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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Twenty Nine

Journal by mcgrew

        Destiny and me woke up at the same time the next morning. We cuddled a while, made love again, then made coffee and took a shower together while the robots made us steak and cheese omelettes and toast and hash browns. Destiny put on the news. There was something about a problem in one of the company's boat factories; some machinery malfunctioned and killed a guy. I sure took notice of that! They didn't really have much information about it, though. They said something about trying to build in safety laws into the programming, I think I heard about something like that before.
        Something occurred to me. "You can afford pork but it makes you feel guilty? I didn't know astronomy teachers made that much money."
        "We don't," she said. "I should have told you, I don't just work for the charity, it's my charity. I started it."
        "Sorry, I never give my money any thought. My dad's Dewey Green."
        I almost fell out of my chair. "Your... dad..." I was almost speechless. "Uh, your dad's my CEO? No shit?"
        "Does it matter?"
        "I don't know," I said. I was dumbfounded. "I can't support a CEO's daughter on boat captain's pay!"
        "You don't have to, silly, I pay my own way. Didn't you say you were going to retire and live on Mars with me? Didn't you say you wanted to tend bar?"
        "Well, yeah, but bartenders don't make much money either."
        "No, but bar owners do. At least successful ones, you'll have to take some business classes."
        "I was going to go to college anyway, can't have a high school grad married to a PhD. What's your dad going to think?"
        "It doesn't matter, he has no say. I'm not dependent on him and I won't be dependent on anyone. I got my endowment when I was twenty one and invested it. I have more money that he does, even."
        "Holy shit," I said.
        "Computer," she said, "what time is it?"
        "The present time is seven fifty eight."
        "Oh shit," I said, running to the pilot room.
        Except for a slight course correction everything was fine, and that only took a minute. The computers do the work, I just make sure they all agree with each other.
        The commons only had the fat blonde in it. These girls almost never ate breakfast, except for the blonde. She was always in there eating, it seemed. Inspection was easy.
        Cargo was easy, too. Every single one was asleep, which was a relief. Tammy was keeping the animals under control and even keeping them human, apparently.
        It was the passenger section that was a pain - R1 caught fire. Why in the hell are robots programmed to clean unoccupied quarters? Rooms that are never occupied shouldn't even have any air in them. Air is a fire hazard!
        Anyway, there was nothing I had to do except log it. Another maid would come by to clean the mess after another robot dragged it off and repaired it. I thought of something, then thought better of it. I almost told the computer not to use parts cannibalized from other broken machines, but at this rate we would run out of maids. And probably other robots as well.
        The sick bay was empty but I had to inspect it anyway, mostly to make sure its drugs were all secure, especially with all these drug addicts on board, but since there was nobody there it didn't take any time at all. Now it was time for my daily exercise routine, my five flights of stairs down to the engines and generators, and my long walk from one generator to the other, stopping at all those huge ion rocket motors.
        All the engines and the lone working generator checked out and there weren't even any robots working on any of them, so I was done early for a change. I was glad of it, as busy as I'd been lately I could use some time off. I trudged up the five damned flights of stairs and walked back to my quarters.
        Destiny was reading as I walked in. "Johnie! You're home early!"
        "Easy day for once. Computer, what time is it?"
        The computer said "The present time is eleven thirteen."
        "Want to eat lunch early and watch something?" Destiny asked.
        "Sure," I said, and grinned. "Ham sandwiches?"
        She laughed. "Yeah, with pork bacon and a side of caviar and a hundred year old bottle of French wine to go with it! How about a cheeseburger and shike?"
        "How about a pizza and beer," I suggested.
        "Sounds good to me. Computer, a medium supreme pizza and two beers. We can eat it while we're watching. What do you feel like?"
        I didn't care. "I don't know, pick something."
        She put Spaghetti on. Huh? It's an old science fiction comedy from the first part of the twenty second century. Destiny said it was one of the last two dimensional movies, holograms were getting cheap enough to start being popular.
        We had spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread for dinner and put on a modern holo, a really bad holographic recreation of one of the old westerns. It sucked, she shut it off after fifteen minutes and said "We should watch a spaghetti western."
        "Huh?" I said. "What's a 'spaghetti western'?"
        She said that a "spaghetti western" was a movie about the ancient American west that was filmed in Italy. No, I don't know why where a movie was made would matter, either.
        Instead of a spaghetti western she put on an old two dimensional shades of gray horror comedy. Huh? No, I never heard of a horror comedy either, but it was hilarious. Destiny said the movie studio had balked at its not having colors, but they were making fun of the horror movies from fifty years earlier when none of them had colors.
        When it was over we shut it off, put on some music, cuddled a while, and went to bed.
        Huh? None of your damned business!

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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Twenty Eight

Journal by mcgrew

        "Good morning, Mister Green."
        "Good morning, Mister Osbourne. Ladies, gentlemen, I had a particularly trying day yesterday, as a few of you know," the CEO said, looking at his chief of engineering. "We have a serious problem in the company and it lands squarely in your laps. Folks, we're getting complacent and sloppy and it stops right here and right now or heads are going to roll.
        "If any of you think some of your employees are less than excellent, reassign them to something they're good at or get rid of them.
        "Mister Osbourne has a few words to say about a few of the problems we're having and some solutions to those problems. Mister Osbourne?"
        "Thank you, Mister Green. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a severe quality control problem lately. Human Resources hired a saboteur who was employed by pirates to work in the shipyards. That is unacceptable, we do not hire pirates. Ever. It had better not happen again. I looked into the matter myself, and he should have never have been able to pass a background check to begin with, the man should have never been hired in the first place. He had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor retail theft and was fined for it when he was younger. We do not hire thieves or any other criminals, period. Any criminal record at all no matter how minor, and I'm not talking traffic tickets here, use some judgment, that's what you're being paid for, is not suitable for employment at this shipping and travel company.
        I want everyone's records checked. If we have any felons on the payroll I want them terminated immediately; our contract with the union gives us the right. Anyone with a misdemeanor I want transferred to somewhere where they can't cause mischief, and that means they're not to be anywhere near one of our ships or near anything that goes into their operation. Mister Johnson has suggested this to me, and I agree with him. He's still looking for other measures, he's only been on the problem since yesterday.
        "But what's just as bad and possibly even worse is you people are assigning the wrong people to the wrong teams. Our passengers pay a lot of money to ride our transportation and they don't expect bad coffee and they don't expect to have to make their own. It was sheer stupidity to assign a programmer who doesn't even drink coffee to program robots that make coffee. You wouldn't assign a Jewish or Muslim person to program a cook to prepare pork, or an American to program it to cook escargot."
        Richardson went pale and said "Sir, we can't discriminate against a person on the basis of religion or national origin."
        "Of course not," the President said, "but you can discriminate on the basis of competence. Don't assign a programmer to a project that he or she would not want to sample the end result of himself.
        "No one is competent in building a repair robot unless he or she can repair a robot him or herself. Look, your programmers are nerds, if someone likes fixing stuff in his spare time as a hobby, have him program repair robots, not the guy who loves to cook and hates to work on a machine. If you're working on something you love you'll create excellence. If you hate what you're doing you're going to hate the work and the best work you do will never be better than mediocre. You think a guy who doesn't like coffee wants to program a robot to make coffee? Do you think a Muslim wants to program a cook to prepare pork? He would have stern religious objections. Just ask your staff what they want to work on. Come on, this isn't theoretical physics.
        "It isn't just Richardson," the President said. "I dug up similar sloppiness, incompetence, and downright stupidity in all the departments. Ladies and gentlemen, you're becoming complacent and I'm simply not going to tolerate it from any of you.
        "And talk to each other! We could have saved a lot of money had scheduling been talking to orbital instead of just giving them schedules. There's probably a whole lot more money to be saved, as well. Mister Griffins, you, especially, need to talk to the other heads. Folks, if you or any of your people have ideas for saving money, call Mister Griffins. If he doesn't listen, call me or Mister Green.
        "From now on, our ship's Captains will be making a report after each run. I want all of you to read those reports when they come in; Captain Knolls' report is in your in-box now. You should expect Captain Kelly's and Captain Ramos' in a day or two.
        "I want a progress report from each one of you in one week. This meeting is adjourned. Now get to work, you have your work cut out for you."
        The president and CEO sat there silently until the last of the department heads left the room.
        The president said "You know, Dewey, I haven't been to space in fifteen years, way back when we still used fusion generators on our boats. I think I'll visit Mars for a weekend and have a look at our repair facilities there."
        "Yes, I agree. We haven't knuckled down and gotten our hands dirty in a while. I think I'll visit the various departments tomorrow, surprise all of them. Well," he said standing up, "I have a report to finish so I'm getting back to the office. I'll see you at the board meeting this afternoon.

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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Twenty Seven 2

Journal by mcgrew

        I guess Destiny had stayed up and read or something. I woke up about six, started coffee and was glad the robots were almost as good at cooking as they were bad at making coffee. Unless it had to do with barbecue sauce, and who has barbecue in space? Especially for breakfast?
        Or pork, I remembered. I don't eat pork, it's too damned expensive these days and I like beef and chicken better, anyway, but George Wilson, one of our guys who hauls first class passengers, eats it sometimes because the company has pork on first class boats and he tells me the pork is as bad as the coffee. Odd that they cook bacon pretty good, but all you have to do with bacon is microwave it. The robots would have to be dumber than they already are to mess bacon up. Besides, only rich people eat pork bacon, normal people have turkey bacon and you cook them both the same way. I had a pork bacon sandwich with lettuce and tomato in a restaurant once and couldn't tell the difference. Except for the size of the bill, that was a damned expensive sandwich!
        But that one trip I was hauling frozen pork to that big science station in orbit around Venus I had plenty of pork. Too much damned pork. Especially since I can't cook pork much better than the damned robots can. Yeah, my parents taught me to cook when I was a kid but we were poor, had to print everything out and we damned sure couldn't afford a luxury like pork.
        I was twenty three before I ate my first ham and cheese sandwich, as a treat to myself on my birthday. I didn't see what all the fuss was about, I thought thin sliced turkey was better, and a hell of a lot cheaper...
        Huh? Oh, sorry, my mind wandered. Anyway, while coffee was perking and the robots were making breakfast and Destiny was sleeping I took my shower and got dressed.
        The smell of decent coffee that robots can't make must have woke Destiny up, because she walked in as I was pouring the first cup. I handed it to her, said "Good morning, sweetheart," and poured a cup for myself and kissed her. "Hungry?" I asked. "I had the robot make waffles and sausage."
        "Sausage? You have pork?"
        I laughed. "Of course not, it's beef sausage. The company sure isn't going to pay for pork unless there's rich passengers traveling first class. And I damned sure can't afford it on a Captain's wages."
        "That's too bad," she said, "I love pork sausage but it's way too expensive to eat very often, I feel guilty when I do eat pork. I usually just eat it on my birthday for breakfast."
        "I never ate any," I said. She switched the video on and we watched the "news" while we ate. There was one item about a robot probe that was on its way to Alpha and Proxima Centauri at five gravities thrust. I wonder how fast that thing would be going by the time it was halfway there? Compared to that, Neptune's right next door, and it's a long way off, even from Mars! It was already months ahead of its telemetry, and no, I don't know what "telemetry" is but that's what they said on the news. It sounded impressive to me, anyway.
        It was almost eight so I kissed Destiny and went to the pilot room. Everything was normal so I started my inspections. It would be a light day, since I didn't have to inspect quarters. I still had a hell of a lot of ion engines to check out, though.
        After the generator had blown out I'd reduced power to a third of the engines, and twenty four, the one I'd made sputter when I'd killed all them damned pirates in the rock storm, and sixty four and seventeen, the ones with the funny voltages, were offline.
        I plugged robots into all three of them and had them do a "twenty four hour diagnostic" which is what they tell me the robots do when you plug them in like that. I'd see the results tomorrow. I might need those motors when we were closer to Mars and pirates were more likely.
        I climbed the five damned flights of stairs, and walked past the commons on my way home. The German woman was in there eating, and four more were playing cards. I wondered what they were gambling for... oh hell, I'm a dumbass, they were gambling for drops, of course. What else would they be playing for? I pretended not to notice and went home.
        Destiny was reading, so I got a cup of coffee and started to sit down. "That's robot coffee," she warned.
        I poured it down the drain and started a new pot and turned on the video and watched an old Western. She put her tablet down when it started. I asked what she was reading.
        She grinned. "A history of fones. I was reading an old historical novel about a 1930s prison where they executed criminals by electrocuting them. Creepy book, but hard to understand in places, I have to look stuff up to see what the author is talking about. Back then 'fone' was spelled with a P H instead of an F and they weren't really fones, they only did speech and they were all wired together, either attached to a wall or by a wire than went into the wall.
        "That prison book was creepy, I haven't finished it yet. Barbaric back then. What are you putting in?"
        "An old western with that one guy from Rawhide, called The Outlaw Josey Wales," I answered.
        "I haven't seen that one yet," she said, which surprised me. She's the one that got me liking these old westerns. I said "There's a movie listed that says it's about a 1930s prison, I wonder if it could be from that book you're reading?"
        "Probably not," she said, "but anyway the movies are never faithful to the books and usually aren't nearly as good. Are you hungry?"
        "I could eat."
        She told the robot to cook a pizza and bring us some beers, and I started the movie.
        That was a long movie, but it was a really good one. We went to bed after it was over, well, after cuddling and listening to music a while...

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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Twenty Six

Journal by mcgrew

        The company's co-founder, largest stockholder, and CEO was annoyed; this was certainly not his best day, golf aside. He'd spent too much time on the course and only had time for a little more of Knolls' report, and now he had to chew out that incredibly stupid chief engineer, who was knocking on his door and in danger of losing his job. This could have crippled the company. "Come in," the CEO said.
        It seemed the company he and Charles had practically built from scratch was falling apart. God damn it, quality was deteriorating badly, and he was starting to think he needed a new head engineer.
        "Talk to me, Gene."
        God damn it, he thought. He opened a folder and handed a piece of paper to the engineer. "I'm talking about this schematic wiring diagram. How in the hell did this happen, and why was it spotted by someone who wasn't even an engineer?"
        Richardson said "I honestly don't know, sir."
        "Your teams are getting really sloppy, Richardson. This has been built into ten ships already and they're all going to have to be rewired because engineering screwed up on the blueprints. How in the hell could your team miss this? How the hell could you miss it? An intern discovered it! And he wasn't even an engineering student, he was just an electronics hobbyist."
        Richardson hung his head. The CEO continued. "If these ships had been operational a lot of people would have died and it would have caused the company great financial hardship; we're self-insured. One more mistake like this and you're fired, Richardson, and I'll get someone competent.
        "Now tell me, who programmed our robots to make coffee?"
        "Robot," Mister Green said, "Make this man a cup of coffee. Richardson, I got a report from a ship's captain complaining about the coffee so I had one of the ship robots sent here to check. He's right, this is the worst coffee I've ever tasted."
        "Well, sir, I don't like coffee myself, I had Larry Jones program it."
        "Why in the hell didn't you test it? That's the kind of sloppiness I'm talking about."
        "We did do chemical tests, sir..."
        "But you never thought of having anyone who actually drinks coffee try it? Look, Richardson, I'll be blunt: you're on the verge of losing your job. We have paying customers booking passage on our boats and they don't expect to make their own coffee and they expect the coffee they're served to be good coffee. I want a program for a robot to make not just drinkable coffee, which this isn't, and not just good coffee, but great coffee. I want the program in a week and a demonstration in two weeks and updates sent to all the coffee robots as soon as it's tested, and by that I mean by a group of people who enjoy coffee. Put Jones on a project he's good at. This is unacceptable. Am I understood, Richardson?
        "Yes sir."
        "And I want you to weed out the incompetents in your shop. This sloppiness is inexcusable."
        "Sir, the union..."
        "Tell the union that if they give you any trouble there won't be a new contract, I'll replace every engineer and programmer in the shop as soon as the contract expires. The union is supposed to give us quality employees, and it doesn't look to me like we're getting them.
        "Now, one more screw up and your career is over, Richardson. Now get out of here and get to work, I have a report to finish reading."
        After Richardson left, he buzzed his secretary. "Get Human Resources on the fone. And schedule a meeting with all the department heads for nine tomorrow morning. And I don't want to take any calls unless it's the company President, my wife, kids, or an emergency after I talk to Human Resources." He drummed his fingers for a few seconds and the fone buzzed again. It was Osbourne.
        "What's up, Charles?"
        "Have you tasted our robots' coffee, Dewey? I was curious after reading Knolls' report. That's the nastiest coffee I ever drank. And I was in the Army."
        "Yes, I did, and Richardson got a good ass chewing. I threatened to fire him, and I might still. And his might not be the only head to roll, Knolls' report was an eye opener. I want reports from all the Captains after each run from now on."
        "So do I, I already ordered it. I'm leaving for Mars tomorrow on whatever of our first class passenger boats can get me there the fastest right after the meetings. I wish I could skip the board meeting.
        "I'm especially worried about engineering, that's our most important function. I'm not too happy about financial, either. How did we let this slip past us, Dewey?"
        "Hell if I know, Charles. Both of us are going to have to be more vigilant. Look, I have to finish reading this report. I may not finish it this afternoon so I want you to mostly take charge in the meeting since you've read the whole thing and have more information. I'll see you in the morning. Goodbye."
        "See you, Dewey."

Sorry I haven't been here lately, but I've been working furiously on the book. There are five more chapters ready to post, followed by a few that haven't been written yet, then six more written chapters that go at the end of the book. The manuscript stands at 40,261 words as of this writing.

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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Twenty Five

Journal by mcgrew

Note: There will be a chapter inserted between chapters nine and ten. Chapters have been renumbered in the manuscript.

        Destiny was already awake and dressed when I got up the next morning. I'm glad she was there or I might have overslept.
        "Are you going to sleep all day? Your breakfast is going to get cold. I'm eating."
        I groaned, rolled out of bed, put on a robe and followed her to the dining room. She'd made coffee and had the robots make French toast, bacon, and tater tots. I didn't feel like tater tots. "What time is it?" I asked.
        She laughed. "You need a clock right there on the wall! Computer, what time is it?"
        The computer said "The time is seven twenty eight." Good, plenty of time. I finished eating and took a quick shower and started my morning chores about five minutes early. This time two of the computers disagreed with the other two. Two said "systems were nominal", one said that engine sixty four was getting three volts too much and the other said number sixty four was two volts short. Oh, well, I was going to have to walk the stairs anyway, so I decided I'd get engine and generator inspections out of the way first. Even though two or three volts was almost nothing when you're talking terrawatts.
        As I passed the commons Lek walked up, the one that talked English kind of okay.
        "Captain Knolls?" she said, which confused me because the whores usually called me "Joe" even though my name is John.
        "Lek?" I said, "how can I help?" I read Tammy's book, I didn't want to piss these dropheads off.
        "Look, Captain, you surely know what not having drops does to us by now."
        I almost said "I ain't got no drops, bitch" but I didn't. Instead I said "You're short of drops? Look, talk to..." Damn, I almost screwed up and gave Tammy away. Damn it, John!
        "Uh," I continued. "You need drops? Look, Lek, I finally get it. I do inspections and can confiscate..."
        "No," she said, "It's Sparkle. She going to..." she hung her head. "Buddha, but I really hate myself. I not human without drops! What has happened to me? But Sparkle need drops or she be dangerous wild animal."
        I really felt sorry for these women. I didn't think of them as whores any more, life had really kicked their asses. Tammy's book had really opened my eyes. Poor women. I called her on my fone, but she was already on it.
        "Tammy, could you get some..."
        "Drops to Sparkle?" she interrupted.
        "Yeah. Is she..."
        "She's okay. Now, anyway. But John, even though I knew, thanks. Please, if it comes up again call me, don't hesitate!"
        "Jesus, Tammy," I said, "Of course I will, after I read your book I know how dangerous a dropless drophead is."
        I finished walking down the hall to the stairs, then down that five damned flights. Most of this boat is engines. Second is generators, the generators take up more space than quarters and storage, and storage is as big as quarters.
        I checked number sixty four first, of course. It read normal. I almost logged that, but it suddenly dropped two volts, then immediately to a two and a half volt overvoltage. Bill told me once that that usually meant a bad connection, he's kind of a nerd.
        It's good to know nerds.
        I shut sixty four down like the book says, then inspected the rest of them. I don't know why I have to check the port generator, since it's broke, but I do so I did.
        The starboard generator was fine.
        The damned alarm went off. Fire in cargo seven. I didn't know whether to cuss the damned whores or the damned stupid engineers who design shit that catches fire and have emergency drills when there's a real emergency.
        I fucking hate it when there's an emergency upstairs when I'm downstairs. I have to run up five flights of stairs. Yeah, we're at half gravity now but it goes down slow, after the first day you don't really notice it dropping. The droppers hadn't complained, except when it had sudden changes like when we sped up to beat the rocks. I'm just glad I didn't have to run up the stairs that day I was climbing around outside. Oh, wait, I did, didn't I?
        I wished we were at zero G, I could have made it to the top in seconds. But then, of course, the women would kill me.
        The red light was flashing on cargo seven. "Computer, is there anybody in there?"
        "Parse error, please rephrase question."
        God damned computer. "Is cargo seven, uh, occupied?"
        "Negative." That was a relief; not only does the company get pissed off when cargo was damaged, these weren't just cargo, they were people. Human beings.
        At least, they were human when they had their drops. What Lek said was spooky, like one of those old horror movies Destiny likes, the old two dimensional ones with werewolves and vampires and no colors. I kind of shivered a little.
        The flashing light went out and I went in. There was a burned up maid in the room. Hell, was it noon already?
        Another burned up... wait, what was the number on that thing? R2? That's the same maid that burned up before. Whoever programs the robots that repair the other robots needs an ass kicking, or at least an ass chewing.
        I pulled out my fone. "Computer, take R2 out of service until the Martian maintenance."
        "Acknowledged." Another robot dragged it off to storage, and a third started noisily cleaning up the mess.
        I went to the commons, which right now was a restaurant with robot waiters and robot cooks and about a hundred naked women. I thought "I'm going to start inspecting cargo at meal time!" Not that these girls eat much, except the fat blonde with the German accent. They slept more than anything.
        "Attention," I yelled. They ignored me, the din continued. I pulled out my fone and addressed the PA, they can't ignore that.
        "Attention, ladies, who lives in number seven?"
        "That's Crystal," one of them said.
        "Where is she?"
        "I don't know. Oh, there she is," she said as another woman walked in.
        "Where have you been?" I demanded. "You're supposed to go to the commons when your quarters catch fire."
        "What?" she said, startled. "My quarters caught fire? I was in Leslie's cabin and got hungry. Is my stuff okay?"
        What stuff? "Yeah, the only thing that burned was the maid."
        "Good, I hate that noisy damned thing! Robot, I want a ham and cheese sandwich and a chocolate shake."
        I finished inspection by one thirty and was starved by then. Destiny called. "Where are you? I'm starved," she said.
        "Walking back to our apartment," I said. Oh, shut up you two, that's what I said. I told you I don't want that "professional" shit, I ain't no God damned professional.
        We had pizza and beer and watched an ancient comedy called Blazing Saddles and I didn't understand a lot of it, but some parts were funny. Destiny thought it was hilarious, and told me to read some history.

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Journal: Orbital mechanics problem solved!

Journal by mcgrew

First, I want to thank you folks for your suggestions, although I didn't see them until I logged in this morning. The answer came to me last night when I was sitting on my porch with a beer in my hand and several in my gut.

The answer was simple and I don't know why I hadn't already thought of it, maybe I should drink more. I hacked out maybe 500 words, about half a chapter that will go between the present chapters 9 and 10. I'll post it when there's more than a skeleton, tomorrow is chapter 24.

And the answer was something you guys have probably seen way too many times at work -- corporate bureaucracy and lack of communications. What I wrote last night had the CEO chewing out the head of scheduling, a women with a BS in math who had only taken one physics class, and the head of finance, who held an MBA.

Stopping the boat a couple of times (like to help Captain Kelly) and detours around meteors didn't hurt.

As to the CEO, I have to apologize to you folks for something that may be a bit confusing; I'm changing the CEO's name.

The first germ of an idea for this book came last spring when I was sitting in the beer garden at Felber's talking to a couple of guys about Nobots. I hadn't realized that the patrons there were more literate than the general population, probably half of them read Nobots when I published it.

A few crack whores were walking down the street (it's a pretty bad neighborhood with plenty of characters who make fodder for fiction), and Dewey laughed and said "you ought to write a book about whores in space." I'd never seen a book with space whores, so it might be a unique idea, and writing a book about whores without it being pornography was a challenge.

A few days ago, Dewey said he wanted to be in the book, so I named the CEO after him, even though the Dewey Green in the story is nothing like the real Dewey.

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Journal: Ask Slashdot: Orbital Mechanics 4

Journal by mcgrew

I'm having a math and physics problem: math and physics is getting in the way of the plot in Mars, Ho!

I originally thought it would be a six month trip, but math got in the way since they were getting gravity from propulsion. So I shortened it to a two month trip, and to do that I had to have Earth and Mars on opposite sides of the sun -- but orbital mechanics makes waiting shorten the time.

The best bad way around it I can see is a little hand-waving, with the captain wondering why the company didn't wait a week to launch. But I'm not satisfied with this. Does anybody have any ideas?

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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Twenty Three

Journal by mcgrew

        I felt pretty good the next day when I woke up. Destiny was still asleep, so I started coffee, told the robot to make breakfast and no robot coffee, damn it! And took a shower.
        Huh? Bacon, eggs, and hash browns for two. Destiny would be awake by the time I got out of the shower. Huh? Why? Over easy. Christ, guys! What difference does it make how the God damned eggs are cooked?
        She was just waking up as I got dressed. "Hungry?" I asked. "I made coffee and the robots are making breakfast."
        "I'll probably be hungry when my stomach wakes up. What time is it?"
        "About seven thirty, we have a half hour before I have to go to work."
        "Is the coffee done?"
        "It should be by now, I started it before I got in the shower."
        "Well, I guess I'll get up, then," she said grinning, and got up.
        She put the news on the video... or is that "olds" since it's the same old shit? There was something on it about pirates, they had arrested thirty after a firefight on Earth, and fifty pirates and twenty policemen died. Hell, I killed hundreds of the bastards just throwing rocks at 'em. And only the bad guys died.
        Stupid news.
        Destiny I weren't paying attention to it anyway. Five 'til eight I went to the pilot room to make sure we weren't going too fast or too slow or the wrong way and started my inspections.
        There was arguing coming from the commons, damn it. I stopped and called Destiny. "Hon, could you call Tammy and have her handle these crazy women?"
        "Sure, what are they doing?"
        "They act like they need drops."
        "Okay, I'll call her."
        I decided to inspect the commons last. I didn't need a dropless whore.
        For once the cargo didn't give me any trouble in inspection; they were all asleep and the doorbells didn't wake them up.
        Odd, what with the commotion in the commons.
        When I went into the passenger section there was a funny smell in number eighteen. Burning insulation, it smelled like. I got out fast and pulled out my fone; systems should have seen that and fixed it already.
        "Computer, fire in number eighteen."
        "There is no fire in cargo eighteen."
        "PASSENGER eighteen you stupid computer!"
        "There is no fire in..." There was an explosion in eighteen! Shit!
        "Computer," I said as alarms went off. "Report."
        "Fire in passenger eighteen" it said as the door light flashed red. "Fire suppression technologies in play."
        Damned computer. "Cause of fire?" It had smelled like an electrical short circuit to me, ozone and burned plastic. They don't make these boats like they used to. This was the third damned fire on this ship! It wasn't a brand new boat, thank God, or the damned robots would talk. But the ones with three generators, the old ones that got retrofitted with fusion generators, almost never had electrical problems.
        "Unknown at this time," the stupid computer said. Stupid computer, something shorted out and a fuse should have blown but didn't. Same as the port generator, it should have shut itself down before it caught fire and melted lots of the parts.
        I decided to investigate later. "Computer, do not repair until ordered by me. Continue fire suppression and keep the door locked.
        "Acknowledged," it said. Why do them damned things talk like that? I'm glad my robots are old, I hate talking robots.
        Well, except that the old ones catch fire. That's never any fun.
        I inspected the good generator, the ion engines, and the messed up generator. One robot was working on engine One Thirty Two and I noted it in the log.
        Back at P18 the light was no longer flashing, so I went in. Yep, a burned up panel. I opened it, it was fried; something had shorted. I logged it.
        This shit didn't use to happen on old boats.
        I went to the commons and finally inspected it. The commotion was over.
        I went home and had lunch with Destiny. "What was going on in the commons?" I asked.
        "Thieves. You read Tammy's book, most of these girls had criminal parents and stealing is normal for them. Well, there were about fifty of them that had all their drops stolen and were in the commons accusing each other of stealing, when the thieves were all asleep. Tammy took care of it."
        "I'm sure glad we have her," I said.
        "Me too," she agreed. "Do you have to work this afternoon?"
        "I hope not. Not unless something breaks or the whores act up or pirates attack or..."
        "Okay," she said laughing. "I get it. Want to watch something?"
        "Sure. Pick something."
        "How about..." she started before an alarm went off.
        "You jinxed me," I said, grinning. "Damned dropheads!"
        It was another fire, this time in P19. Why in the hell are unoccupied quarters powered? It don't make no sense. It's a fire hazard, especially the shitty way they build boats these days, glad I didn't get a brand new one. I'll bet they're even worse than this one, and it's only ten years old.
        But it wasn't a real fire, just a drill, there only to waste my free time and annoy me. I have enough real emergencies that I don't need no drills. The company's programmers are idiots.

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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Twenty Two 2

Journal by mcgrew

        "You've been practicing, boss."
        "Putting," the CEO replied. "Been practicing putting, that's where I'm weak at this game. First time I ever beat you, Bob."
        "Well, Charlie, I was a little off today. And you only beat me by one stroke," Bob said. "That was a great hole three, you eagled that one."
        "I got lucky on the initial drive. Bartender, two beers. Guinness draft, please. Bob, you're paying for a change! Oh, bartender, a couple shots of your best scotch, too."
        Bob laughed. "Well, that was the deal. Maybe we should try some zero G golf sometime."
        "Zero G? Damn, Bob, I'm not twenty any more. That's a young man's sport. Besides, I hate space."
        "Really? You run a shipping company and hate space?"
        "No, I just hate traveling in it. You did pretty good on number two or I'd have done even better against you. How are we doing on the sabotage front?"
        "Come on, we're just starting. You can't just solve a complex problem like that in a few days. Did you finish that report Knolls wrote?"
        "No, I got sidetracked by the book Doctor Winters' wrote that Knolls mentioned in his report. Damn, we need to check cargo closer, that book was horrible. I'm sure glad the charity sent her, it might have been catastrophic otherwise.
          "Then I read the report she made to her charity. I'll finish Knolls' report when we get back from 'lunch'."
        "How did you get Doctor Winters' report? She works for the charity, not for us."
        The CEO smiled. "Don't be stupid, Bob."
        "So, how much of Knolls' report have you read?"
        "Past where he saved her life. You know, Bob, you have a terrible taste in literature. Knolls couldn't write his way out of a paper bag and you enjoyed it? Damn, man."
        Bob shrugged. "We were sure lucky the charity sent Doctor Winters."
        "Yes, we were. Like I said. And Knolls was even luckier, and is probably glad he had her and the whores, he'd have been a dead man, and probably Kelly as well. Nobody expected what happened."
        He continued. "Have you talked to Human Resources to see about training a replacement for Knolls?"
        "Of course. I hate to replace him, especially with a greenie. Some of the maneuvers and weapon use he displayed in his second encounter with the pirates should go into our training manuals. "
        "Yes, he was a damned good captain. The company will miss him."
        "Well, I intent to try and talk him out of retirement."
        "Good luck with that! If you succeed you're the world's greatest salesman. I'm taking the afternoon off today, Charlie, I want to be refreshed and rested for the board meeting Monday. Do you want to shoot another nine?"
        "Sorry, Bob, I can't. I should have gotten back earlier, I want to finish reading Knolls' report, and I have a meeting with Richardson from engineering. I'm that close to firing that dumb son of a bitch. That was a hell of a boner he pulled, and I'm sure glad you brought the matter to my attention."
        "Hell, if I hadn't we should have both been fired!" the underling said, smiling, as if that was ever likely; between the two of them they owned 63% of all company stock.
        The CEO laughed. "Yeah," he agreed, "we should have! Look, Bob, enjoy the afternoon and I'll see you Monday morning. Like I said, I have to get going."
        "See you, Boss. Bartender, can I get another beer?"

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Journal: A Yank Back to the Past 1

Journal by mcgrew

I was yanked three and a half decades back today, and Rority had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Two things from the past reached thirty five years into the future and snagged me for their apparent enjoyment. They were books.

The first was Pratchett's Strata. I'd ordered a hold at the library over the internet, and when the librarian handed me the book, my reaction was "wow, skinny book." It was no longer than Nobots, which is only 2042 words past the line between a novel and novella.

The story itself didn't yank me back in time, the actual book itself did. It was old. The pages were even yellowing. It was obvious they had purchased this book when it was first released in 1981; at least, that was the year the copyright was registered. I found it odd that Pratchett didn't hold the copyright.

There was the then ubiquitous envelope glued to the inside cover that you just don't see today, because today they're not needed; they're anachronisms. See, those of you younger than thirty can't possibly fathom what it was like, any more than I can fathom the wonder and excitement my grandmother felt when she saw her first airplane at age eight. Grandma was a few months older than powered human flight, being born in 1903.

The envelope was necessary to hold the card, and to tell the truth I don't clearly remember how it worked. But it made me think of the card catalog, and how computers have changed everything. They used to have a card for each book on the shelf in a smallish wooden filing cabinet (this was every library I was ever in, and I was in a lot of them; I'm addicted to reading, particularly nonfiction) and a slip in the envelope contained the names and/or card numbers (you need a library card to check out a book, even today). When you checked a book out, and like I said I might be misremembering this, they would keep the slip and store it with the card from the catalog in a separate case only librarians could access.

Today, of course, there is no card catalog. It's not needed, computers are so much better. Also, as far as I know there were no interlibrary loans. At least, that I knew of then.

Either losses from theft were horrendous, or people are a hell of a lot less honest today because back then, they didn't have those things that scream when you walk out of a store without paying, that they also use in libraries today.

When I returned it today I noticed the ISBN on the back had no bar code. I could have sworn bar codes were older than that, but I guess I was wrong. Just wait, you millennial who is laughing. What was it like when you were two years old. Can't remember?

They were having their annual book sale today, I noticed.

I had reserved another Pratchett title over the internet the day before yesterday, but it wasn't behind the desk yet. So I wander over to the new science fiction, hoping to see Nobots but knowing I wouldn't because I just looked in the "card catalog" on the internet and searched for it by ISBN. But I did see the magic name Pratchett. Along with a co-author named Stephen Baxter. The title was The Long War. Copyright last year. I haven't started reading it yet.

I went up the elevator and had a polite discussion with a young man on the third floor about the two copies of Nobots I had donated a month ago and was assured would be cataloged and put on the shelf, and I walked outside. The books for sale were dirt cheap, two bucks for hardcovers that looked brand new, a buck for full sized paperbacks and fifty cents for smaller paperbacks. One caught my eye, a big, fat paperback book. The illiterate in Wagons, East! who asked the gay bookseller to sell him a "big damned book" would have been pleased with it. It was titled The Writer's Manual and looking at the chapters listed on the back, it looked helpful. So I gave the lady a dollar, went home, and started reading.

The first chapter concerned the tools of writing. These tools included typewriters, carbon paper... WTF? I looked at the copyright date: 1979. This thing must have been in a warehouse for the last three decades. If I had taken a writing class in college, what I had learned would have been completely obsolete by the time I would have needed the knowledge; it's as useful as the vacuum tubes and analog circuits I learned as a teenager. Which is no use at all.

What wasn't obsolete was, as they would say across the pond, bleeding obvious.

How times change... it spoke of publishers' budgets, and how publishers wanted shorter books because printing was expensive and spoke of "one 80,000 word book, or two 40,000 word books?" with the assumption that the publisher would rather publish the two smaller, and trying to publish a big novel wasn't a good idea at all.

Baen won't accept anything shorter than 100,000 words.

Oh, well, it was only a buck. I wonder what I should do with it?

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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Zero 2

Journal by mcgrew

Several chapters ago I decided to see if I could do what James Patterson did (badly IMO) in that one book of his I read, mixing first and third person. A few months ago I figured out how to do it with this book, and wrote a new chapter one that goes before the posted chapter one.

I was on a roll yesterday, adding 3000 words, some scattered through the entire existing book but most at the end, past where we are now.

I wasn't going to post chapter zero, but if I don't, then chapter 22 will make no sense. Chapter 22 is a continuation of "chapter zero", the third person chapter before chapter one. Here it is. I hope to have chapter 22 posted in a few days.

        "Come in, Bob. Did you bring Knolls' report?"
        "Yes sir, here it is."
        "Did you read it?"
        "Yes, sir, I did. It's interesting. Knolls could be a writer if his grammar wasn't so atrocious, it was actually a good read. These reports are usually pretty dry."
        "Well, he's just a ship's captain. It's not like he's been to college or anything. How detailed is the report?"
        "Heh, too detailed in places. I didn't really need to hear about his bowel movements."
        "How much did he leave out?"
        "Nothing important. At least I don't think he left anything important out."
        "It says he saved her life? Is that correct?"
        "Yes, sir. He apparently kept a cool head, kept his wits about him and did everything right. It looks like he saved Kelly's ship and cargo as well."
        "Yes, I read the investigation report. Sabotage to Kelly's ship during the Mars overhaul so they could get his ship and ores. One of the workers was arrested, he'd been paid a huge sum of cash to do it. It wasn't hard to catch him, they just looked at spending patterns to find who was living beyond their means. He confessed, we need to figure out how to prevent that from happening again."
        "yes sir, we're on it already. If Mark Johnson can't solve it, it's insoluble.
        "It had better not be. What were damages to cargo?"
        "One specimen was severely injured but recovered before reaching the port on Mars. A few of the specimens got into physical altercations but there was no real damage to them. Not nearly as bad as we'd anticipated.
        "Other damages?"
        "One of the ship's two fusion reactors was ruined, as well as three of its ion drives. The other fusion generator was damaged but easily repaired. One battery incinerated. Minimal damage considering the dangerous cargo it was carrying and the problems Knolls encountered. May I ask, sir, why you allowed her on board with such a dangerous cargo?"
        "No, Bob, you may not, but I will say she's going to do whatever the hell she wants no matter what I think. I'm just glad it turned out the way it did."
        "Sorry, sir. Anyway, I hope you read that report. It answers a lot of questions the investigators didn't."
        "Don't worry. I will, you can be sure of it. Afternoon open? Want to shoot nine holes?"
        "Of course. But please, sir, read the report first."
        "Don't worry, I've been looking forward to it, especially considering... get the hell out of here, Bob. Let me read this thing. I'll see you on the golf course."

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Journal: Book review: "The Martian"

Journal by mcgrew

"In space. no one can hear you scream like a little girl." -Mark Watney

I'll be succinct before I become verbose: This is the best book I've read in years, including the ones I wrote.

If you like my stuff, you'll love this book. This guy writes like me only a lot better. Seriously. What's more, he looks to be half my age so damn it, you'll read more of his books than I will, I'm ageing.

This is his first book. I want a second.

I went to the library to return a couple of books and see if Nobots was on the shelves yet. Nope. Damn, they're slow. I'd reserved a Pratchett book I hadn't yet read that morning and didn't expect it to be ready (it wasn't) so I looked at the new science fiction section. I read the back cover blurbs but usually don't take any stock in them, but two caught my eye, one by one of the greats and one of my favorite authors, Larry Niven, who was quoted as saying "Gripping. Shapes up like DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe as written by someone brighter."

But the one that caught my interest was Chris Hadfield, and if you don't know who he is, what are you doing here? He says on the back cover "It has the rare combination of a good, original story, interestingly real characters, and..." what especially caught me eye, "and fascinatingly technical accuracy."

I had to read this book, and damn, it was good. Pratchett and Adams good, I laughed all the way through it; Whitney's sense of humor is his biggest weapon against the hostile Mars that's trying to kill him.

Whitney gets stranded on Mars and survives (oops, spoiler alert?) against all odds and with... well, very little.

RTFB. It's a damned good book and is at his website.

This book's history is interesting, too. I wanted to see what other books he'd written because I want more, but there was just the one. But the one, according to wikipedia, had a history. He'd submitted it to publishers and been rejected (much like Rowling and her Harry Potter) and released it on his web site in HTML and as a 99 cent Amazon e-book, which soared to the top of Amazon's charts.

So a major publisher has given him six figures for the rights. Lucky (and talented) guy. Wikipedia says that Ridley Scott will direct the movie, so fuck. The book made me laugh more than once, I can't see a Ridley Scott movie making me laugh. "Blade Runner, the Comedy?" Can't see it.

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Journal: Odds and Ends 4

Journal by mcgrew

Space-X Dragon

I found this article fascinating. This new space craft is way farther advanced than anything now in operation. It will hold seven astronauts, dock with the ISS without the need for the Canadian robot arm, will land on land with the accuracy of a helicopter, and has emergency parachutes that deploy automatically if the landing rockets fail to deploy. And unlike the shuttle, which had to be rebuilt after every flight, this one can be refueled and take off again immediately!

Scheduled for use in three years, Musk unveiled it yesterday in response to Russia's threat that the US would need trampolines to get to space. "Sounds like this might be a good time to unveil the new Dragon Mk 2 spaceship that @SpaceX has been working on w @NASA. No trampoline needed."

Random Scribblings
As mentioned, I hit a brick wall with Mars, Ho! Nonetheless, I did write another chapter. However, it takes place two weeks before they reach Mars (and involves pirates again). I need a few chapters before it, however, unless the end of the story really stretches out.

The reason is, I enjoy the hell out of writing but publishing is a pain in the ass. So I'm going to submit it to Baen when it's finished, and a few more when they reject it; self-publishing this one will be a last resort. Baen needs a minimum of 100,000 words, and I'm only 20% of the way there.

I hope to finish it this year, but if not I may assemble and self-publish a book called Random Scribblings, a collection of articles I've posted on the internet over the years; I think long-time fans will enjoy it. There may be more than one volume of that one.

Android music
I wrote and was going to post a rant about Winamp on Android, but wisely googled first and found that what was missing was indeed there.

Maybe I should rant about Google. They've spent the last week automatically updating Google's apps for the last week, each one taking days, and it messes my phone up, especially at Felbers.

My computer has no problem with the wi-fi (what a stupid name for a transmission/reception technology/protocol) there, but it drives my phone crazy. If bluetooth or wifi is on and in use and you shut the other on or off, the phone crashes and reboots itself, especially when some app is updating itself. Like the Google apps that take days to finish.

I suspect that their wifi somehow is interfering with bluetooth, or the other way around. But the phone still acts up there even when I shut wi-fi off (and the damned phone turnes it back on by itself and then crashes, who programs this garbage, anyway?).

I have a suggestion for Google's Android programmers: don't update any damned apps on my phone unless it's charging, because it charges when I'm not using it.

On the U of C Tragedy
People, including one especially pissed-off parent is blaming the tragedy on idiots in the government, and I kind of agree; crazy people should not have access to firearms. However, it must be remembered that half of the dead were killed by blades, not bullets.

Rather than blame guns and stupid legislators, I blame America's foremost religion.

No, not Christianity. America doesn't worship God, it worships money. The bible rightly says that "the love of money is the root of all evil," and money is what most Americans worship (i.e., love above all else).

Have you seen any of the weirdness he wrote? This disturbed and disturbing young man was brought up to love money, to believe that money solves all problems. His divorced parents had rich friends, and he hated his parents because they weren't rich.

He was also obsessed with the sex he could never get. Of course he couldn't get laid; girls don't get turned on by needy, crazy guys. Being needy alone will turn them off, let alone needy and crazy, even if you had Bill Gate's money. Yet, he thought that money would buy love and happiness.

Some might say that a Christian upbringing might have kept this horrible tragedy from happening, but I'm not so sure. I know an athiest (IRL, fellow Felbers patron who once punched me out of my barstool for accusing him of homosexuality) who was brought up in a very strict evangelical Kentucky family, who had spent ten years in prison for murder. Not exactly a good reference for Christian upbringing.

But it wouldn't have hurt.

If you consider yourself a Christian, you should talk to yourself about money. Don't worship the shit! It's merely a tool, and only a fool worships his tools. "He who lives by the weapon, dies by the weapon." And make no mistake about it, money is a terrible weapon, far more dangerous than firearms.

He who lives for the dollar dies for the dollar. Fools, all.

User Journal

Journal: Mentats of DUNE

Journal by mcgrew

I saw something, again, about a book called Freakonomics on TV and decided to check it out. So I tried to log into the card catalog and... my library card had expired. So I went down there; I wanted to talk to someone about donating books, too.

No such luck at the second task, as I would need to speak with someone on the third floor, and because of construction on the second floor the second floor was only open to construction workers and the third floor was only open to library staff. I got my card updated and looked at the new science fiction, and chose Annihilation, which I discovered after getting it home is the first volume of a trilogy and the other two haven't been released.

I almost passed over Mentats of Dune. I have all of Frank Herbert's Dune novels on my shelf, and for me, when Herbert died, so did Dune. But I was curious; its co-author was Herbert's son, so I checked it out.

After a few chapters I determined that Brian Herbert is an even better writer than his dad, and Anderson is an incredibly talented hack who can perfectly imitate other writer's styles, a rare gift. Or perhaps it's education, I'm uneducated at writing myself so can't tell.

This was a good story well told, and contains a lot of wisdom. It is a prequel to Frank Herbert's series.

Its title is misleading; Although Arrakis is part of the story, there are no mentats there. The mentats are on Lampadas. The jihad is over and the terminators (I kept thinking of those movies while I read the book) have all but one been destroyed, and it is a disembodied electronic brain.

It concerns Harkonans and Atreides and there's even an Idaho. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Until I reached the "end". It had no end; it was part of not a series, but a serial. And I hate serials, which is why I only saw one episode of Babylon Five. As soon as I see a work is a serial, my interest stops right there.

Sorry, Brian. I hate soap operas, always have.

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Journal: Mars, Ho! Chapter Twenty One

Journal by mcgrew

                I went into the pilot room still haunted by the horrible, awful, terrible sight of a faceless woman, and strapped in. As normal, I warned the cargo and crew that we were going to zero gravity for a couple of minutes in a while. The computers can give you a better idea of the maneuvers so I won't go into detail about that.
                However, there was one thing that wasn't right: One of the computers disagreed with the other three about a reading. I dropped to point one gravity and trudged (bounded might be a better word at .1 G) to the remaining generator, which is what the computers disagreed about.
                In all my years of driving these boats I've never seen the computers disagree about anything, so I was pretty worried. Especially since we only had one generator left; we could make it to Mars on batteries, but if we had to we'd be like Wild Bill and in danger from the pirates when we got close to Mars. That's where the pirates usually are, because that's when shipping is most vulnerable to them.
                The disagreeing computer was right, there was a tenth of a volt overvoltage going to engine seventeen, but a tenth of a volt wouldn't hurt anything. I shut number seventeen down anyway, and then went back to the pilot room, strapped in, got ready to maneuver and dropped the thrust to zero G.
                The maser beeped. "John, Bill here. I got some bad news for you, buddy. I picked up some radio traffic from pirates, and one of the boats you destroyed had survivors. They're really, really pissed off at you, John. Be careful when you get close to Mars. Have all your weapons armed, not just as many as the book says but all of 'em. And if I was you I'd even have atomics ready. You should have heard them talking about you... there's a price on your head, John. Sorry to bring bad news, hope I see you on Mars, I'll buy you a beer. Kelly out."
                Shit. God damned pirates, I wish the company would build a few warships to rid the solar system of those God damned mother fucking sons of bitches. God damned bastards!
                I got the boat turned around and went back to my apartment... sorry, "quarters".
                Destiny looked up from her tablet as I came in. "What's wrong, Johnnie?"
                "Bill called," I said. "One of those damned pirate boats had survivors and now the pirates want my head. We're sure to be attacked when we get close to Mars."
                Her eyes got wide. "Oh, my,"she said, "Are we going to be okay?"
                "Don't worry," I reassured her, worried myself. "I called the company. They'll sent a huge armed convoy to escort us on the last leg. Meanwhile we can still outmaneuver them with one generator. And we have arms ourselves. In fact, I'm getting a cup of coffee and then checking out our weapons.
                "That generator itself is a weapon, even. I can make it spew gamma rays behind the boat, they'll be too sick to fight in minutes and dead in days. Honey, we're armed to the teeth. We have rail guns, lasers, EMP mines and rockets, other atomics..."
                I got a cup of coffee. "Ugh," I said after taking a drink.
                "Sorry," she said, "the robot made it."
                "Nasty damned robots," I replied. "Ill make a fresh pot."
                "What do you mean by 'other atomics'?"
                "We have hydrogen bombs. Lots of 'em. You don't think the company would leave their property defenseless, do you?" Damn, I didn't want to wait for a cup. Oh well.
                As the coffeepot gurgled I said "Don't say anything about pirates to anybody, especially the whores. They're the last ones I want to upset. I'm a lot more worried about them than pirates."
                She laughed. "you finished Tammy's book."
                "Yeah," I said, "I did. Scariest book I ever read."
                "You've read a lot of scary books?" she asked, grinning.
                "No," I admitted, "I don't really like reading."
                "That's too bad," she said. "Look how much help Tammy's book is to you."
                "That book gives me nightmares!" I exclaimed, finally pouring my coffee.
                "It might save your life," she said sternly.
                "Yeah, I agreed. "I wish I'd read it before that first rock rain. I'd have known the effect of lowered gravity on dropheads."
                "You've been calling them that lately."
                "Got it from the dropheads themselves. Seems that a 'drophead' is an angel tear addict and a 'dropper' is someone who uses them but isn't addicted. One of them said 'I ain't no drophead, bitch.' But they're all dropheads, some get addicted the first time they try it, according to Tammy's book."
                "I know," she said, "I read it."
                "Why didn't you tell me?"
                "I thought you read the book."
                "I should have. I should read more."
                "Yeah, you should."
                I finished my coffee. "I gotta get back to work."
                She asked "want to watch a movie when we get back?"
                "Sure," I said, "make it a funny one. One without any damned droppers."
                "Old one then," she said. "Today's comedies all have droppers."
                "Nothing funny about dropheads," I growled. Damned whores...

It may be a while before I post another chapter, as I'm at a loss as to what sort of trouble Knolls finds himself in next, except a vague idea about droppers not liking having lowered gravity as they approach Mars. So I'm going to work on the ending for a while, but won't post it until whatever chapters will come next.

I'm 18.3% towards the goal of 100,000 words. If I get there I'll see if Baen will publish it, self-publishing is a pain in the ass, a lot of work. OTOH you have almost complete control over the finished book, so if Baen rejects it I'll publish it myself.

I've gone through and edited a few times, but not what is posted here. So far I was pointed to a typo that I might never have seen, and another informed me of the best way to present the German sentence, and I thank them both. Editing seems to make the chapters longer, which is fine because I want to hack out a lot of verbiage that hopefully isn't garbiage.

Chemist who falls in acid is absorbed in work.