John and Destiny left the houseboat parked on a space port pad they had rented at the spaceport at the Meridian Bay dome and got in a cab. Destiny said "I don't want to shop on an empty stomach. Taxi, take us to a restaurant that serves eggs and pork sausage this time of day."
"Wow," John said. "That's going to be an expensive place."
"Well, I'm buying. You said you never tried pork sausage, now's your chance, it's my treat. Besides, I've been thinking about pork sausage for half the trip and I don't want to wait any longer!"
Dewey was on his way to Mars when he finished reading Knolls' report. He sipped on the coffee the captain had brought and switched on the news. They were digging the deep hole in Mars again.
Plans were being made to tow the tragic Venus station to drop into the sun. It had been argued that if they dropped it on Venus it would incinerate from the friction with Venus' thick carbon dioxide atmosphere, but some lesser educated people were afraid that the disease might somehow survive Venus' hellish surface.
Charles was back on TV talking about pirates. He was glad it was Charles and not him, Dewey hated TV cameras.
He emailed Kowalski, telling him that when Kelly got back to Earth to have a couple of his best electrical engineers, one who was good with batteries and one that was good with engines, to talk to him and find out how he got a third gravity out of batteries. Nobody else had managed to do that before, and some engineers claimed it was physically impossible.
John and Destiny were really busy on Mars the next few days, mostly shopping. First shopping for a wedding ring, then for real estate; they would buy a house and a bar. The houseboat was big as houseboats go, but was a bit small for someone as wealthy as Destiny who had lived all her life in very large homes, especially since the houseboat was half full of beer. After signing papers for the house they went for breakfast at a nice restaurant, where Destiny bought John another omelette and pork sausage. John wasn't any more impressed with this sausage than at the other restaurant.
Then they visited Tammy in her hotel room. Her face was still a little bruised but she wasn't wearing the sling.
"Hi, come on in, guys. Want some coffee?"
"Sure," Destiny said. "So how are you coming with your research?"
"Well, we haven't had time to do much except move them into the facility and acquaint them with it, but Rilla had really come a long way and Lek was almost cured already, at least from the physical withdrawal symptoms, by the time we got to Mars. She's to the point that withdrawal is still torture to her, but no longer deadly. She's still in mental and physical pain but she's not dropping any more. The physical pain should be gone in a few weeks. Of course, full therapy will probably take years."
John said "Yes, Lek sure did change during the trip. This is great coffee, Tammy!"
She laughed. "It's robot coffee!"
"No way," John said.
"Yep, and it's one of your company's robots that made it, too!"
"No way in hell!" John exclaimed.
"It's true," she said. "Your company updated all their coffeebots' operating systems and other programs. And it perks a whole pot of coffee in five minutes, and a cup in less than a minute. You have one of their robots, now it can make good coffee. I only found out because they're advertising it all over everywhere. I'm surprised you didn't notice."
John said "I saw the ads, I just didn't believe them."
Destiny laughed. "Dad must have tried a cup of his own robots' nasty coffee, I think he fired his head engineer. He should get here in another week."
John said "Bill lands in two days. I'm still reeling from the trip here. God, but that was a damned nightmare!"
They continued chatting a while before going home. They would be moving into their new home about the time Bill showed up two days later and would have more shopping to do; they would need furniture and appliances.
John and Destiny met him at the spaceport, and they stopped at a bar for the beer he'd promised John. He bought John and Destiny several, in fact. John tried to buy a round and Bill wouldn't let him.
"Excuse me, Bartender, but I want to buy a round," he said. The bartender told John what they cost.
"Wow," he said. "That's pretty high! Is it like that everywhere here?"
The bartender told him the reason was the cost of shipping it to Mars from Earth. He was going to clean up in the tavern business, it seemed, since Destiny would get a huge discount on shipping. He decided that while he was learning business he'd learn how to make beer and open a microbrewery in his tavern, too. He'd have really cheap beer, at least compared to other taverns, that he could sell for a huge profit and still be way cheaper than anyone else's if he could learn to make good beer.
Bill said "Bartender, don't take his money, this is all on me. I have to write a damned report tomorrow, I don't know why" he said, turning to John.
"I had to write one and they really wanted detail," John said. "Maybe they changed policies and everybody has to write reports now."
A few days after that they met Dewey at the spaceport. After Dewey and his daughter hugged she said "Where's Mom?"
Dewey said "Come on, Destiny, you know how your mom is. She's scared to death to even get on an airplane, let alone a space ship. I'm going to wear a camera at the wedding, though, so she'll be there in a way."
He stuck out his hand. "Good seeing you again, John. That was some great work you did on that trip. We're going to be rewriting the book. I wish I could talk you out of retiring."
"Well, thank you, Mister Green..."
"Call me Dewey, John. You're family now."
The alarm woke me up. Still asleep I thought "damned whores" out of habit, thinking we were having an emergency before I remembered that we were due to enter orbit and I'd set the alarm myself the night before. We had been on approach since late yesterday afternoon and would be in orbit and docking with the maintenance facility at nine this morning. The landing boats would already be docked there and we would be on Mars' surface by late this afternoon.
The alarm woke Destiny up, too, and she got up as I was making coffee. Destiny told the computer to make steak and scrambled eggs with toast, and we took a shower together.
Wow! We were finally entering orbit around Mars and would be docking at nine and we hadn't died! Not yet, at least. The way this trip had gone we'd probably crash land on Mars, or get assassinated at the spaceport. I did have a price on my head, after all. Of course, they most likely didn't know my name or what I looked like, but the boat's new captain would probably be in danger.
We put on the news and started eating breakfast and the doorbell rang. It was Tammy.
"Hi, Tammy," Destiny said. "Want some breakfast?"
"No, thanks," she said, "I already ate, but I'll take a cup of coffee if it isn't made by a robot. So, who's going to be your bridesmaid?"
"Well, who do you think, silly," Destiny said. "You, of course. Who's going to be your best man, John?"
"Bill, of course, but he won't be here for a week or more, he's on batteries."
They started talking about clothes and I just kind of zoned out and nodded once in a while.
At five 'til eight I went in the pilot room to finish getting us in orbit, and by eight thirty we were weightless and would be docking in a few minutes. I floated to my quarters.
At quarter to nine the three of us started floating towards the docking bay that still worked without tearing up somebody else's docking bay and didn't have my boat attached, so we could meet the landing crafts' captains who would escort passenger and cargo to Mars. Then we'd take off in the houseboat and Tammy would go down with the droppers.
I got on the PA. "Attention, ladies. Please assemble in docking bay one for landing."
The boat docked a few minutes later as the droppers started showing up, and I greeted two of the three landing pilots, Tom Farley and Jim Woolsley. I'd known both of them for a few years, so we talked about old times as Destiny and Tammy said their goodbyes and cargo streamed in.
They and Tammy started escorting the droppers to the landing boats while me and Destiny went to my houseboat to land on Mars. Lek walked by and said "Thank you, Captain."
We undocked from the ship and flew down to Meridian spaceport together. Now if you guys will excuse me I need to buy a wedding ring.
We'd be in orbit around Mars and landing on the surface tomorrow. Only one more day of this horror movie! We might all live after all!
Destiny was still asleep. I got out of bed and went to the head, went in the kitchen to start coffee (stupid robots) and put a robe on.
Yeah, in that order. Fuck you.
Anyway, I told the robots to make me some breakfast. Destiny got up and went in the kitchen while I got dressed. The robot was almost done frying my eggs and sausage and had started cooking hers.
"Good morning!" she said. "Been up long?"
"'Mornin', sweetheart. Maybe ten minutes. Computer," I said, "What time is it?"
It read "Oh seven thirty three."
We ate our breakfast and drank coffee and watched the news in the living room as the robots cleared the table. They were still trying to figure out what do do about Venus. It also had something about the battle the fleet fought, but Destiny said that they didn't mention me or her charity that the company was hauling for but they mentioned Bill's boat and its sabotage. I didn't get to see the whole thing. They had an interview with Mister Osbourne, but I had to go to the pilot room and I missed that part.
We didn't need a course correction, but there were red lights on engines sixteen and eighteen, right next to seventeen. I shut those two down and the two next to them as well and went to inspect them, stopping at home to fill my coffee. There was some politician talking about shipping and pirates on the news while I was there.
"Trouble?" Destiny asked, seeing my frown.
"Only a little, we have two more broken engines right next to seventeen. I'm going down to inspect them now."
I was astonished when I walked past the commons and saw Tammy talking to the German woman, and the German lady was actually wearing clothes!
I trudged down the five damned flights of stairs and inspected engines fifteen through nineteen first. Sixteen and eighteen had shorted out like seventeen, so I left fifteen and nineteen shut down as well in case it was something spreading from one engine to another like they did on that Titan run, and I ordered the computer to leave all five alone. The book doesn't say to do that and I don't know how those engines work, but I saw a pattern here and I wasn't going to take any chances, anyway. I plugged repairbots in diagnostic mode into the four I'd shut off, hoping they wouldn't melt like the two that had tried to fix the dead number seventeen, but maybe they could record something engineering could use.
I logged it all, but the rest of the motors and the working generator were exactly like the tablet said they were supposed to be. Busy morning!
I trudged up all those damned stairs and took off my nasty boots and went straight to the shower. UGH! Damn but it was nasty down there.
I put on clean clothes and inspected cargo next, thankfully for the last time; no more inspections. Tomorrow morning we would dock at the repair facility and Destiny and me would leave on the houseboat, and the company's boat and the stench downstairs would be somebody else's problem. I couldn't wait to get off of that damned boat!
The only ones who were in their rooms were all asleep, and the rest were in the commons, maybe thirty or so. It was noon, I was hungry, and decided to finish inspections after lunch.
"Done already?" Destiny asked.
"No, I was downstairs longer than normal. I still have to inspect the passenger section and the commons and the sick bay. Want to go for a walk with me after lunch? I'm starved."
"Sure," she said. "Robot, two rare ribeye steaks, mashed potatoes and gravy, and coleslaw."
We ate, and she came along as I finished my inspection. I did the commons last, and by then the only two people in there were Lek and the German woman. Lek was drinking coffee and the blonde was eating some kind of sandwich, and both of them were wearing clothes. I guess the blonde didn't want to be an animal, either. It was nice seeing people in the commons and nobody was naked for a change. Destiny said "hello, ladies, I like your dresses." Lek said "Cup coon mock; oops, that Thai for âthank you very muchâ(TM)."
The heavy German woman said "thank you" in her heavy German accent as well.
We were due to enter orbit around Mars the next morning, so Destiny came in the pilot room with me as I watched over the computers for our final approach. "You're going to be happy and the droppers are going to hate it," I said. "We'll be weightless when we enter orbit and dock tomorrow."
We had walked slowly and by then it was almost suppertime, so when I finished getting us ready to go into orbit we went home and had the robot make pizza and bring us each a beer. I'm getting used to Newcastle, I might keep drinking it on Mars. Well, I was going to have to drink Newcastle for a while anyway, because I still had an awful lot of it crammed in my houseboat. I don't get many chances to drink much of it on a journey. My boat's half full of beer!
After supper we moved our luggage to the houseboat, and Destiny put on the third Lord of the Rings movie and we ate the pizza while we watched the beginning of the movie, then we cuddled while we watched the rest of it.
Those are some a long movies! We listened to some Vaughn and then went to bed. I told the computer to wake me up at six.
I've been spending six to ten hours a day, seven days a week, working on Mars, Ho!. But not Wednesday; Wednesday I visited a surgeon. It was the least fun I've had since my last eye surgery in 2007.
I've had a serious case of advanced periodontitis for several years. Surgery for the condition was scheduled for this past Wednesday. The anesthetic was painful as hell; the guy was a lot better at cutting than at sticking. There was a sharp stab of pain when one of the teeth came out, too. Scraping the bone and suturing didn't hurt... yet. He inserted my new dentures, the nurse inserted gauze, and I couldn't get my lips together because of the swelling and the gauze. My clothing was bloody by the time I came home. I was deeply uncomfortable.
When the anesthetic wore off I was in severe, extreme pain. I'd been prescribed a bottle of hydrocodone pills for the pain, but I refrained from taking them because I've never liked the opioids. I took naproxin (generic Alieve, same drig at 1/3 the price) instead, despite the fact that I knew it would make the bleeding worse.
By eight thirty I broke down and took a hydrocodone. I can see why people with chronic pain get addicted to those things, because the pain went away completely a half hour after taking it. Like any addictive drug, long term use causes tolerance for the drug and the user needs more and more for the same effect. It didn't seem to dull my mind like the opiates I took after that car wreck in 1976, although like codiene it made me itch all over. Far better than the excruciating pain I'd been in.
By midnight I felt like I might be able to sleep. I rinsed my mouth out with the prescription antibiotic mouthwast they had prescribed, took another hydrocodone and another naproxin and went to bed.
I didn't sleep well; the teeth kept waking me up. I was up and drinking coffee by six AM. I took another naproxin and hydrocodone as soon as I woke up, and used the nasty mouthwash that I have to use three times a day. At eleven I visited the dentist, who adjusted the appliance and made it much less painful. I didn't need any more pills, although the dentures are gooing to need more adjustment.
I went through sixteen chapters after the dentist, made nine changes, and left the book five words shorter than it had been Tuesday. It's getting closer and closer to being finished.
I didn't have to wear my teeth last night. I slept like a log. My mouth was fine when I woke up, but it was hard getting the teeth in. They look good, but so far I can't eat with them; all I had yesterday was soup. I couldn't even eat cottage cheese. All I'd eaten the day before was breakfast, but I had no appetite whatever after the surgery.
I did manage to eat an egg this morning, but barely. This will take some time.
I'll post another Mars, Ho! chapter tomorrow; there are only three left.
I've changed the format of the paperback version of the book. It's now "pocket book" size, still seven bucks.
Yesterday's Ilinois Times had an article that will be of interest to those who have an interest in paleobiology, and face it -- we're nerds, if it's science or technology we're interested.
The article is titled 300 million years ago, and I found it fascinating.
A warm, moist breeze blows through the swampy forest at what is now Danville, Illinois. An eight-foot-long millipede scurries by. Nearby, a dragonfly with a foot-wide wingspan zips through the 100-foot-tall fern trees. Itâ(TM)s 300 million years before the present day â" before the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart, and long before any dinosaurs walked the earth.
That swampy forest has survived for millions of years as a field of fossils buried 250 feet below the surface near Danville. Discovered in 2007 in the Riola and Vermillion Grove coal mines, the forest has given scientists important clues about Illinoisâ(TM) ancient past.
The article is four pages long in its printed version (free almost anywhere around here).
And no, I'm not affiliated with that newspaper.
I got up about seven thirty or so, and Destiny was still asleep. I started coffee and told the robot to make breakfast, and then I shit, shaved, showered, and got dressed. Destiny was still asleep and I had to be in the pilot room in fifteen minutes so I started eating by myself. At five 'til I filled my coffee and took the rest of my breakfast to the pilot room. Huh? Eggs and bacon. What? Of course it was turkey bacon. Now knock it off before I walk out of here.
At a minute to eight I put it down, of course, and when readings were done I finished eating, and went back to my quarters to fill my coffee. If I told the stupid robots to get me a cup they'd pour the pot of good coffee down the drain and give me a cup of that nasty robot coffee. Stupid robots. Stupid robot programmers. What the hell is wrong with them? Ain't they never been on a boat? Don't they drink coffee?
I had a full inspection today. I'd talked to Ramos, the fleet commander, about parts for the busted generator but he told me it would have to be fixed on Mars because nobody had the parts out here and it was going to have to be rebuilt in any case. At least the robots got the other one fixed with a part from another one of his boats. He said he could spare a few maids, which was a relief, it really stank downstairs. Maybe they'd have it cleaned up before we got to Mars.
Tammy came walking down the hallway, with her face still badly bruised and with her arm in a sling, looking like she was in pain. "The medic released you?" I asked.
"Yeah. It gave me a bottle of some kind of synthetic opiate but I'm not taking them, I need a clear mind. I'm taking Ibotrin."
"That better than naproxin?" I asked.
"Not much," she said. "Maybe a little. Look, I need to control the medics, I need readings on all the droppers and the computer says I don't have clearance for what I need to do. Can you fix that for me?"
"Yeah," I said, pulling out my phone. "Computer, give Doctor Winters complete access and command control to all medical robots for the, uh, duration of the trip."
"Acknowledged," It said.
"Thanks," she said.
"No," I said, "No need to thank me, you're trying to keep me and everybody else alive and you're researching how to cure monsters. Look, Tammy, I have to finish my inspec..." an alarm went off, it was Ramos. "Captain Knolls, it's Commander Ramos. There is pirate activity, what are your orders, sir?"
Sir? What the hell, I work for a living!
"Have you done this kind of thing before, Commander?"
"Yes, sir, we're very experienced. I studied at Annapolis and was a commander in the Marine Space Corps, and my men are all ex-military as well. And we've been seriously kicking some pirate ass lately, too, sir." There's that damned "sir" again.
"Good," I said, "your orders are to protect our people and property. Wait to transfer the robots until things quiet down."
"Yes sir, Captain."
"Don't call me sir, God damn it, I work for a living!"
"Yes si..., uh, yes, Captain Knolls.
"Call me John. What's your name?"
"Joe." I wondered what the whores would call him?
"Just do your job and we'll be okay, Joe. Okay?"
"Yes, Captain." Shit. Oh, well, these ate-up military guys never change. I know, I spent a hitch in the Army and all the lifers were ate up like that. I hear the Marines are the most ate up of all the military branches. Assholes...
I let Ramos worry about the pirates, that was his job now. I had a bunch of drug addicts that were all worse than vampires and werewolves to deal with. Lots more dangerous than stupid damned pirates, especially with a fleet and an experienced commander protecting us from the pirates and nobody but ourselves to protect us from the monsters. And I still had inspection. And I didn't know if Tammy had gotten them under control yet. Or even if she could all busted up like that.
Nope, not gonna inspect cargo today again, still way too damned dangerous, I don't care what the damned book says. I called Tammy and asked her to call me when the cargo pens were relatively safe.
Nothing caught fire when I inspected the empty passengers quarters that the company is stupid enough to power and have maids clean.
The starboard generator was fine, engine seventeen... wasn't that the one that shorted out earlier? Yeah, it was. Anyway a robot was working on it, damn it. I unplugged it, sealed the plug hole with epoxy and told the computer to keep the damned robots away from it. I was done with everything before noon, except the damned cargo inspection. I wanted to hear from the doctor first.
Destiny was sitting on the couch watching the news with a cup of coffee when I got back. "Youâ(TM)re a little early today," she remarked.
"I didnâ(TM)t inspect cargo," I said. "I want to make sure Tammy gets the monsters under control first. Iâ(TM)d inspect the Frankenstein monsterâ(TM)s house before Iâ(TM)d inspect a dropless drophead's house. Damned addicts. Is there any good coffee left?"
"I just made another pot. Are you hungry?"
"I could eat. What are you having?"
"I donâ(TM)t know, maybe a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of potato soup."
I told the robot to make lunch and poured a cup of coffee and a glass of water.
The news was talking about the Martian terraforming project. They had the hole halfway drilled and something went wrong and the machinery caught fire. It must have been built by the same morons that designed our old robots. Three people were in the hospital, one in critical condition.
The hole they were drilling was for a big magnet. The lady on the news said that without a magnetic field, a planet canâ(TM)t hold much of an atmosphere and there's no shield against solar and cosmic radiation. The whole terraforming project was expected to take a few hundred more years to complete, but when it was done Mars would have Earth gravity or close, a similar atmosphere, lakes, rivers, and oceans, and they wouldnâ(TM)t need the domes any more.
Everyone on the Venus station was dead. They were debating what to do with it.
Commander Ramos called with news that the pirate boats had all been eradicated, fifteen had been captured and the crews put in detention. Damn, but he's good. Four of them were our companyâ(TM)s boats, and eleven were from two other companies who would be paying us recovery fees. Hell, they did have some of our boats! I hadn't thought they could do that. Of course, they would have had mine were it not for Tammy's monster blockade and then the fleet showing up.
Then Tammy called and said it was safe to inspect cargo pens, so I did. The German woman was in the commons eating and the rest were all sleeping, except Lek, who was apparently reading although I wouldn't be able to read it. It was obviously in Thai and they must have a completely different alphabet than us, because it was just squiggles to me.
I complimented her on her dress. She smiled weakly despite her bloodshot eyes; Tammy's book said she was in pretty much pain right now and no other drug would ease it. She would have to put a drop in soon, even though she didn't want to.
We would be docking at the repair facility the day after tomorrow, and the landing boats would already be docked at the facility. Destiny and me will fly down in my houseboat.
It was finally safe to drink a beer or two. I went back to my quarters and opened one, and Destiny had the robot bring her one, too, and asked me what I wanted for dinner.
"I don't know, pork chops, caviar, and Champagne maybe?"
She laughed. "Yeah, on gold plates and silver cutlery! Fried chicken and mashed potatoes and broccoli sounds good to me, what are you having?"
"Chicken sounds good."
The robot fried the chicken and cooked the vegetables and wheeled over with the food. Robots make pretty damned good fried chicken, lots better than I can.
Then we watched some really weird movie from the end of the twenty first century, and went to bed. No, I don't know the name of the stupid movie.
I woke up about quarter after seven, and Destiny was already up and had coffee started. "Hungry?" She asked.
"Yeah, I am. Did we even eat dinner last night? Did you tell the robots to start breakfast?"
"No, I wanted to try something new for breakfast and wanted to see what you wanted to eat first. You know I'm a history buff, well, I found a really old recipe in the computer called a âbreakfast horse shoeâ(TM). They used to have them in the twentieth and twenty first centuries in a city in the American midwest."
"A horse shoe? That doesn't sound too appetizing, What's in it?" I asked.
"Well, the recipe I found calls for ham or pork sausage, but turkey or beef or chicken or almost any kind of meat will do. It's a piece of toast covered with cheese, with meat on the cheese, more cheese on the meat, scrambled eggs on the cheesy meat, cheese on that, hash browns on that and more cheese on top of the hash browns."
"Sounds cheesy," I said. "Sure, I'll try one."
We took a long, fun shower together while the robots made horse shoes, and I only had enough time to finish half of it, but I had to go to work.
That horse shoe was pretty good. The recipe was so old I was surprised it was in the database, but Destiny probably brought her own history database along. She really likes history, and she's getting me interested in it.
No shower yet today, I was going to need one when I was done with inspections anyway.
All of the readouts were okay in the pilot room, except for that I probably wouldn't be able to inspect those hundred and twenty two engines that I still hadn't been able to get to because of all the nastiness blocking the halls, and number seventeen was of course still not working and it was one of the ones I couldn't get to. That didn't really matter, though, because I'd be damned if I was going to light it again, even if the robots could fix it without melting.
Maybe the maids had paths cleared out by now so I could inspect the rest, they'd made lots of progress when I was down there yesterday.
No way was I going to inspect cargo today no matter what that damned book says, that would have been crazy fucking stupid dangerous. Some of the dropheads might be low on drops and there's no way I'm inspecting a monster's pen. Fuck that God damned book, I wasn't going to do it.
I went to inspect the sick bay first. Tammy was still in a coma, and I was worried. What were the droppers going to do when they woke up?
The maids had indeed jettisoned a lot more of the gross, nasty mess and I was able to get through the halls and inspect almost all the engines this morning, although there was still a hell of a lot of stinking gore and I still couldn't get to the generator or two engines.
There was a different robot working on seventeen, with a smashed up robot next to it, probably damaged in the excitement. Damn it, I wanted that damned engine dead. I unplugged it, took a lead off of the battery that powered the robot and plugged it back in, hoping another damned robot wouldn't reconnect the battery. Anyway, I trudged back up those damned stairs. As I was climbing stairs I foned the computer and told it to "alert me when Doctor Winters regains consciousness." The stupid computers, they only understand military nerd talk. I took my filthy boots off at the landing at the top of the stairs, it was still really gross down there. I took my shower when I got home.
Destiny and me had roast beef sandwiches and fried potatoes and salad for lunch. I was starved, I'd only had time for half my breakfast and that was probably my first full real meal since yesterday morning. I don't think we ate that pizza we ordered for lunch the day before.
While we were eating, the alarm went off; Tammy was awake. Thank God! Both of us took off at a run toward the sick bay. I told the robots not to clear the table, if I didn't the stupid things would throw the rest of my lunch away.
She was sitting up on the medic with the oxygen mask still on her face and the needle still in her arm. She was taking the mask off, looking a little groggy. "The droppers!" she said, her speech a little slurred.
"I know," Destiny said. "Tell me where the drops are and lay back down, you had a serious concussion. You've been out for two days and we're worried about the droppers."
"You two can't handle them," she said.
"We have to," I replied. "you can't."
"You could overdose them!"
"Better than underdosing," I said.
"Not much. Look, John, there is a trunk in my quarters with a false bottom, the drops are in there. They're in small bottles and there are plenty. Just put one bottle in each addict's quarters when you do inspection and I'll adjust dosage later when the gurney lets me go."
"Okay," I said. "What do I do if one is starting to go through withdrawal?"
"Drop the bottle and run like hell!"
That seemed logical to me. Hell, opening the door and just tossing a bottle in seemed even more logical, these girls were freaky scary without drops. Scarier than Destiny's old gray horror movies, even.
"We'll be back when we're done," Destiny said.
There was a melee in the commons. I locked the door and gave them nitrogen instead of air while Destiny tossed bottles into all the rooms. Then I went in after they passed out and put a drop in each one's eye. Their eyes were all pretty bloodshot but nowhere near monster red yet.
I hope Tammy's better soon, she's pretty busted up, damn them whores. We're lost without Tammy. The medic's readout said she'd had a very severe concussion, dislocated shoulder and a few broken ribs. At least she was awake now and the medic read "condition fair".
I should have let the robots clear the table, lunch was way past by now so when we were done we ate dinner... huh? Steak, potato, and salad. I hadn't hardly touched my salad at lunch. Huh? How the hell am I supposed to know what kind of damned potato, potatoes are potatoes as far as I'm concerned. The robots cooked them, anyway.
We had a bottle of wine to go along with it, but this time we only drank one bottle, then watched another Rawhide together, then a really, really dumb movie about California beaches from the nineteen sixties that we turned off after fifteen minutes and finished the Star Wars movie. I was surprised, this one wasn't as funny but it was still pretty good.
It was still early and the bottle was only half gone, so Destiny put on that old prison movie. Halfway through it she said yeah, that was from the book she was reading and "this one follows the book pretty close except it was Popeye fucking Olive Oyl in the book" and that they'd left a chapter or two out in the movie. She added "Except for the flies coming out of the big black prisoner's mouth, and the scene where the guy gets burned up, and the magic shit I thought it was good, even if it wasn't a hologram."
Then we put old music on and cuddled a long while and went to bed.
We both woke up around seven, still cuddled up on the couch. We'd been asleep for fifteen hours on that thing. We cuddled a little while more, then Destiny started coffee while I took care of the ship's air and corrected the course, since I was sleeping when the generator came back online.
We took another shower together after drinking a little coffee and she told the cook to make pancakes and sausage, and we watched the news while breakfast was cooking. That robot makes pretty good pancakes. The sausage is pretty good, too, but my mom could do better.
There was nothing new on the news except Venus and pirates, and pirates sure weren't new to me. More people on the Venus station were dead and the rest weren't expected to live. That must be one nasty disease!
There was some sort of scandal where some politician was caught having financial connections to the pirates, was impeached, charged with violation of banking laws and bribery, fined, and put on probation.
I'd have shot the God damned son of a bitch, or at least put him in prison. Fucking bastard was a God damned traitor. The pirates they'd caught on Earth earlier had all been sentenced to prison, which is what led up to the politician's arrest; his pirate friends had ratted him out in hope of lighter sentences.
At eight I checked the readings, which of course was fine because I'd just been in there an hour earlier. Then I did inspections. The monsters were all sleeping, even the German woman, and everything was fine upstairs.
I had to check the engines and generators but could only check half the engines and only the starboard generator because all the hallways halfway from port to starboard were completely clogged with body parts; I couldn't check the port side engines or the busted generator.
It would take the maids weeks to clean up all the blood. They'd still be working on it when we got to Mars. God, but it was a nasty mess down there, and it was starting to stink really bad. You couldn't smell it upstairs, thank God, but going downstairs made me want to throw up. And it looked as disgusting as it smelled.
I took off my bloody boots at the top of the stairs and put on the shoes I'd worn there. I was going to need another shower.
There was a commotion in the commons on the way back to our quarters; Sparkle was in there and obviously low on drops. Dangerously low. Tammy came walking quickly up.
"So youâ(TM)re going to visit Sparkle?" I asked her.
"Are you fucking crazy, John? Of course I am! I must not have been clear in my book. If one of these women runs completely out of drops, weâ(TM)re all dead. Really. Trust me on this, this is my main field of study."
"They knocked you on your ass and stole your drops the last time."
"It was... well, a gamble. It paid off, I got knocked out but how many pirates died?"
My phone rang; it was Sandy, a chubby red haired girl, wanting to know why the maid didnâ(TM)t show up. Of course, they were all in the engine and generator rooms, cleaning up blood and guts and the nasty stuff that's inside guts. It really stunk bad, worse than when Billie blew herself up. Most sickening mess I've ever seen, or smelled.
I told her they were only coming half as often because of the sickening mess downstairs, and hung it up... where did that phrase "hang up" come from? And answered Tammy.
"From what I can tell, thousands."
"Where are all the bodies?"
"The robots jettisoned them. Lots of them, anyway, there are an awful lot still downstairs. Now theyâ(TM)re all little bitty comets, except the ones that haven't been cleaned up yet. But there's still one hell of a mess down there in the engine and generator rooms and it isn't even all the way cleaned up upstairs, here."
My fone rang again; a heavy German accent asking about the maids.
I hung up the fone after telling her and wondered again why we said "hung up", and why the damned thing was called a fone. But then, why is an apple called an apple? Why are robots called robots? I'm called John because that's the name my parents gave me. I should go to college. Maybe I should read, like Wild Bill and Destiny does.
I got on the PA and informed them that maids would only be there every other day for the duration of the trip because they would all be busy in the engine and generator rooms. I went the rest of the way back home and took a shower.
While a pizza was cooking we watched another Star Wars movie because the first one was so funny, but we only got to see twenty minutes or so before an alarm went off: Injury to passenger.
"Pause it and come on," I said, hurrying to the door. "Tammy's hurt." I talked to the fone. "Where is Tamatha Winters?"
It said "Cargo eighty seven."
"Is she alone?"
"Affirmative." Damned computers.
"Is a medic on the way?"
"Medic en route." Why did this thing type "en route"? Why not in route? I ain't French.
"Unable to process order or question, please rephrase." God damned piece of shit computer! Who programs these damned things, anyway?
"Where, is, Sparkle?" I repeated.
"The term âsparkleâ(TM) does not exist in the database except as a dictionary entry."
Shit. "Destiny, whatâ(TM)s Sparkleâ(TM)s real name?"
"I donâ(TM)t know."
Shit. "What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I don't know," I said, and then I had an idea. I'd done this before. "Computer, when I say so I want you to replace all air except here and the sick bay with nitrogen and inform me when everyone in, uh," damned computers, "the affected areas are asl... uh, unconscious."
"Affirmative," it said. Stupid computer. I could find Sparkle's picture in the computer but it would take too long to go through two hundred pictures.
"Is doctor Winters in sick bay?"
Damned computers. "Condition?" I asked.
"Critical," it said, and Destiny got pale. I probably got pale, too. There was no way Destiny and me could handle those dropheads without Tammy.
I decided to look for Sparkle before knocking all of the droppers out; I don't want to damage cargo, let alone hurt people.
It only took a few minutes to find her; she was in the commons noisily attacking the two Thai girls who had the same names. I thought it looked like she wanted to eat them, as in take them apart and swallow their flesh like a cannibal or a lion or a wolf or something, and her eyes weren't even all the way red yet. Her eyes were still really scary, though. The gruesome picture of the generators and all along the halls by the engines haunted me; it looked like some of the remaining flesh had been partially eaten. There were even bones with teeth marks on them. Nasty. But the two Thai girls were holding their own; I didn't know it but both were excellent at martial arts; Lek told me later they practiced Thai kickboxing. I have no idea how they got hooked on drops. They were easy to tell apart, now that one of them had started wearing clothes.
I had the computer shut the door and flood it with nitrogen and hoped Sparkle passed out before the Thai girls did. When they did I had two medics bring the Thai girls out and I cuffed Sparkle, wrists and ankles. Then I went to Tammy's quarters in search of drops; angel tears were all that was going to save all of our lives now.
I looked everywhere. She'd hid them real good, because I couldn't find them after looking for an hour and a half, so I called Destiny. She didn't know where she kept them, either.
Shit. We were all dead.
Maybe not. I'd had Lek, the Thai girl who talked kind of all right and knocked me out (I think, I'm not sure) but was acting human these days who I'd had took to sick bay. The other Thai girl hadn't been injured but the one that talks good was still unconscious and sporting a black eye. If Sparkle didn't get her drug she was going to die horribly and if she wasn't chained down we were all going to die horribly, and maybe even if she was chained down we'd still all die horribly.
I went to the sick bay to see Tammy and Lek, hoping Tammy was going to live. Her medic said she was stable, but she still wasn't awake. I guess stable is better than critical, which is what she was before, but I ain't no doctor. The whole side of her face was purple.
Destiny was there. "John," she said, "Shit, what are we going to do?"
"I don't know," I said. "If Lek wakes up maybe we can save Sparkle and if Tammy wakes up maybe we can save everybody, but without those drops we're all dead."
Lek stirred a little. "Give her time," Destiny said. "Let her wake up."
But she was already sitting up on the medic, ripping off the oxygen mask. "Sparkle need drops! She be animal! She no have drops she die! We all die!"
"I know," I said. "But we don't have any. Do you have some?"
"I no want be animal and dealer hurt real bad," she said, glancing at Tammy. "All I got is all I got!"
"You're lucid," Destiny said. What the hell does lucid mean? "If Tammy dies we're all dead, you can see that. Now we're trying to save Sparkle. We don't want anyone going through withdrawal. How much would it take to save Sparkle and how much do you have?"
"I no have enough," she said. "I be animal before I get to Mars."
I got mean; this was one of those God damned times I really hate, when I had to be an asshole just to keep people from dying.
"Lek, what you got is what you got unless you're willing to share. And you know what you got won't get you all the way to Mars, we'll all be dead first. I'll tie you up and let you die from withdrawal if you won't help Sparkle."
"You would not do that!"
"Watch me, bitch. My job is getting all of us to Mars alive, or at least as many of us as possible. Now where are your God damned drops and how much does Sparkle need?"
She pulled out a bottle, one of the kinds with a dropper for a cap. "She only need one drop now, only in one eye, give rest back, okay? I no want be animal."
"Thank you," I said, "I'll give you your bottle back. I know that's why you want to go to Mars. You don't want to be a dropper."
"I want be human again," she said. "I not dropper, I drophead. I no want be animal. I hope Tammy wake up or we all dead."
Yeah, me too.
We would be okay if Tammy woke up in time, but she was still in a coma when it was time for bed. At least the medic's readout had said her "condition was upgraded to fair".
I pulled out my fone and called the fleet commander who I was amazingly boss of and told him about our little power problem, then asked the computer what the robots were doing about repairs. Or tried to, anyway.
"Computer, what is the, uh... status of..." and the God damned machine interrupted me, of course. Who programs this junk anyway?
"All cargo unconscious except specimen in commons area. Danger to cargo."
"Computer," I told the piece of shit, "God damn it, how much oxygen will keep them alive and asl... uh, unconscious without damaging them?"
"The percentage is..."
"Add it, you piece of shit!" Yeah, getting pissed at a machine is really smart, ain't it? But I really needed sleep. "Computer. Where are them fucking robots?"
The stupid thing replied "Robots have no sex and do not engage in..."
Jesus. "Computer, where are the..."
A robot carrying oxygen bottles and masks came in, the door opening quickly, it entering quickly, and the doors closing really damned fast. I thought nitrogen was harmless? It turned out that the nitrogen wouldn't hurt us but monsters would; they were all outside the commons trying to get in to kill us and eat us. We would have been dead if we'd tried to get to the houseboat.
We got to work making the vampires and werewolves and frankensteins and whatever the hell kind of other monsters these damned dropheads were back into humans, or something not really all that different from humans, again. Some had some pretty bad cuts, we gave them their drops first and then medics took them to sick bay to treat them. I ordered the computer to put normal air in sick bay.
Poor broads. I really feel sorry for them. I hope Destiny's charity that Tammy works for can help them, it sure looked like she was getting results from Lek. Lek was wearing clothes and acting like a respectable lady, although her eyes were usually a little bloodshot and she wasn't smiling much, especially for someone who came from the Land of Smiles.
That God damned stupid fucking computer must suck at arithmetic, because I barely got the last drop in the last monster's eye when she started waking up. Scared the shit out of me, how would you feel if you were putting eye drops in Dracula's eye and he started to wake up? Especially if he had scary red eyes like a mad dropper? Christ, I almost had a coronary!
Now I had to see what the hell was wrong with that damned generator and do a full inspection of the engines. Shit. Well, it wasn't as bad as that Saturn run when all the engines blew out, at least I had plenty of full batteries and all but one engine was working.
You guys know, of course, that you can only run fifty eight engines on batteries. That's only point twenty five gravities and usually not even much, I don't know how Bill managed more but he's a nerd that reads a lot of technical manuals. The whores ain't gonna like it one little bit. And if more pirates come... I mean, we ain't that near to Mars yet, we have a while. I'm just glad I have that fleet. And its commander said I was in charge! Wow, I ain't never been in charge of nothing but machinery before.
Tammy called. "John, we need nitrous oxide, a precise amount, in the atmosphere. The computer said I don't have the clearance to accomplish it."
"Give me a minute," I said, and hung up. Hung? Up?
"Computer," I ordered the fone, "add whatever Doctor Winters asks for to the atmosphere." What the hell is nitrous oxide and why did Tammy want it? I called her back. "You're getting your nitr, uh... whatever. What the hell is it and why does it need to be in the atmosphere?"
"Nitrous oxide. Laughing gas. It will calm the droppers down and they won't mind the low gravity much at all."
"Will it affect us?" I asked.
"Of course it will," she answered. "What, you think it's something that only affects droppers?"
"Well, I'd hoped so. What will it do? Look, Tammy, if I can't think straight we might die. It's bad enough with me being so damned tired and sleepy, I already can't think very straight."
"I've seen you drunk on wine!" she said.
"Not when there were pirates after us and running on batteries and with another hailstorm coming that we'd been past if our only working generator hadn't broke and when I'm in charge of a God damned fleet and I ain't never been in charge of nothing before. Captains may not have to know as much as they did when they had to go to college, but we got to know when it's okay to drink and when beer will kill you. And this is one of those times. I can't get intoxicated!"
Intoxicated. Them two is rubbing off on me. "I can't be breathing laughing gas. It could kill us all. Because right now I need what little brain I have left."
The computer interrupted with an alarm. "Meteor shower ahead".
She thought a second... maybe not even that long. "Get an oxygen generation belt from sick bay and breathe from that. Your thought processes may even be clearer depending on how much nitrous you ingest."
"I what? âIn jestâ(TM)? What's funny got to do with it?"
"Breathe. Drink. Eat. With this itâ(TM)s just breathe. Keep the oxygen mask on and you should be okay."
"Okay," I said, and told the computer to flood the pilot room and my quarters and Tammy's quarters and engines and generators with normal air, with Tammy's laughing gas mixture in the rest of the boat, and then I went to the pilot room to steer around the space rain.
After driving for fifteen or twenty minutes, by hand, no less, and I almost never do that even though I did fighting all those God damned pirates, but I had to because I was on batteries, I was around the rocks. I clipped the bottle of oxygen to my belt that a robot had brought, and put on the mask. I had to see if the robots were having any luck with the generator, and I still had a hell of a lot of engines to inspect down there.
There were a hundred giggling, naked women in the commons. I guessed Tammy and Destiny were in my cabin where air was normal and they wouldnâ(TM)t get stoned, and that Tammy had been generous with drops. She sure knew what she was doing.
I went back down the five damned flights of stairs to the starboard generator. God, but it was a nasty, stinking, bloody mess down there, so many body parts piled in the hallway I wasn't going to be able to inspect half the engines or the other generator. Where were the damned robots? I pulled out my fone. "Computer," I said, "why arenâ(TM)t there any robots working on the generator?"
It replied "Repair machinery is removing parts from the port generator that were not damaged when the generator incinerated." I wondered how the hell they got there past the stinking mess.
"Can they fix it?"
"We are lacking a replacement pressure regulator. Port generator pressure regulator was incinerated."
Damn. "Okay, computer, How long is it going to take to replace everything except the regulator?"
"Between one and three hours."
It sounded like time for a movie, I thought, so tired that I forgot how badly I needed to sleep. I inspected the engines and was amazed that there wasn't anything wrong with any of them after what I'd put them through. At least, the ones I could get to, bodies and parts of bodies were piled three or four meters high. I started back to my quarters, but stopped when I had an idea. I called my "second in command"; heh, how about that? Anyway, I asked Ramos "Does anybody in this fleet have a spare pressure regulator that will work on my generator?"
The answer was a "yes"; one of the boats could shut down a generator and remove the regulator, whatever the hell a "pressure regulator" is, dock, and my robots would install it. Of course I had to get paper from the company, but we had three hours. I sent paper to the company and went home. I called Ramos again and told him to to dock and supply when the paperwork came in.
I left my bloody boots on the landing and walked home in my stocking feet.
We didn't even bother with dinner, we just took a shower together and then sat on the couch cuddling to Clapton. This had been one hell of a long, trying day. In fact, today had been several days long. At least tomorrow we would have normal air and better gravity.
We both fell asleep on the couch, cuddled up together.
"Hold on, Destiny," Tammy said, "we're still in trouble."
I got it. Finally, even being so tired that my brain wasn't working right. God, what a dumbass I was! I really needed some sleep, but I wasn't going to get any for a while. "Computer, lock all doors," I said. "She's right, Destiny, We're in trouble. I finally get it. She left them short of drops and told them the pirates stole them. They're not even human any more, you should have seen them. They scared the hell out of me with those crazy red eyes and all those knives and their eyes weren't even all the way red yet. Jesus, my boat is full of inhuman monsters!"
"John!" Destiny said. "How can you talk like that? They're people!"
"John's right," Tammy said. "they aren't. Only Lek and the ones in here that had squirreled enough away that they wouldn't go through withdrawal are human, and these girls are only barely human. John, you might not be very educated but you're not stupid. Destiny, he's right, they're not human. They don't even know about drops right now. We need to find a way to get this drug into their systems and..."
"What if we can't?" Destiny asked.
"Then everybody's dead. We have to find a way. A spray bottle of drops won't help anything against all of them. John, is there any way to send vapors of it into the atmosphere?"
I shook my head. "If there is I don't know how."
Destiny said "If we can't get the drugs in them, we can use John's houseboat to escape at least, since the droppers will kill everyone and die anyway. We can ride back on one of the fleet's boats."
Tammy said "Just getting to the houseboat would be incredibly dangerous, but I don't really see any other way."
I said "I'm afraid they'll find a way in here anyway, they shouldn't have been able to get through the stairwell doors but they did, even redeyed."
"I did that," Destiny said. "I told the computer to unlock the door."
"You can do that?" I asked, perplexed.
"John, my dad started this company. There isn't a company door anywhere I can't open with a word. How did you think I got outside the ship? But we have to get to that pilot room!"
"Hold on," I said. "No, it's way too dangerous and we won't have to. I have an idea the computer gave me earlier when Angel thought she lost her drops down the drain." I pulled out my fone, forgetting I'd already ordered the computer to lock all the doors. I really needed some sleep! "Computer, lock and seal all doors, especially the door to the commons and my quarters and Doctor Winter's cabin and the pilot room."
The computer replied "All doors have been locked for the last five minutes. Sealing doorways." I was really sleepy... and scared.
"What good will that do, dumbass?" Tammy asked. "You might as well lock the doors against a herd of elephants that are holding sharks with friggin' lasers!"
"Huh?" I said.
Destiny laughed. "We haven't watched that one yet, Tammy. What are you thinking, John?"
I said "I'm thinking Tammy knows drug addicted whores but I know my boat and its computers. Now shush, both of you. I know what I'm doing.
"Computer!" I said into my fone, "replace all air in every room except the commons with nitrogen. And have robots bring three small oxygen bottles and masks to the commons."
"John," Tammy said, "you're not a dumbass, that was a stroke of genius! That's how you controlled Angel and the ones that attacked me. I wondered how you did that. Are you sure you haven't gone to college?"
"I don't get it," Destiny said.
"You didn't take many biology courses, did you?"
"Not after undergrad, and not much then even. Why?"
Tammy laughed. "Of course not. What does an astrophysicist have to know about biology?"
I said "I thought you said you were an astronomer?"
"There's been no difference in the last hundred years, John. Astronomers have to know an awful lot of physics and chemistry. But Tammy's right, no biology. So what's going on and why am I scared to death and you guys seem to be fine?"
Tammy said "John's smarter than I thought he was. I knew he was no dummy, even though he isn't educated. But that was really a stroke of genius, and I'm embarrassed I didn't think of it."
"Think of what?"
"Nitrogen is an inert gas," Tammy explained.
"Yeah, I knew that," Destiny said. "Undergrad shit. So what?"
"It isn't poisonous, like carbon dioxide. They won't even know there's no oxygen, they'll just get light headed or high or something like that, and go to sleep. Then we put on the oxygen masks John told the robots to fetch, put a couple drops in their eyes, and make the atmosphere normal before they get brain damage from lack of oxygen."
"What?" Destiny said. "There are two hundred of them!"
"Relax," I said. "Once they pass out we'll add oxygen to the nitrogen so there won't be brain damage. Once we get drops in all their eyes we'll set the atmosphere to normal and they'll all wake up happy. Will they remember any of it, Tammy?" I asked, curious.
"Not much," she replied. "Certainly nothing after they stopped being human."
"What do you mean, âstopped being humanâ(TM)?" Destiny asked. "You guys keep saying that!"
"God, Destiny," Tammy said, "when you're out of your field you're even dumber than John!"
I didn't know whether to feel insulted or complimented.
She continued. "A wolf with rabies is more sentient than an angel tear addict going through withdrawal. You know those old gray movies we used to watch about vampires and werewolves?"
"Huh?" I said. "You guys have known each other for a long time?"
"Shut up, John," Destiny said. "We went to college together. Go on, Tammy."
"Is a werewolf human? A vampire?" she asked.
"Of course not."
"So where does a vampire come from?"
"Come on, Tammy. A vampire bites a human and he turns into a vampire himself."
"Is he human?"
"No, he's a vampire."
"But was he human?"
"So were the droppers. But not now. Like a vampire, or a werewolf. Only this isn't some sort of supernatural hocus-pocus stupid movie voodoo, it's chemistry. This is real. These women are worse than vampires or werewolves. They look human, except for those eyes, but they're not. I thought you'd read the literature?"
Destiny blushed. "I did. I guess I just didn't get it."
Tammy grinned. "John got it. You two dumbasses are perfect for each other."
Destiny said "Shouldn't we start now?"
"Too dangerous," Tammy said. "Wait until they've passed out. How long, John?"
I laughed. "You're the scientist, all I know about knocking droppers out with nitrogen is what the computer told me." My brain was actually working despite the lack of sleep. Wow. Adrenaline, I guess. "Computer," I said into my fone, "how long until all cargo are unconscious?"
"All cargo will not become unconscious under present conditions for foreseeable time frame" the stupid, stubborn piece of junk computer said.
"Computer, explain!" God damned computer.
"One specimen is in a protected area," the computer said.
Stupid damned computers. Why in the hell do they act like that? I sighed. "Okay, dumbass computer, excepting the single specimen how long?"
"One minute," it said. What? Damned computer, would it take one minute or did it mean it had to compute something? God damned computers.
"Computer, inform me when all but the âspecimenâ(TM) in the commons are aslee... I mean, unconscious." It replied with the expected "Affirmative." And then another damned alarm went off as gravity seemed to get lighter.
God damn it, there isn't enough damned money on the solar system to pay me for this shit. I'm retiring, I've had it.
If I live, anyway, I thought. I have two hundred vampires and werewolves on board. Drugula, I guess.
Shit. The other damned generator went out. And I couldn't do another inspection until we got drops in the werewolves' eyes and made the atmosphere normal.
And I really needed some sleep really bad.
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."
"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."
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 wouldâ¦ 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.
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.
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?
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?"
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
"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.
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.