her and started inspections. Luckily I only had to inspect downstairs. Luckily? Hell, there were all those damned stairs... but I guess that has nothing to do with luck.
        At the bottom of the stairs there was nothing wrong except number sixty two, which had a robot attached, and seventeen. I logged sixty two and started towards all those damned steps.
        But as I passed the starboard generator, there was a yellow light. What the hell? I looked closer and checked the panel -- it was dangerously warm. Damn it, that should set an alarm off! Looking closer, number seventeen was drawing an obscene amount of power. I hit the generator's emergency shutoff, and the readings said the batteries were draining at a rapid rate as gravity got lighter.
        I took off at a run to seventeen, and the robot attached to it was starting to smoke badly. I also saw that the robot had plugged itself into the main power. I tried to disconnect it from the engine, but the lead was too hot to touch. My fingers were going to be blistered. I kicked the robot's main power cable loose from mains with my boot as the robot burst into flames and the alarm went off. I got the hell out of there and ran back to the generator room.
        The batteries weren't draining like they were; something in the robot had shorted and had been feeding number seventeen with the mains it had plugged itself into. At least the yellow light had gone out, but it was still way too hot for my liking, it being our only remaining generator. I'd let it cool some more before I fired it back up.
        I went back to seventeen, which was in a vacuum by now. I waited for the door to open. Still smoking, the robot was half melted. This robot wouldn't be doing any more repairs! It was surely totaled. I found a pair of gloves and was able to disconnect it. I got some cable cutters, cut off the plug and plugged it back into the engine's robot plug. Maybe other robots couldn't try to fix it. I hoped so, anyway.
        I walked back to the generator. It had cooled almost to normal, so I restarted it. Gravity started to rise again.
        My phone buzzed; it was Destiny. "What's going on, John?"
        "Trouble with an engine and the generator," I said. "I hope it didn't upset the droppers too much. I'm on my way upstairs now, have you had lunch yet?
        "Well, yeah, it's two in the afternoon. I was worried."
        "So was I," I said, "but I think it's okay now. Have the robot make me a sandwich, would you?" I was starved, but I'd been too busy to even notice I'd been hungry.
        I trudged wearily up all those stairs to correct the ship's course. Destiny brought my lunch to the pilot room. "You're sweet," I said, "thanks, but this will only take a few minutes and I'm done... I hope. Just put it on the table and I'll be right there." She kissed me and left.
        I went and finished my lunch, and had a beer with it. This had really been a crappy day. Shit, except for Destiny the whole damned trip was a trip through hell.
        We sat on the couch cuddling and I didn't even hardly notice that an old gray Dracula movie was on. I must have been really tired, because even though there weren't any colors, Dracula's eyes looked red.
        Destiny was comforting me after my bad day, and I fell asleep in her arms. She woke me up and led me to bed, but I was too tired to do anything but sleep.

User Journal

Journal: ePub Blues 5

Journal by mcgrew

I woke up early yesterday, and as I do on early days I turned on the TV news and opened Google News on the laptop. After I opened a dozen or so tabs, the notebook ground to a screeching halt. Obviously its 1 gig of memory was completely full. It took a full five minutes for task manager to come up.

I rebooted it (the ancient Linux box with 750 megs never needs rebooting!) and did something I should have done years ago -- I installed Flashblock. After whitelisting KSHE I opened the news back up, and the notebook performed flawlessly.

After reading the news I opened Mars, Ho! for editing. I'll go through the whole book, reading and editing, and when I get to the next chapter to be posted here I post it. Thirty seven was Monday, I reached chapter 50, the last chapter, yesterday.

I've been struggling to get books into e-book format for almost a year now. The trouble wasn't Calibre, even though it has its quirks. It was Open Office's confusing documentation (in fairness, Microsoft documentation sucks, too). It made an incredibly easy and simple procedure seem obscure and convoluted.

I'd decided that on the next pass through Mars, Ho! I would format the typeface and size of chapter names and numbers, and mark it so I could easily convert it to the ePub format.

I had struggled with and experimented with converting Nobots while not exactly sober, but Oo's documentation was as confusing full of coffee as it had been when I was full of beer. But when I opened the file in an eBook reader it became apparent; it was dirt simple. I spent as much time on Nobots yesterday as I did on Mars, Ho!.

I did run across two minor problems with Calibre. It wanted to remove paragraph indents and add blank lines between paragraphs. A little mousing around the interface and I found where to fix it.

The other was a bug in Calibre. You're supposed to be able to drag and drop image files for the cover, but it simply didn't work. It displayed the cover in Calibre, but not in the eBook reader. However, there's a button that lets you choose a file, and that worked.

This morning I converted The Paxil Diaries, uploaded the ePub files and edited the index files. So if you would like an eBook version of either of these books, they're available for free download at my web site. A little googling showed that the Nook and Kindle and about all eBook readers support that format. I neither know nor care if Sony's reader supports it, and in fact would rather people not be able to read them on a Sony device; I've hated that company with a passion since my daughter infected my PC with Sony's XCP malware. Their CEO should have gone to prison!

I'm taking a different approach with Mars, Ho! than with my previous two books. Having them printed is terribly expensive and I'd at least like to make the money back on copyright and ISBN registrations, so I'm going to release it as a two dollar Amazon eBook first, with PDF and HTML versions still free.

If you want an eBook version of the two finished books, rather than making you visit my web site I'll just link them here:
The Paxil Diaries
Nobots

User Journal

Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Thirty Seven

Journal by mcgrew

Couch
        I woke up about twenty after seven. I put on a robe and trudged bleary-eyed to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Destiny woke up just as I was going to the head. I still think that's a stupid name for a bathroom.
        She had the robot make French toast and sausage and was in the living room drinking coffee and watching the news when I got dressed and went in there. "I wish we had some pork sausage," she said.
        "You should have brought some," I replied. "I wish we were on Mars!"
        "Yeah, I should have," she said. "Oh, well, I ought to be able to get it on Mars."
        "It's four times as expensive there," I said. "Shipping costs."
        She smiled. "That's okay, I can afford it even if it does make me feel guilty."
        "Why does it make you feel guilty? I could see it if you were spending the rent money on pork."
        "I don't know," she said.
        Huh? I don't know, we were gabbing and not paying attention to the news. We ate our breakfast in the living room, and the map lit up just as I was finishing eating. I went to the pilot room, mug in hand. It was about ten 'til so I'd be in there a while.
        The blip was a cargo ship from another shipping company. I wondered why other companies didn't have radar absorbing coatings and passive radar like ours did, our boats are easy to hide and hard to find, or Bill's goose would have been cooked when he ran across the pirates I rained on, and they would have had his boat.
        Eight o'clock finally came. Funny how long it takes ten minutes to pass when you have absolutely nothing to do. It looked like this was going to be a really easy day; no course corrections and the only red light was engine seventeen, and I didn't have to inspect upstairs today.
        I stopped by our quarters... yeah, our quarters, she was living with me and we're getting married. So shut the fuck up before I walk out of here, asshole. Anyway, I stopped by our quarters to fill my cup, kissed Destiny, and started my trek to my dungeon, with its torture equipment. Huh? The stairs, of course. I hate those God damned stairs.
        The German woman was, as usual, in the commons eating. Tammy walked past and said "hi".
        I went down the torture equipment, which is worse coming up, to inspect my "dungeon".
        Everything checked out, all lights were green and all readings normal and the only robot doing anything was on number seventeen. I hauled my aching back up the torturous stairs.
        The commons was just starting to fill with droppers and was still pretty empty, I must not have spent much time at all downstairs. Destiny wasn't home, probably in Tammy's quarters, I thought. "What time is it?" I asked the computer. Wow, only eleven! I was home really early today.
        I turned on the video and checked listings on my tablet. All right! A zero gravity football game was just starting so I switched it to that.
        About quarter after, Destiny came home. "Wow!" she said. "You're really early today!"
        "Yeah," I said. "I haven't had a day this light since the first week we were in space. Cross your fingers! Want to watch this game with me, or do you want to do something else?"
        "I like football," she said. "We'll watch the game." Right then the map lit, but only for a second.
        "I'll be right back," I said. I went to the pilot room to see what the light was, but it hadn't had a good enough signal to even tell what kind of vessel it was. I went back home. A robot was cooking hot dogs and french fries and making potato salad.
        Huh? How the hell should I know what the damned hot dogs were made of, except I know it wasn't pork.
        I missed a goal while I was checking out the blip, St. Louis had scored against Novosibirsk. One nothing, and it was really early in the game.
        We moved to the dining room when lunch was done cooking and turned the game on in there. By the time we got the video turned on and on the right channel, it was one up; Novosibirsk had scored. Wow, two goals this fast?
        The cookbot brought our lunch. When we finished eating we moved back into the living room. Two to one Novosibirsk. Damn, I'd missed all three goals.
        When the game ended it was still two to one. Novosibirsk had beaten St. Louis.
        We watched some old short gray movies; two episodes of Rawhide, part of a silly serial called "Buck Rogers," a different Untouchables movie that wasn't nearly as good as the long one that was in color we'd watched quite a while ago, and one in color called "Emergency!" about a fire department in the second half of the twentieth century.
        Destiny asked "How about burritos for supper?"
        "No way in hell," I said. "If I eat Mexican food my asshole is on fire the next day!" She had a burrito and I had beef stew.
        She put on Hardly Ever After, a new holo. I fell asleep on the couch, and she woke me up when it was really bedtime. You would think I'd have stayed awake after such an easy day.

User Journal

Journal: Get off Wierd Al's Lawn! 10

Journal by mcgrew

Oops, that's "get off of Weird Al's lawn."

Rummaging through Google News this morning I ran across what I considered a humorous article on Time about Weird Al's song Word Crimes, a diatribe against poor grammar. Of course, being a writer who (not "whom") has no editor, I really have to watch my own grammar closely; books are supposed to be grammatical. Uh, was that sentence grammatically correct?

I must confess that besides the fact that some folks I know IRL (Al and the article's author would hate that "IRL") had trouble with some of the vocabulary in Nobots ("Are those all words I can look up in the dictionary?" Well, yeah, mostly) that's one reason I chose to make the lion's share of Mars, Ho! to be a first person perspective from an undereducated viewpoint. Thank you, Mister Clemons. Twain was bashed for Huckleberry Finn's atrocious grammar, when having Huck, Jim, and Tom speak proper English would have been stupid and ruined the story.

It's hard enough writing a 100,000 word novel, and I'm failing at this, I doubt it will be anywhere near Baen's lower limit. Baen's management must not have read any Twain. When Twain was asked how long a novel should be, he replied "as many words as it takes to tell the story and not a single word more." I refuse to pad it out to drearyness, as was a long, boring, pointless 450 page science fiction book by a writer I used to enjoy greatly before publishers started insisting on books as heavy as the average American.

Plus, the poor grammar of the character allows a little humor (Knolls: "Computer, what's the best way to knock them bitches out?" Computer: "Parse error, there are no female dogs on board and 'knock' is not in context, please rephrase the question or order"), even some poetic humor such as "the heavy German woman with the heavy German accent", playing on the multiple meanings of the word ("Whoa, dude, that's heavy!! Pass me that bong, man").

But I have to say, I agree with Al and with the article's writer, Richard Corliss, who (not whom) makes his own grammar errors, such as "And the copy editor of a book I wrote for Simon & Schuster corrected my frequent use of years as adjectives ('the 1955 novelty tune...'). I didn't know that was a word crime, and, between you and I [sic], I keep breaking it." Uh, that oughta be "you and me", dude. And yes, that error of mine was on purpose; I realize that "oughta" ain't a word any more than "ain't" is a word.

This paragraph is, I think, 100% factually correct:

Nothing in a living language is written in stone. Over the decades, words go from wrong to right. Speak as you will; others will understand you, whatever offenses you utter against hoary* tradition. Just realize that the people in a position to hire you, mark your exams or fall in love with you may have stricter standards of written and spoken English. Like Weird Al Yankovic, or the reporters who noted the less and fewer mistake on Greg Maddux's Hall of Fame plaque, we grammar snobs are listening.

That goes quadruple for literature, even my poor attempt at literature. But those of you who "could care less" (which the writer correctly points out actually says that if you could care less, you must care at least a little) should know that when you don't know the difference between there, their, and they're, you come across as being so uneducated that your viewpoint can be safely dismissed. The literate is unlikely to learn much from the aliterate.

* I have GOT to find a use for that word in the book!

User Journal

Journal: Nobots: now in paperback 2

Journal by mcgrew

It annoys the hell out of me that my books are so damned expensive, which is why I wanted Mars, Ho! to be 100,000 words. I'd hoped that possibly Baen might publish it so it would be, oddly, far cheaper. I can buy a copy of Andy Wier's excellent novel The Martian from Barnes and Noble or Amazon for less than I can get a copy of my own Paxil Diaries from my printer, and Wier's book is a lot longer.

It's no wonder they're not selling; not only can I not afford merchandizing, but they're way overpriced. I can't blame anyone for not wanting to buy one. I'm still looking for ways to make them cheaper.

I went to check sales this morning and saw that they have some new, cheaper formats. So now there's a 6x9 paperback version for a much less unreasonable $7.00. Unfortunately, this one can only ship to U.S. addresses and will only be available at my website or the printer's website.

I don't think Mars, Ho! will reach Baen's required 100,000 words; right now the manuscript is just short of 60,000 words, a lot more than Nobots' 42042 words and there's only a chapter or two left to write.

Of course, I'm not writing these books for the money (fortunately!); my pension and Social Security pays well enough to meet my needs. But of course I want as many people as possible to read them.

Cory Doctorow's tactics aren't working for me. I may do what Wier did and publish Mars, Ho! as a $2.00 Amazon ebook if I can't find a good publisher. It's most likely I won't find one.

There are two more chapters of Mars, Ho! ready to post, chapter 37 will be here in a day or three.

User Journal

Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Thirty Six

Journal by mcgrew

Drills
        I got woke up early again, about five thirty this time. Fire in passengers quarters number forty seven. God damned drills, but I had to get up and inspect forty seven anyway. I put on a robe and trudged down there.
        Yep, just a stupid drill. I noticed that Tammy was in the commons with the German woman as I walked past on my way back home. It was still early enough that I could still get another hour's sleep or so.
        Nope, as soon as I got back there another damned alarm went off, this time a fire in engine seventeen. This one might be real, so I hurried down there and told the computer do deliver some nasty robot coffee.
        The computer wouldn't let me in at first, it must have been in a vacuum. The door finally opened, and the robot that had been working on it was charred and still smoking a little. I unhooked it from the engine, and another one rolled up for me to hook up, and a third dragged the smoking robot to the repair shop.
        I logged it and trudged back up the five damned flights of stairs towards home, but by then it was too late to go back to bed, quarter after six. I made a pot of real coffee and put a game on, but it was almost over. When it was over I switched it to the always old news.
        Nothing new, of course, they were still trying to scare people about the Venus virus. Destiny came in, kissed me, and poured a cup of coffee. "You're up early again," she said.
        "Yeah," I replied, "fire drill in the passenger section and a burned up robot down in the engine room. I was up at five thirty. I'm sure glad we went to bed early!"
        "Did you eat yet?"
        "No, you hungry?"
        "Yeah. Computer, make a turkey and cheese omelette."
        I said "Computer, a turkey Denver."
        The stupid thing said "Error, no Turkish dishes named Denver are listed in the database."
        God damn stupid computer. "A Denver omelette with turkey meat you dumb computer."
        "Affirmative."
        "Fuck you."
        Destiny laughed. "Had your shower yet?"
        "No," I said, "Want to take one together?"
        "Sure," she said, with a twinkle in her eye. God, but I love that woman.
        We had a pretty long, really fun shower and ate our breakfast. By then it was almost eight. I kissed her and took a cup of coffee to the pilot room. We were going the right way and all the computers were agreeing with each other that everything was cool.
        After that I had inspection. The German woman was eating in the commons and the rest were asleep, except Lek who was in her quarters reading, still dressed. I complimented her on her clothing.
        "Thank you," she said. "I want Doctor Winters to cure me."
        "So do I," I said. "I want her to cure all of you."
        "I want that too," she said.
        I went down those five damned flights of stairs again to the bottom of the boat. The good generator was still good and the busted generator was still busted. So was engine seventeen, with the robot I'd plugged into it still working on it.
        It had been an easy inspection. I trudged up all those damned stairs. There were fifty or so women in the commons, pretty much behaving themselves.
        As I went in my quarters Destiny said "You're a little early. Done?"
        "Yeah, I hope so. Are you hungry?"
        She said yes, and laughed. "Computer, ham and beans."
        The computer replied, of course, "There are no pork products on the menu."
        I said "I think I'll have prime rib, baked potato and a glass of wine."
        "Sounds good to me," Destiny said.
        Right then a light lit up on the map. "Damn it," I said, and went to the pilot room to listen in. Thankfully it wasn't pirates, it was a boat from a different shipping company about five light minutes away.
        The robot was finished cooking lunch right after I got back, so we ate. Then we watched an old two dimensional movie called "The Blues Brothers", and I loved that movie! Funny as hell and it had some really great old classical music. Some of the musical greats from the time, like Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker were in it.
        The closing credits were rolling on the screen when an alarm went off in cargo nine. I hoped it was a drill. "Is cargo nine occupied?" I asked the computer.
        "Negative."
        That was Lek's room; she was in the commons. The light on her door was solid red, so I went in to investigate; there was no fire.
        I went to the commons to talk to Lek. "Here because of the fire drill?" I asked.
        "Drill? I thought my apartment really on fire! Scared me when the alarm go off."
        "Yeah, it was just a drill, you can go home if you want."
        "Thank you," she said.
        I went home myself and we had Polish sausage and sauerkraut with shikes for dinner. Destiny put on an old two dimensional western, True Grit.
        We'd each had a glass of wine with lunch and finished the bottle watching the western, since it would be sour by the next morning. No sense wasting it.
        We listened to a little Clapton when the movie was over and then we went to bed. It was still early but Destiny had gotten up earlier than normal and I'd gotten up way early and was just plumb wore out.

When I posted the last chapter, I'd started this one but it had been nowhere near finished. After posting the previous chapter I "finished" this one and the next, as well. So there will be a new chapter in a few days.

User Journal

Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Thirty Five

Journal by mcgrew

Smiles
        Destiny woke me up about seven thirty; I'd been the one up early the day before because of that engine. "Wake up, sleepyhead, or you won't have time for breakfast." She'd already made coffee had the robots make chicken cheese omelets. God but I love that woman, meeting her was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. Of course, were it not for the monsters I'd never have met her. You take the wonderful with the insanely horrible, I guess.
        We watched the news while we ate, but there was nothing new. A war had broken out in Africa, but there's always a war somewhere, it seems. People are stupid.
        Lankham Farms in Mexico closed down, citing Mexico's new environmental laws. The environmental regulations in almost all countries were strict to the point that raising pork just wasn't economical enough to earn any money. About the only place you could buy pork was from the fanciest farm restaurants, the kind you had to be a Dewey Green to afford eating at.
        Like I care about the price of pork. Sheesh.
        I finished breakfast, showered and got dressed, kissed Destiny and went to the pilot room for my normal morning routine.
        Everything in the pilot room checked out. There were no upstairs inspections today so I trudged down the five damned flights of stairs, which is better than trudging up them, and inspected the generators and engines. Yep, port generator and engine seventeen still broke. A robot was working on seventeen so I logged it.
        I got done quick today! Probably wasn't even noon yet. Destiny was in the commons drinking coffee with Tammy and Lek, who was still wearing clothes, although different ones. I wondered where she got them, probably traded drops to the naked animals for theirs. Or maybe Tammy gave her some, I don't know. I sat down with them and complimented Lek.
        "Thank you," she said.
        "You've come a long way, Lek. You should be proud." She smiled widely. Thailand is known as "the land of smiles" and unless they were short of drops the three on board were smiling almost all every time I saw them. Lots different than that German woman, who was always frowning and never seemed to smile.
        "Doctor Winters help me," she said. I was startled. "Tammy?" I said, really confused.
        "She's smart, John. She figured me out after a couple of weeks and confronted me. She noticed that I was the only one wearing clothes and had plenty of drops and she guessed correctly that I was pretending to be an addicted prostitute, so I told her I was a really a scientist studying them and trying to find a cure."
        "I no tell anybody," Lek said. "I only call her doctor when we alone. She say I not animal because I have respect, and animals no have respect."
        I asked "What was up with that one woman yesterday?"
        "She knocked her drops off of the sink and thought they went down the drain. She went through withdrawal for nothing, if she'd been in her right mind she would have realized that there's no way that bottle would fit down that drain."
        Then she started talking Thai with Lek. Lek said "We need speak English, they no understand." I gathered that Tammy spoke very good Thai and communication was easier between them in that language.
        "Uh," I said, "Are you working right now, Tammy?"
        "Well, kind of," she said.
        "I'm sorry, we're in the way" I responded.
        Destiny blushed. "Oh, God, Tammy, I'm sorry! You're making great progress, though. Both of you. Come on, John."
        We went home, ate lunch, and Destiny put on a two dimensional science fiction movie from the twentieth century, and it was funny as hell. I think it was called "Star Wars" or something. Huh? I don't know, it was Italian food, Destiny ordered it. Some kind of cheesy noodles with meat and tomato sauce. Huh? Oh, there's quite a few of those Star Wars movies. After the first one was so successful they made it into a trilogy. Back then computers were still way too primitive to make movies in so it was all models and puppets and probably drawings by hand. Oddly they shot episodes four through six first, and didn't shoot one through three for another twenty years, probably because the technology to do it wasn't there. It was another fifteen years before another was made.
        Then we had beef and beans for supper and watched Forever Old, a new holo.
        We listened to the Vaughn brothers for a while and went to bed.

The last nine chapters are ready to post, but the next 3 or 4 haven't yet been written so I don't know when the next chapter will be available.

What I've been doing is I'll read the whole thing, usually adding stuff and sometimes taking stuff out; I removed about a thousand words from one chapter. when I get to the next chapter to be posted is when they get posted, so I'll post the next few as I write them, then the rest as I edit.

I doubt I'll hit my 100,000 word goal, with so few chapters left to write and only 54,515 words in the manuscript as of now.

User Journal

Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Thirty Four

Journal by mcgrew

Engine
        An alarm woke me up at quarter to seven and for once I didn't mind a bit, and in fact I was glad it woke me up. I was in the middle of a really weird dream. A herd of cows was stampeding towards me, only they were running on their hind legs and somehow carrying big butcher knives in their front hooves, all singing a Chartov song while coming at me. Too many westerns, I guess.
        It was engine seventeen, something was wrong with it. I shut it down from the pilot room and started a pot of coffee perking before I shit, showered, and shaved. Destiny woke up about the time I was getting dressed.
        "What time is it?" she asked.
        "I don't know, maybe ten or fifteen after seven."
        "You're up early again!"
        "Yeah," I said. "Alarm woke me up from a really weird dream, something wrong with engine seventeen. I shut it down and corrected course so eight o'clock should be easy this morning. Hungry?"
        "I probably will be. What are you having?"
        "Steak and scrambled eggs and toast. Should I have the robot make you that?"
        "Sure, only I want my eggs sunny side up. Is there any good coffee made?"
        "Yeah, I made a pot, most of it is still left."
        She got out of bed and put on a robe and followed me into the dining room, where the robot was already cooking our breakfast. I put the news on. Not much new, some problem at that big Venus station, an outbreak of some disease they thought had been eradicated decades earlier. They were worried it might get back to Earth.
        I think they only have the news to scare people and make them worry.
        We ate our breakfast and drank coffee and Destiny started a second pot as I went back to the pilot room for the eight o'clock readings. Like I figured they were fine, and I was sure glad because this was going to be another busy day, what with number seventeen shut down and today I had to inspect cargo.
        The passenger section was, like usual, a big waste of time. Cargo were all asleep except the German woman, who was in the commons with Tammy, and a girl named Angel who was bending over the sink. She turned around and looked at me with those scary red monster eyes. I freaked out, ran, and ordered the door locked behind me and called Tammy.
        "We have a serious problem," I said. "Angel is going through withdrawal."
        "What? I left her a dose, someone must have stolen it. I'll be right there." She came running down the hall holding her fone. "How bad is she?"
        "Bad," I said. "Redeye bad."
        "Oh, no," she said. "I'll be right back, try to keep that door closed. If she gets out we're all dead."
        "Wait! Where are you going?"
        "To rig up a spray bottle. This is going to be very dangerous but it has to be done." She ran to her quarters.
        I had an idea and pulled out my fone. "Computer," I said, "what's the best way to knock that bitch out?"
        The fone said "Parse error, there are no female dogs on board and 'knock' is not in context. Please rephrase."
        Who programs these God damned stupid things, anyway? Back when computers were new, speculative fiction movies had computers that could think. These stupid computers sure can't. God damn it, I was going to have to talk like I went to college... only I ain't went to college, damn it.
        "Uh, how can I..." I had to think a minute. "Make the woman in cargo twenty two go to sleep fast with the least amount of harm?"
        The fone said "waiting until she falls asleep naturally would cause the least harm." Stupid computer.
        "What will cause her to, uh... lose consciousness quickly with the least amount of harm?"
        "Replacing the air with an inert gas would accomplish the task," it said. Whatever the hell an "inert gas" is.
        "Okay," I told it, "replace the air in cargo twenty two with an inert gas."
        "Please choose which inert gas you wish to replace it with."
        God damn computers! "What gas will knock... uh, put her to sleep with the least damage?"
        "Nitrogen, he..."
        "Computer, replace the air in cargo twenty two with nitrogen and then open the door when she goes to sleep."
        "Complying."
        The door opened, and Tammy came running back carrying a spray bottle. "It's okay," I said. "She's not conscious, I knocked her out."
        "Wow, John, remind me not to piss you off," She said. She took care of Angel while I finished my inspection. There was some minor damage to her sink, and I wondered what the hell that crazy animal was trying to do. As I was leaving the room, a medic Tammy had summoned rolled in.
        I'd do the commons and sick bay after the engines and generators.
        Everything was fine down there, all things considered. The generator was a little warm, but readings said it had been a lot warmer at seven.
        All the engines except seventeen were fine. Seventeen had shorted out; we were lucky the alarm went off or either the generator would have probably been damaged so bad it would have to be rebuilt, or the rest of the engines might have fried, or both. I logged it; the robot was already working on it. We'd be fine with only one engine out. At one time earlier in the trip I'd had three or four that weren't lit, but there are a hell of a lot of the huge things.
        I checked out the rest of the monstrously big things. That's where I spend most of my work day usually, downstairs inspecting engines since there were so many of them and they all had to be inspected.
        I trudged back up the five damned flights of stairs and decided to have lunch before finishing inspections; it was already twelve thirty and I was starved.
        I had a cheeseburger and Afghan style fried potatoes for lunch. Destiny had a steak chef salad, joking about pork. Her pig jokes made me think about the German woman.
        "I still have a little more work," I told her. "Engines took forever today because of number seventeen, I spent half an hour on just that one alone. I still have to inspect the sick bay and commons. Want to go for a walk when we finish eating?"
        "Sure," she said. "I'll come along."
        We finished eating and walked to sick bay. I inspected it and we went into the commons, where Lek and Tammy were drinking coffee and eating turkey sandwiches. Lek was still wearing clothes and acting pretty damned ladylike for a dropper. Tammy was doing some damned good work with that one, she should be proud.
        We got back home at two or three and destiny put on an old two dimensional comedy western named "Wagons East". It was a really silly movie and we laughed our asses off watching it. Destiny said that part of this one had to be done in a computer because one of the stars, the fat guy who played the wagon master, died before they finished shooting and they had to map his face to a body double. She said computers used in movies was still really new when that one was made.
        When it was over we ate a poor man's dinner; prime rib, baked potato, salad, and wine. I only drank one glass, I hate hangovers. Especially wine hangovers.
        I did have two beers while we watched The Underpass. That's a new one, you guys probably saw it already.
        We listened to some old classical blues and cuddled when it was over and went to bed.

User Journal

Journal: Morgan Freeman on Mars

Journal by mcgrew

As I was going through Google News this morning I ran across an item about actor Morgan Freeman talking to a couple of astronauts on the ISS at a round table discussion at JPL before an audience of what looked like two or three hundred people, all of whom were JPL employees.

He was there with the producer of his show on the Science Channel Through the Wormhole and with its writer, a physicist.

There was no link from the newspaper article, but Google found it here on YouTube. Those of you who think we should go to Mars instead of "wasting time and money" on the ISS should watch it; it will be an eye opener for you.

Everyone else is likely to enjoy the presentation as much as I did. All sorts of science is discussed, and there's a fascinating part about testing parachutes for Mars landings. There's also a clip from Through the Wormhole and it looks to be as good as Cosmos, although I haven't watched any full episodes.

I was surprised to find that Mr. Freeman is a fan of science fiction. When he asked for a show of hands, asking who was alive to see the moon landing, maybe a half dozen raised their hands, although most of the audience was interns.

For those of you, like me, who don't have cable or your provider doesn't offer that channel, more googling found that all the episodes are online here.

User Journal

Journal: Nobots Chapter Thirty Three 2

Journal by mcgrew

Coffee
        An alarm woke me up at quarter after six. What the hell? Fire in P117? I put on a robe, and as I trudged down there Tammy was running into the commons. I wondered what was going on.
        I got to Passenger quarters 117 and it was a damned drill, the light wasn't flashing and I didn't smell any smoke. I really didn't expect to, because except for Tammy's quarters none of the rest of the passenger section was occupied and wall panels blowing up is pretty rare. Most fires are caused by old maids and on this trip, stupid passengers. I don't know why they have those things cleaning empty quarters.
        I passed Tammy on the way back. "I missed Rilla," she said. "I forgot she got up early to eat."
        As I passed the commons on the way home I saw the obese blonde German woman leaning back in a chair, an eyedropper on the floor next to her. I'm glad I read Tammy's book, she was going to want a dildo in a minute or two and I sure didn't want it to be me. I hurried back to my quarters and started coffee, since it was too late to go back to sleep, and headed to the head to pee.
        Zero G football was in the semifinals and I caught the last quarter of the game. Belgium beat Brazil two to one. I told the robot to make scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns and went to shit and shower.
        God DAMN that Mexican food, my asshole was on fire! It felt like I was shitting flames. Why do I keep forgetting what spicy food does to my asshole? Fuck!
        When I got out of the shower Destiny was at the table wearing a robe and drinking coffee. "G'mornin' sunshine," she said. "You're sure up early."
        "Yeah, I had an alarm. Just a drill, though. What time is it?"
        "I don't know."
        "Computer, what damned... no, back up. What time is it onboard the ship?"
        "The present time is seven twelve."
        I decided to set up a holographic map of EMF in my living room, even though it would be a while before we saw any pirates. I didn't know it then but they would show up early. Way too early.
        Destiny had the news on the video. Some scandal in the capitol but I wasn't paying attention; I still hadn't had enough coffee.
        At five 'til eight I went to the pilot room. Everything checked out, so before I started my inspection I set another holographic map up in there as well.
        The maps marked spacemarks and radio transmissions and used what engineers called a "passive radar system" to mark objects but I really don't know what that means. I thought "I'm taking some classes when I reach Mars."
        The passenger section was, as usual, fine. The commons, however â" it was empty and I smelled smoke. It was one of the waiters. I pulled out my fone. "Computer, shut R47 down and send a repair robot."
        I went outside and called the computer again, instructing it to seal the commons and depressurize it until R47 was powered down and taken in for repairs. I'd have to finish inspecting the commons when I was done with the rest of the inspection.
        The German woman walked up looking angry. "Hey, Joe," she said with her heavy accent, "I'm hungry, why is the restaurant closed?"
        The passenger section had quarters like apartments with their own cooking and serving and coffee robots, but cargo quarters are single rooms with a sink and toilet, although of course there's also furniture in them. People flying in the cargo section have to eat in the commons, or have robots bring it from there.
        "One of the robots is smoking so there's no air in there right now. It won't be long before you can eat."
        "But I'm starved!"
        Tammy walked up. "Hi, John, what's going on?"
        "Smoking robot," I said. "Shouldn't take more than ten minutes."
        "Ten minutes!" the blonde said. "I'll die of starvation!"
        Tammy said "I'll take care of it, John." Right then a robot wheeled up and the commons door opened. Tammy and the fat girl went inside and I went to the sick bay as the robot dragged the other robot out.
        Sick bay was fine, so it was time for the stairs. Damned stairs.
        The working generator was okay, as were the engines, except seventeen. I started number sixty three back up and noted it in the log. Even twenty four checked out so I restarted it as well. No robot today, so I started it back up. Seventeen was good, too, so I started it back up as well.
        The broken generator was still broken, of course. But everything else was in great shape for once. I trudged back up the stairs.
        The only one in the commons was Lek, the one who could talk okay. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sipping coffee. A dropper with coffee? According to Tammy's book that shouldn't happen. I called Tammy and gave her the news.
        "Wow," she said. "I'll be right there."
        Lek said "Hello, Captain."
        I said hello and finished my inspection as Tammy came in carrying a pot of coffee and sat down with Lek. "Here, Lek," she said, "I brought some good coffee. But should you be drinking coffee at all?"
        "Animals no drink coffee," Lek said, "and I no want be animal. I not remember what coffee supposed to taste like."
        I left her to Tammy, she was the expert, after all, and I went home.
        "You're later than usual," Destiny said.
        "Busy morning. Smoking robot, hungry fat girl, started a couple of engines..."
        "Okay, okay," she said laughing. "Lets have lunch. T-bone and mashed potatoes and slaw okay?"
        "Sure." I had the robot bring me a glass of shike.
        We took a short walk then watched some old two dimensional movie about the American Civil War, even though the actual war part only took a couple of minutes. I think it was called "Lincoln". By the time it was over it was supper time. We watched one of the movies Destiny called a "spaghetti western", listened to some Chartov for a while and went to bed.

A Fortran compiler is the hobgoblin of little minis.

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