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Journal Journal: Voyage to Earth 1

"How you been, old man?"
        "Wild Bill! I haven't seen you since... damn. You haven't aged a day!"
        "I've been in space, you quit. You know space travel slows aging. So how've you been? I've been doing runs to Titan since the discovery."
        "Bill, it's fantastic. My beer is the best selling beer on Mars, and they want us to import it to Earth. Can you believe it? And I have the cost down really low since I bought that warehouse to grow the ingredients in. I'm almost as rich as my wife!"
        Bill laughed. "How is Destiny?"
        "Oh, man, she's doing better than me. She's getting the damned Nobel Prize! She's going to be famous. I'm so damned proud of her!"
        "Damn, that's hundreds of years old, not many prizes more prestigious than that. What did she get it for?"
        "Her new telescope. She never told anybody but me, but her first PhD thesis was rejected; they didn't think her theory was sound. After she got her doctorate she decided to prove her theory and built that telescope here. The results were that her theory was on the money. They replicated it on the moon and got the same result and it was a huge paradigm shift in the astrophysics world. I'm really proud. So we're going to Earth. I'm taking a shipload of beer with me."
        "Yeah, you always liked beer. I remember your last trip."
        John laughed. "Fuck you, Bill, I'm not drinking it, I'm selling it. Earth is importing it from Mars."
        "Earth is buying beer from Mars? Even with the shipping costs? What the forgswaggle?"
        "Young man!" an old woman at the other end of the bar admonished, "Watch your fucking language, asshole!"
        "Oh, shit, I didn't see you down there, Mrs... Ferguson, wasn't it? Terribly sorry, it won't happen again."
        "I remember you, too, you foul mouthed asshole. Now watch your fucking mouth!"
        "Yes, ma'am. John, Earthians are buying beer from Mars?"
        John laughed. "Rich dumbasses trying to be cool. Mars is cool now, I could piss in a can and they'd buy it."
        "I'm headed for Earth in a week, maybe I'll be your captain. When you leaving?"
        "About a week. Hope you're running my load."
        "Maybe I will. Hope so, anyway."
        "Our friend Tammy's going, too. She's getting some kind of award for her work with the droppers and the discoveries she's made, although it isn't the Nobel. She found that Mars was perfect for curing dropheads; they hate low gravity when they're high, so being on Mars helps when they're withdrawing, as well as what she learned on the trip here."
        "I don't think I met her when I was on your boat."
        "Probably not, although she was probably watching you have fun with the whores. She never said anything about it, though."
        "She was studying them. Her research led to a cure for drop addiction, which is what her award was for. Her first success works for me now, she's the morning bartender. All of them are employed now, mostly in construction and robot repair."
        "Is Mars still short of robots?"
        "Not since that factory opened two years ago."
        "I'm surprised you don't have robots tending bar, then."
        "Screw that. People don't go to bars to drink, they go to bars to socialize; bars are full of lonely people. If there's nobody to talk to but a damned robot they're just going to walk out. I do have a tendbot for emergencies, like if one of the human bartenders is sick and we don't have anyone to cover. The tendbot will be working when we're going to Earth, but I avoid using it."
        Bill took another sip of his beer. "How the hell did you learn to make such good beer, John?"
        "Lots of books, lots of classes; I minored in chemistry, and lots and lots of trial and error."
        "Well, I can sure see why you're exporting it. This stuff could make me an alcoholic! Damn but your beer is good," he said, draining the glass.
        "Want another one?"
        "Well, I was only dropping by to say 'hi' but this is some damned good beer. Yeah, one more and I have to go, but I think I'll take a case with me. Damn, but this is some good beer!"
        An Asian woman walked in. "Lek!" John said. "Back so soon?"
        "I forgot my purse," she said, retrieving it from a drawer behind the bar.
        "Lek, Meet my oldest friend, Bill. Bill, Lek here is one of my best assets. She's been studying and knows five languages. That's a hell of an advantage in a Mars bar, since we get people from all over Earth coming here."
        "Pleased to meet you, Lek. Where are you from? Chicago?"
        She laughed. "No, but my English teacher was from Chicago. I'm from Bangkok."
        "You really speak English good!"
        John laughed. "Not so good when I first met her but you could understand her."
        "It was nice meeting you, Bill, but I have to run, I have a class in half an hour. See you tomorrow, John."
        "Oh, Lek, you're sure you don't mind doing the evening shift when I'm gone?"
        "No, I told you, it's fine. Tips are better at night, anyway. See you!"
        Bill said "Damn but this is good beer. Give me another one, John!"

        Bill was, indeed, their captain. Of course, he was running a first class ship this load. First class ships had two dozen docks so passengers could take their own transportation with them if they so chose. John, Destiny, and Tammy took the houseboat up. A large chemical rocket took his huge load of beer up.
        Bill met them at the dock, and John introduced Bill to Tammy. Bill showed them their suites, and when the last of the half-dozen or so other passengers embarked and the robots finished moving John's huge load of beer, Bill left orbit.
          After settling down in their quarters, John and Destiny decided to have lunch in the commons. There was a very large, scary looking black man in a business suit sitting at the bar and sipping a martini. He took notice when they walked in.
        "Excuse me, sir," the large fellow said, "Are you John Knolls?"
        "Yes, sir," John replied. "And you are...?"
        "Dick Martin, Mister Knolls. I love your beer! My houseboat's half full of your beer, you can't get beer as good as yours on Earth!"
        "Well, thank you, Mr. Martin. What do you do?"
        "I'm an engineer. I work for this shipping company. Had to go to Mars to oversee the installation of some equipment I designed. Sure will be glad when I get back to Earth!"
        John laughed. "I'll probably be glad to get back to Mars. After five years of Martian gravity I'm going to hate Earth."
        Martin laughed. "I probably won't much like it after two months on Mars, either. I'm sure not looking forward to the centrifuge. But I'm looking forward to getting back, they have a new toy I want to play with."
        "They didn't tell you? We'll be at over a gravity by the time we reach Earth."
        "Yes, between the two of us my wife and I hold nearly a third of the company's stock. We can pretty much do as we please. It probably won't take a week to get there. So, what kind of toy?"
        Dick grinned. "Company toy. We're getting some of those new molecular printers, can't wait to try it out."
        "Molecular printer?"
        "Yes, it's a printer that builds objects molecule by molecule. You can get some pretty wild stuff from it. I feel like a kid at Christmas!"
        Destiny had ordered pork steaks, fried potatoes, broccoli, and green beans cooked with pork bacon. "John," she said, "The food's here."
        "It was nice meeting you, Mr. Martin. Please excuse me."
        The large man went back to his cocktail and John sat down with Destiny as a portly, shabbily dressed, nerdy looking young man came in frowning, and ordered a double whiskey from the tendbot.
        John and Destiny finished their lunch, John remarking that those were the best green beans he'd ever eaten.
        Destiny laughed. "It's the pork bacon."
        Pork was incredibly expensive because of Earth's environmental regulations.
        "Those pork steaks were pretty good, too," John said. They had coffee and pie, and went back to their quarters. Destiny put on a new holo and they watched it, drinking Knolls' Stout Lager.
        They had dinner in their suite, and went to the commons for cocktails. Destiny ordered a zinger splash, and John ordered a Knolls lager.
        The nerdy looking fellow fell off his stool as Bill came in. "God damn it," he said, "this is why I hate passenger runs. At least the damned drunk didn't start a fight." He called a medic to take the drunk to his quarters.
        "Hi, guys," he said to the Knolls. "Destiny, John tells me you're getting the Nobel Prize! Is he bullshitting me?"
        Destiny laughed. "No, he's right. We're going to Stockholm."
          "Man, that's great," he said. "You must be really proud!"
        Tammy walked in as Destiny said "Well, duh! Jesus, Bill, it's the Nobel!"
        John laughed. "Told you, asshole. I wouldn't shit you about anything like that."
        "Hi, guys, Captain. What's up?" Tammy said.
        "Tammy, Captain Kelly here is my oldest friend. We went to high school together. Bill, this is our good friend Tammy Winters. I've known her for five years or so and she and Destiny have been friends since college. She's a scientist, too. She's going to Sweden for the Rudolf Virchow Award."
        "Congratulations, uh, Doctor? What's that award?"
        Tammy smiled. "Just Tammy, Captain. It's for my research in prostitute communities. It took the anthropology world by storm, but not near as big a storm as Destiny's telescope caused!"
        "Wow, you guys are going to be famous!"
        Tammy laughed. "Destiny will, I'll just make the other anthropologists jealous. I'm getting an APA, too, but you don't get famous for those, either. Where's that waiter? WAITER!"
        Destiny laughed. "Yeah, I'll be famous for fifteen minutes."
        A waiter came over apologizing profusely. John frowned. Tammy ordered. John said "I hate those damned talking robots, glad I'm not running these boats any more. Do they all talk now, Bill?"
        "Yeah, most of them. Especially on passenger boats. Another reason I like cargo runs."
        The large black man walked in. John waved, and he walked over. "Hi, Mister Martin," John said.
        "Call me Dick, sir."
        "Don't call me sir, call me John!"
        Dick smiled, and asked "Did that jerk leave?"
        "What jerk?" Bill asked.
        "Fat dorky looking guy that was in here earlier. My God but he was annoying."
        Bill said "Well, if it's the guy I think you're talking about, he passed out. A medic rolled off with him." A thin, attractive black women walked in. "Oh, excuse me, folks," Dick said, and walked over and met the woman.
        An elderly lady entered. "Uh, oh," John said. "Mrs. Ferguson. You're in trouble, Bill. I wonder why she's going to Earth? And how she got a first class ticket?"
        Mrs. Ferguson spied Bill, frowned, and walked over. "Well, if it isn't the asshole with the foul mouth! They're letting a dickhead shitmouth like you be captain?"
        "I watch my language when I'm on duty, ma'am. I'm sorry I offended you."
        Dick called out from the next table, "Blagger off, you busdown forgswaggled fognart!"
        The old woman got a disgusted look on her face and left in a huff. Everyone burst out in riotous laughter. Bill shook Dick's hand and bought him and his wife a drink. They were all becoming a little intoxicated. Another couple and a single man came in, but by then they were too drunk to worry about, or be able to remember, names anyway.
        It had started to become sort of a party, but Bill and Tammy seemed to be hitting it off, and since five years later John and Destiny still felt like they were on a honeymoon, went home to cuddle to a movie, cuddle to twentieth century music, and go to bed.
        "Pork sausage again? You said it made you feel guilty!"
        Destiny smiled. "I told you, it's because I'm frugal. Tammy says I might be nuts. But this is paid for, part of a first class ticket!"
        John laughed. "Tammy's right. You're nuts!"
        Destiny grinned and dug into the ham and cheese omelet with a side of pork sausage.
        Bill's eight o'clock adjustments needed no adjusting, and he wondered if the whole trip would be this easy. After all, it was only going to take a little more than a week, since their gravity would have increased to one point four by the time they docked, and Mars and Earth were pretty close right now.
        John and Destiny were coming out of their suite as he was inspecting that section. "Bill," John said, "you look like hell!"
        "Man, I am so damned hung over... man. Me and Tammy sure tied one on. Damn, but I like that woman! Uh, don't tell her I said that."
        John laughed. "She has PhDs in psychology and anthropology, dumbass. She already knows."
        "Well, shit!"
        Destiny laughed. "Don't worry, Bill, Tammy studies what she studies because she loves people and studies how to make them hurt less. She'd never hurt you on purpose, and I'd bet she knows you better than you know yourself. Doing inspections?"
        "We're just going for a walk. Want some company?"
        "Sure, but I can't let you downstairs. John knows that." They were walking past the cargo area.
        John and Destiny both started laughing. "What's so funny?" Bill asked, perplexed.
        "You!" they both said in unison. John added, "Computer: open C-17." The door opened.
        "What the..." Bill started. "What... Damn it, John, how in the hell did you do that?"
        Destiny laughed. "Bill, only my dad and Charles have more stock in this company than John and I do. We own the damned ship. But to tell you the truth, I really don't want to go up and down five flights of stairs."
        John laughed. "That's one reason I retired. I hated those God damned stairs! Hey, come in here, I opened the door to show you something."
        "You opened the door to freak me out!"
        "Yeah, but I still want to show you something. My new cans and bottle labels." He opened a case and handed a can to Bill.
        "Knolls' Martian Ale? Funny name for a lager."
        John laughed. "I don't just make lager. So what do you think about the new design?"
        "I don't know. Why is Mars white?"
        "Because it's ale. Lager is green and pilsner is red."
        "You going to pay me tuition? Look it up."
        Bill laughed. "Asshole," he said. "Going downstairs?"
        Destiny said "I don't think so" in almost unison with John, who instead said "No fucking way in hell!"
        Bill's alarm went off. "God damn it," he said."
        "What's the problem?" Destiny asked.
        "I can't talk about it. John knows that."
        Destiny laughed. "You work for me, Bill. I can fire you, you know." He looked at John, who said "It's okay, what's the danger?"
        "A pirate." John and Destiny looked at each other. "A pirate?" John asked.
        Bill shook his head. "Beats the hell out of me, that's what the computer said." They all went to the pilot room.
        Bill sat in the pilot seat. It looked like the pirate was trying to communicate. There was only one ship, which puzzled all of them. Bill let him communicate.
        "Stand and deliver!" the pirate ordered. All three burst out laughing. "What the hell does that mean?" Bill said, and pressed a button. "What do you want, dumbass?"
        "You will surrender your ship or be destroyed!"
        All three laughed even louder; these ships were nearly impervious to weapons, especially the weapons available to pirates. An atomic explosion couldn't even damage it unless it detonated less than two hundred meters away, and the pirates had no atomics.
        "Do your worst," Bill told the pirate, laughing.
        Lasers and chemically propelled projectiles rained on the ship, of course with no effect. "Should I kill him?" Bill asked. It would have been easy.
        "No," John said, "Kill his ship, hit it with an EMP and have the company come out and snag his ass. That boat is surely stolen, the company might make some cash and you might get a raise."
        "I don't know," Bill said. "Bastards have killed our friends."
        "Everybody dies," John said. "Not everybody spends their life in prison before they do. Give him an EMP, lots worse than an atomic, and you might get a raise."
        Bill disabled it with an EMP and called the company. The three of them started towards the commons for a cup of coffee before Bill finished inspections when another alarm went off.
        "Damn it," Bill said, pulling out his phone. "Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please. We will be experiencing lowered gravity for a short while. Please excuse the inconvenience." The three of them walked back to the pilot room, and Bill slowed the ship down.
        Suddenly Bill said "Holy shit!"
        "What?" John asked.
        "There's a ship headed right for that meteor shower we slowed down for, and he's really hauling ass! It's one of ours," he added. "Didn't see it until he passed us, he's in full stealth mode."
        "Damn it," John said. "What the hell is wrong with its captain? Pirates got him?"
        "One of our ships? Not very likely," Bill said.
        "It must be. Why would that captain drive right into a rock storm?"
        They watched the computer display in horror as the other ship went through the rocks. Bill spoke on the phone again, alerting the company about what had just happened. When the meteor shower passed, he sped the ship back up and they headed to the commons for their delayed coffee.
        Tammy was in there with coffee and a stylus tablet, so they started to join her, but the obese drunk, now sober, walked up and said "Excuse me, Captain..."
        "Yes?" Bill answered.
        Bill saw the big knife way too late and found himself on the floor, bleeding from the abdomen.
        "I'm the captain now," the fat man said, waving the big bloody blade. "Nobody but me can get you to Earth alive."
        "Think so?" Tammy said. "Think again." She kicked the knife out of his hand as a medic swiftly wheeled in, then she whirled around and kicked him in the head. He went down hard.
        John was tending to Bill, and took his taser and handcuffs. Dick walked in with his wife as the medic rolled off with Bill, Tammy following.
        "Oh, my God!" Dick exclaimed. "What happened?" John was cuffing the portly fellow. Another medic wheeled up.
        "That asshole tried to murder my best friend," John said.
        Dick was wide-eyed. "We're in trouble. How will we get to Earth without a captain?"
        "Don't worry," John said, "I ran boats like this one for a quarter of a century.
        Dick gave him a puzzled look. "You can't be much older than thirty."
        John laughed. "Space. Times on a boat are different than standing still time, I'm almost fifty. We'll be fine. Look, Dick, I have to make sure that asshole pirate is locked up and see how bad off Bill is." He went to sick bay while Destiny took over assuring passengers in the commons that everything was going to be all right.
        The flabby man was strapped firmly to the medic. Bill was pale, but awake. Tammy was there with him. John asked "How did you do that, Tammy? That was amazing!"
        She grinned. "Lek gave me lessons, said she owed it to me for curing her drop addiction. I never thought I'd have to use it!"
        Bill groaned. "John, what am I going to do? I have to get us to Earth, but it's going to be a while before I can get out of bed."
        "Tell the computer to transfer control to me and I'll take care of it. And the paperwork."
        "God, John..."
        "Forget it, Bill, I want to get us there in one piece too. Just get your rest and I'll take care of things until you can get around again."
        Bill asked "What the hell was that guy's problem?"
        John shook his head. "Fucking pirate. Another one. I'll question him when he wakes up. Look, I'm going to the pilot room to send paper and look at your schedules. I'll come back as soon as I can."

        "Look, Mrs. Ferguson, everything will be all right!"
        "But Miss..."
        "It's Doctor, Ma'am. Doctor Knolls. It will be okay! Really!"
        "Doctor? You don't look like a doctor. But there isn't anybody to run the ship!"
        "I told you John was a captain in this very company for over two decades, and he was the best. There's nothing to worry about."
        "Well, frankly, 'Doctor', I'm afraid I simply don't believe you. John's been tending that bar for years and just isn't old enough to have been a captain for that long. For that matter that foul-mouthed captain that got hurt is barely old enough to be a captain. And how long have you been in practice, 'Doctor'?"
        Destiny laughed. "I'm not that kind of a doctor, I'm an astrophysicist. A scientist. And John's a whole lot older than he looks because he spent half his life in space. The faster the ship goes, the faster time goes outside the ship as far as the people inside are concerned. He and Captain Kelly are both almost fifty; they went to high school together. They just look young, John's fifteen years older than me but he doesn't look it."
        "Well," the old woman said dubiously, "At least he doesn't have a foul mouth. At least he's a gentleman. I sure hope you're not lying to me, young lady!" she added sternly, with a glare. "Where is he, anyway?"
        "Questioning the would-be assassin."
        "Well, thank you, I guess. Bartender! Another martini, you mangy metal monstrosity!"
        "Here you are, ma'am," the robot said, handing her the drink.
        "Fuck off, junkpile. God, but I hate talking robots!"
        Destiny laughed. "So does John. Robot, give me a Knolls Ale and shut up."
        "I always did like that boy. He's really a captain?"
        "Yes. Over twenty years."
        "He's really fifty?"
        "Yes, like I said, space travel."
        "Gee, I should have been a captain!"
        Destiny laughed. "You still live the same number of years, your time. It's just that when you travel, more time passes on the planets than you experience."
        Mrs. Ferguson shook her head. "That relativity stuff is over my head."

        "How are you feeling, Bill?"
        "Better than I was before the robot did surgery. I still hurt like hell. Is my ship all right? Did the pirate wake up?"
        "Yeah, she's fine, just did inspection for you. Everything's shipshape despite our acceleration. Surprising."
        "They're doing a lot better job of designing and building these things than when you were captain. If that had been an old boat that went through those meteors it would have surely been destroyed, and it's been years since one of the robots or wall panels caught fire. I'm worried about engine forty two, though, watch that one close."
        "Why? What's wrong with it?"
        "Do you know how an ion engine works?"
        "Well, I can't explain it to you then, but the wiring looks different than the wiring on the other motors. It worries me, I wish I was an engineer. I'm afraid that if we shut it down it will explode."
        "Like I said, I'm not an engineer but I can read a schematic, and since you don't know how they work I can't explain it, but it looks to me like they screwed up the wiring. Is the pirate awake?"
        "Yeah, and I wasn't the least bit nice to the asshole. He spilled, though. Seems that he was in cahoots with the pirate you disabled; that guy was early, or Skankley was late."
        "His name, Robert Skankly. He was supposed to take over the ship before the other pirate engaged, and the two of them would lock up the passengers in the other boat and either collect ransom or work them to death.
        "You were targeted because of Destiny; Dewey would have paid a king's ransom to get us back.
        "Stupid pirates. How long is the medic going to keep you here?"
        "It says sometime tomorrow, but I'll be restricted to light duty. You'll still have to do downstairs inspections for me."
        "Damn. I wish we hadn't ordered full gravity."
        "You'll be glad when you get to Earth and don't need the centrifuge. I wish we had an engineer."
        "I guess. But we do have an engineer, Dick."
        "Dick Martin, the big black fellow. He's an engineer for the company but I don't know what his specialty is. I'll talk to him. I'm going to go to the commons and see if I can do anything helpful there; they're sure to worry since you're stuck in sick bay. If Dick's in there I'll talk to him. Call if you need anything."
        "Thanks, John."
        "Don't mention it."
        John could see why Bill was worried; you would expect all the wiring on all the motors to be identical. When he reached the commons, the passengers were already calm, even having a good time. Almost all the passengers were drinking and laughing, and he saw no sign of unease at all. Destiny and Tammy were sitting at a table. He walked up and sat down. "I expected everyone to be worried, considering what happened tonight."
        "It was Tammy," Destiny said. "That's her field."
        Tammy laughed. "It was gin. I couldn't do anything with Mrs. Ferguson, but she listened to Destiny. At least after a few martinis."
        They chatted a while, and Tammy went to visit Bill in sick bay. John and destiny had two more drinks and went back to their cabin.
        The next morning John did Bill's eight o'clock pilot room duties, and as he headed past the commons on his way downstairs, he spied Dick standing by the bar drinking coffee, and sauntered over to talk to the large black man. "Excuse me, Dick."
        "Hi, John, what's up?"
        "Uh, its..." he looked around. "Kind of... can I talk to you in private?"
        Dick frowned. "Sure." They walked out to the hall. "You said you're an engineer for the company, what kind of engineer?"
        "Electrical, why?"
        "Because Bill says the wiring on engine number forty two is different than all the other engines."
        "Oh, my God!" Dick exclaimed. He would have gone pale if his skin could have allowed it. "A Richardson Death Ship! We need to have everyone evacuate to their houseboats immediately and sit tight there."
        "What?!" Exclaimed John.
        "No time, give the order to the passengers and I'll explain."
        "Okay." John spoke into his phone. "Attention, passengers. An emergency has arisen aboard ship. Please evacuate to your houseboats and wait there until things are normal. We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you. Captain Knolls out.
        "So what's wrong, Dick?"
        "Five years ago, an electronics hobbyist was Mr. Osbourne's intern. He found a schematic wiring diagram that was wrong, and showed it to his boss, the company president. Well, the chief technical officer and five engineers got fired for that bad schematic, and rightfully so.
        "It was wired into ten ships, all of which had to be rewired. Every single one of those three hundred ion engines on each of the ships. We worried that someone would miss an engine and they'd have a death ship. You might make a hundred runs, but sooner or later that thing's going to blow. And when it's shut down is when it will blow.
        "We called this model the 'Richardson Death Ship'. This ship is one that had to be rewired, and it looks like they missed a motor."
        "But these things will take an atomic!"
        "That's why it's so dangerous in here and safe in the houseboats. When that engine blows, all the force will be inside the ship; outside will be fine except right outside the docks by storage; we'll open the inside door to the airlock and if it blows, the force will go there rather than to houseboat locks."
        "Let's go talk to Bill."
        "You should evacuate until I can study the schematics and see if I can rewire it while it's running."
        "No, I can't. I'm captain until Bill's back on his feet. Come on."

        An hour later, Dick met Bill and John in the sick bay, where the robot was just releasing Bill for light duty. "I can fix it," Dick said. "I'll need some wire and alligator clips, and a wire cutter."
        "They're by each generator, forty two is closer to port. I'll show you."
        "No, you and Bill better get to safety. No sense anybody but me gets killed."
        "No," John said. "I'll help. Bill, wait in your boat. How long will it take you, Dick?"
        "Maybe an hour. There's nothing you can do to help, and it's incredibly dangerous."
        "I can hand you tools. That's an order. Come on."
        The medic Bill was on rolled to his houseboat, and John and Dick climbed down into the bowels of the giant ship. John was indeed helpful and it only took forty five minutes. Dick stood up and brushed himself off. "Okay, you can shut it off now and I'll take the board out, and the passengers can Re-embark."
        "We can shut it down from here," John said, and did so. He addressed the public address, telling passengers they could come back on board, that the situation was resolved. He and Dick trudged up the steps at almost Earth gravity.
        "I hope I'm getting paid for this!" Dick said, panting.
        "Yeah, you're getting paid. And you're getting a raise, too."
        "How do you know?"
        "I'm on the board of directors."
        "Look, Dick, everybody's going to want to know what's going on, explain it so they don't really understand but are calmed down and satisfied."
        Dick grinned. "I can do that."
        "Dick, you're a hero, you know. I'm buying you a drink when we get to the commons!"
        Dick shook his head. "I'm no hero, it's just that I'm the only guy who could do it."
        "Bullshit, you could have waited in your houseboat while I played Russian roulette in the pilot room shutting that damned engine down, but you risked your life. That makes you a hero."
        "John, you were there, too."
        John shrugged. "Nah, part of what a ship's captain is paid for is hazardous duty. I'm used to it, did this for more than twenty years. Uh, please don't let the other passengers know how much danger we were all in."
        Dick laughed. "I know company policy, don't worry."
        They reached the commons and John asked Dick what he was drinking. Dick shrugged. "Martini, I guess."
        A robot wheeled over. "What would you gentlemen like?" it asked.
        John answered "A martini and a Knolls stout lager, a shot of bourbon and for you to shut up, you metal monstrosity."
        Dick laughed. The robot said to him "And what would you like, sir?"
        "God damn it, you stupid pile of wires, the martini is for him and I told you to shut up. Now shut the fuck up and get us our drinks and I don't want to hear another word from you."
        The robot rolled rapidly away and Dick said "I hate talking robots, too."
        "Almost everybody does. Somebody should talk to engineering, I guess."
        "John, I am an engineer and I hate 'em. But management wants to show off our superior technologies."
        Bill came in on his medic, now folded into a chair shape. "Hi, guys. Damned robot won't let me walk."
        "Well, you probably shouldn't, then," John replied.
        "I hate taking orders from a damned robot," Bill growled. "Where's that damned bartender? I could really use a shot and a beer right now."
        Others started in, and Dick got busy confusing the other passengers with what folks outside the technical fields call "technobabble". The robot finally returned with the drinks, and Bill said "What took you so damned long, junkpile?"
        The robot turned its camera towards John and froze. "Robot?" Bill said. "Bartender!"
        But the bartender wasn't going to move; lights weren't even shining. It stood there like a statue. "Must have broke, maybe its battery or something came loose," Bill said.
        "Fuck it," John said, "I'll tend the God damned bar. Call for a server, would you?"
        Dick had joined the others at the bar, speaking the engineer's perplexingly complex jargon and baffling everyone, all but Mrs. Ferguson pretending to understand. "Damned kids today, they just don't talk the same language!"
        John walked around the bar as Destiny and Tammy came in. Destiny laughed. "Told you so," she said. "He loves tending bar!" She walked around and kissed him.
        "Damned robot broke, Bill's calling a repairbot."
        Dick looked at the dead robot and said "That's an R 15 XB. A repairbot can't fix those."
        "Why not?"
        "They're brand new, I didn't even know we had them in deployment and can't figure out why they did, because the repairbots haven't been fully reprogrammed yet. I'll look at it."
        His wife laughed. "Dick's happiest when he's up to his elbows in wiring," she said. "John reminds me of him."
        Dick tinkered with the robot while John tended bar and everyone else drank and chatted. Finally Dick walked back to his stool while the robot wheeled around to the other side of the bar. "Cool," John said. "What was wrong with it?"
        Dick snickered. "It's a safety bot. Brand new and more bugs than a picnic."
        "Safety bot?" Mrs. Ferguson asked. "Oh, hell, why do I bother?"
        "Well," Dick began, "hundreds of years ago there was this guy named Asimov who wasn't even an engineer, but was a biochemist who wrote fiction on the side. Well, this guy coined the word 'robotics' and dreamed up what he called the 'three laws'. It was all fantasy, when he wrote it there were no robots and computers were brand new and so primitive they weren't really computers, but some people called them 'electronic brains'. This guy had his robots run by positronic brains."
        "So what's this guy's fiction got to do with that bartender?"
        "The 'laws' were safety devices, and the company has been trying to program something similar into our robots. From what I could gather, this one had two conflicting demands and couldn't cope and just shut down. I did a system reset and it's fine. Guess I should file a bug report."
        He sat down with the captains and the scientists and ordered a drink from the server. "You told the robot to shut up, and the captain here told it to talk. It's easy to fix, there's a reset button right inside the panel. You'd think they could have programmed the repairbots to push the damned button when they couldn't figure it out.
        "Programmers... they need to learn engineering. Or maybe psychology. They should at least learn how a computer works, but I don't think they teach that in programming school."
        John said "The stupid robot should be able to figure it out."
        Dick grinned and shook his head. "Robots can't think."
        "But theyâ(TM)re networked with the computer, and it can figure ship trajectories. I can't do that. They have encyclopedic memories, I don't."
        "Do you know what an abacus is?"
        "Of course, they used them thousands of years ago to do simple arithmetic."
        "So how many beads would it take for it to become intelligent?"
        "I don't get it."
        Mrs. Ferguson, sitting at the bar, overheard. "Well, at least I'm not the only one. How can something with that much knowledge be so stupid?"
        "I get it," Destiny said. "They used to have non-electronic books. Before there were computers, books were just lots of sheets of paper with information printed on them, bound together. A book held encyclopedic memories but had no memories of its own."
        "Exactly. As to how it does calculus, it's pretty much done like an abacus works. Ever heard of a slide rule?"
        John shook his head. "Nope."
        Destiny said "I do. They looked like measuring rules, but there was an inside part that slid and a clear piece. Line the numbers up right and it would do multiplication, division, logarithms, all kinds of math. Engineers used them before they had computers."
        "That's right, and a computer doesn't know that two times two is four any more than a slide rule does. When you tell it to tell you two times two, it takes the binary number two and shifts it to the left."
        "I don't get it," Mrs. Ferguson said.
        "Neither do I," John agreed.
        "I'll show you how to do binary arithmetic some time," Destiny answered. "I had to learn it for that telescope. Speaking of which, will we be turning around in a couple of days, Bill?"
        Somebody called out from the bar "the bartender quit again."
        "Damn it," Dick said. He reset the robot and told it "Robot, do not talk. If someone asks you a question, display the answer on your screen. Do you acknowledge?"
        The screen flashed "yes".
        "Stupid programmers," Dick said.
        Bill finished his beer and said "well, I'd better call it a night." Everyone else partied on.
        The next day was "turnaround" day, when the ship turned around and used its thrusters as brakes; they were two thirds of the way there by now, three days into the trip, and traveling at fantastic speeds. They would reach Earth two days later.
        Bill was healing rapidly, thanks to the healing drugs that had been developed a century earlier. No longer confined to a wheelchair, he was using a cane to get around. He met John, Destiny, and Tammy for breakfast after his eight thirty chores in the pilot room.
        "Did you guys order yet?"
        "No," John said. "We waited for you. Robot!"
        "Yes sir?" the contraption said. "Are you folks ready to order?"
        "Yes," John said, "I'll have scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, and hash browns and you'll just shut up and bring our food when the rest have ordered. I want no noise from you, if you need to talk, print it out instead."
        Its screen printed out "yes si" and it froze.
        "God damn it," Bill said. "I'm hungry. Glad Dick showed me how to reset that damned thing." He opened the server's panel and reset it."
        "Are you folks ready to order?" It asked aloud.
        "Damn it..." John started.
        Bill said "John, let's get our food before you tell it to shut up, I'm hungry. It might lock up again."
        John frowned and repeated his order. The robot asked "pork or turkey bacon, sir?"
        "It doesn't matter."
        Destiny, of course, ordered sunny side up, pork sausage, and hash browns. Tammy had the same, and Bill had a steak and cheese omelette.
        Drinking their coffee after the meal was eaten, John asked Bill how long before turnaround.
        "Three hours."
        "Okay, I'll do inspection in an hour and a half. I'm just going to sit in the basement while you turn around, I don't want to climb those damned stairs twice. It's heavy, we must be at Earth gravity by now."
        "One point two. We'll be at one point four right before free fall."
        Destiny and Tammy were talking about fashion, celebrities, and mathematics. Mrs. Ferguson came in and ordered a martini. John looked at his phone and said "Right on time!"
        "Mrs. Ferguson, always has a morning martini or four, usually at my bar. I hope that damned barbot doesn't run all my customers off. But it's doing the morning shift, and besides Mrs. Ferguson, stupid tourists, and captains getting in from a long run not many people are there then, anyway. Robot, more coffee and do it quiet."
        Bill laughed. "Well," he said, "I'm going to inspect cargo, anybody feel like going for a walk?"
        "Sure," said Tammy. "I'll go along." They excused themselves, while John and Destiny drank more coffee.
        Two hours later, John was at the ship's lowest level inspecting the engines for Bill. He wondered why the robots couldn't just medic Bill down, but he was used to machinery enough to know that it was pointless to even ask the question.
        As he was inspecting the last engine, Bill called. "We may have a problem, John. The computers disagree about a reading on number one twenty, one says a slight overvoltage, one an undervoltage, and the other two read normal."
        "I ran across that on my last run. Probably nothing, I'll check it out again." He did, and as he expected there was an electrical fault in a connector that made an occasional spike or drop in voltage, too quickly for all four computers to measure at once. He shut it down and informed Bill.
        Half an hour later they were weightless for a couple of minutes while Bill reversed the ship's orientation, and then they all got heavy again. John inspected everything again, and to his surprise nothing was amiss. Something almost always broke turning them around when he was captain. He guessed that Bill was right, that they were building them better.
        Except, he thought grimly, it had been a Richardson Death Ship.
        By the time he reached the top of the stairs he was winded. "Damn," he said out loud, "I need more exercise." He went to his cabin, collapsed on the couch, and called Destiny. "Hon, I'm too beat to move. I'm going to have the robot make dinner, are you hungry?"
        "Yeah, just have it make what you're having. I'm in the commons with Tammy, I'll be 'home' in a while."
        "Robot," John said, "Two rare steaks, two baked potatoes; one with butter and one with sour cream, two salads with ranch dressing, and green beans made with pork bacon. Oh, and bring me a beer. And shut up." He put a zero gravity football game on the video, San Francisco against Osaka.
        Zero gravity games were popular in deep space, but there were no professional players out that far. John thought about buying a pro team and moving it to Mars.
        Nah, he had too much on his plate already, what with the bar, the brewery, and the farm... and watching his stocks and bonds.
        Destiny came in right before dinner was finished cooking, just as John finished his first beer. He got another, and Destiny got her third.
        As usual, the commons was pretty full at dinner time; at least, the huge thing was as full as the small number of passengers could make it, which was very little at all. Bill came in and sat down with Tammy. "Where's John and Destiny? I thought we were eating together tonight?"
        She laughed. "Climbing stairs almost killed John."
        Dick was at the bar with a martini and Mrs. Ferguson, and his phone rang. "Excuse me," he said, and answered his phone. After talking a minute he pulled the standard forty by one hundred millimeter phone into a tablet almost a third of a meter wide and about quarter of a meter tall.
        "Well, I'll be damned," Mrs. Ferguson said. "What will they come up with next?"
        Dick studied something on the large tablet, which showed no sign of seams, then folded it back up and put it in his pocket. "Where'd you get that, Mr. Martin?" she asked.
        Dick smiled. "Made it myself, prototype for a new product the company is rolling out."
        "How does it work... oh, hell, never mind, I wouldn't understand it, anyway. But I thought you said you were an electrical engineer?"
          "Does this thing look like there's no battery? If it does, I designed it well. It's a phone. It has radios and computers and microphones and cameras and all the other electronics in any phone or tablet. Of course, I didn't design the whole thing all by myself, making this thing took teamwork."
        "Fascinating! ...HIC... Oh, my, please excuse me, Mr. Martin, but I think I had one too many of these. I think I'll lay down for a while." She got up and staggered. Dick and Bill helped her to her quarters and returned to the commons, laughing.
        "She's a character," Bill said. Dick laughed.
        John and Destiny never showed up; they were sleeping on their couch, having fallen asleep while listening to music and cuddling. Bill left after three beers, and the little party dwindled quickly after that.
        The next morning, John woke up in bed to the sound of Destiny's snoring. He didn't remember waking up and going in there, but they must have. "I'd better let her sleep," he thought, "she drank twice as much as me. She's going to be HUNG over!"
        The robot made coffee and he drank a cup while catching up on business, then went to the commons to meet Bill and Tammy for breakfast. Bill was in there by himself, and Bill asked "Where's Destiny?"
        "Still sleeping. I got a little drunk last night and she was wasted. Where's Tammy?"
        Bill laughed. "Same as Destiny. Wasted. While me and Dick helped Mrs. Ferguson to her room she had three cocktails. I only drank three beers and wasn't even buzzed, but Tammy kind of went wild with the booze last night. She's really going to regret it!"
        The robot came by and took their orders.
        "I'm still wondering what was up with the ship that went through those rocks," Bill said. "I'll probably never know."
        "Yes, you will. I found out this morning. It was a shipping run from the belt to Earth and the captain, William Smith, got injured. Something in storage fell and hit him on the head and gave him a concussion. The poor guy got amnesia, had no idea where he was or even who he was."
        "Is he going to be okay?"
        "Yeah, after therapy. We're not sure how extensively those rocks damaged his ship. It's going to be discussed at the next board meeting, poor guy couldn't reach his phone or tablet that he dropped when he got hit, and the door locked behind the medic that took him to sick bay. We need to make sure nothing like that happens again!"
        The robot wheeled up with their food, and they ate in mostly silence. When they were finished they continued to drink coffee as the robot cleared the table. John looked at his phone. "I wonder where Mrs. Ferguson is? She almost always has a martini by now."
        Bill laughed. "She was drunker than anybody. I'm sure she's still asleep."
        Dick walked in looking rather rumpled, wearing a polo shirt and slacks rather than his customary business suit. He waved at Bill and John and spoke to the tendbot. "Eggnog, real eggnog with a real raw, unpasteurized egg yolk and milk and cinnamon and a double shot of rum. And shut up, for God's sake!"
        John laughed. Bill said "I'll bet we're the only two on board right now that isn't hung over or sleeping it off. You missed a hell of a party..." when his phone interrupted him. He glanced at it.
        "What's wrong?"
        "Skankly's loose. Here, take a taser and help me find the bastard. I wish Tammy was awake, but she'd be way too hung over to be any help."
        "I'll get the son of a bitch," John said. "Lock yourself in the pilot room so I don't have to go down those damned stairs again." They went out as Dick nursed his eggnog.
        John heard a woman scream and took off at a run toward the sound. There was Skankly, threatening one of the passengers, Mrs. Dillon, with a steak knife. John wondered how he got out and where in the hell he got hold of a knife. "Drop it, asshole," John ordered. Skankly whirled around, and John hit him with the taser, took his knife, and cuffed him.
        "I ought to cut your heart out right now, you worthless piece of shit. Any more trouble from you and you're a corpse, got it?"
        "Oh, you'd murder me?" the fat man snarled.
        "Nope, self defense." He cuffed Skankly to a chair, cut off all of Skankley's clothing and started moving the rest of the furnishings out of the room as he called Bill, who joined him in moving furniture into the hall.
        They went through Skankley's belongings and found an electronic lock pick. Just then Bill's phone sounded. "Shit," he muttered. "More pirates!" he said to John. They went to the pilot room.
        They were relieved that there were only thirty ships, so they were in no real danger. Bill wished again that it was a pure cargo run, so he could have a little fun angering the pirates before he disabled them all, but simply launched two EMPs and called the office to have them collect the ships and their pirates.
        They reached orbit the next day without further incident, and John met his mother in law for the first time, who had traveled by ocean liner.
        Bill and Tammy were married a month later at the rim of the Grand Canyon. After the ceremony and at the wedding party, Destiny asked Tammy where they were honeymooning.
        "Mars," she said.
        "Mars?" Destiny responded. "Why Mars?"
        "We're taking more droppers there for treatment."
        John shook his head sadly. "Hell of a honeymoon with those monsters on board. More like a nightmare than a dream."
        Destiny laughed. "Tammy can handle them."
        "Yes," Tammy said, "We've learned an awful lot about them in the five years since that last trip. It won't be a problem."
        "What about pirates?" John asked. "Still a lot left."
        Destiny laughed. "You know what happens when pirates attack a ship with Tammy and droppers!"
        John leaned back. "You're right. Poor pirates!"

User Journal

Journal Journal: Stealth

It was a beautiful spring day on the riverfront. Pleasant temperatures, white puffy clouds floating in a bright blue sky, and the bright sunshine gleaming off of the enormous arch made it seem the perfect day and spot for a picnic. There were a lot of people there, enjoying the weather, walking, having picnics.

        Everything changed in an instant. An automobile leaped off the ground and came crashing down on another car, narrowly missing the Smiths, who were on their way from

        Another car went flying, and of course everyone was running and screaming in panic â" but the cause of all the bent metal and broken glass was a mystery.

        Bob Capone, a sergeant in the St. Louis police force, was there on duty, talking with his friend John Jennings of the National Parks Service. Both whipped out their radios, calling for help.

        Another car leaped into the air and crashed down on a different one, and both burned when the sparks from the collision ignited the gasoline that had spilled out of several.

        The cars then stopped pretending to be frogs. Five minutes later a car driving north on interstate 44 stopped suddenly in front of the Old Cathedral Museum and bounced back, the front of the auto smashed, as if it had struck an invisible and immobile object.

        The destruction continued down Market Street for an hour, and stopped abruptly at Seventh as National Guard helicopters swooped in.

        The aircraft hovered for an hour or two, but there was no further damage.

        The local news media had a field day. This was Big, big with a capital B. The national and world news would be covering this, and the local news men and women all thought âoeThis is it! My career is going to skyrocket!â

        The next day, General Ferguson (whose name was uncomfortably the same as a town in the greater metropolitan area) was in an incredibly bad mood, so of course all of his underlings were, as well.

        âoeWell, Colonel? What happened? Who has it and how did he get it?â

        âoeWell, sir, the investigation is underway. We're not sure what happened but... well, sir, we believe a unit was stolen. We donâ(TM)t know who stole it, but it was probably an inside jobâ


        âoeUnknown, sir, but improbable. It appears that there was no loss of life and few injuries, the worst being broken bones. Itâ(TM)s mostly property damage.â

        âoeDo we know who has it and where it is?â

        âoeNo, sir, not yet. Should I alert the civilian authorities to what they're up against?â

        âoeUnder no circumstances will that happen unless the President himself orders it. This is top secret and will remain that way.â

        âoeYes, sir.â

        âoeWhat are we doing about the situation?â

        âoeWeâ(TM)re loading firefighting helicopters with paint. When it strikes again we'll have an idea where it is, and when itâ(TM)s painted we'll be able to see it. We have men manning the two other units, they should be able to stop it.â

        âoeVery well, Colonel. Make sure no one without a top secret clearance sees it when itâ(TM)s painted. Dismissed.â The Colonel saluted and left.

        The next day, Sergeant Capone was back down by the waterfront. The entire metropolitan area was on alert, and the President had declared martial law in Missouri and Illinois. People were ordered to stay in their homes, as if their homes would protect them from something that could throw cars.

        His radio came on â" he was being ordered back to the station. Curious. As he walked towards his squad car it suddenly left the ground and was hurling straight at him, barely missing.

        Helicopters swooped down, and the invisible monster disappeared. Sergeant Capone radioed that his squad car had been totaled, and was informed that another car would come to pick him up. A couple of hours later the helicopters departed.

        âoeWell, Colonel?â

        âoeWeâ(TM)re pretty sure we know who it is, sir. Corporal George Smith is AWOL, called in sick yesterday and didnâ(TM)t show up for work this morning. We checked his quarters, he wasn't home and his car was on-base.

        âoeAnd we think we know what made him snap â" his brother was an undercover narcotics officer and was accidentally killed in a gun battle with an off-duty St. Louis police officer. Neither knew the other was a law enforcement officer.

        âoeWe think he's out for revenge, sir. Twice heâ(TM)s struck the same area, an area where the other law enforcement officer has his beat. So we have helicopters standing by at LaClede's Landing, camouflaged, of course.

        âoeUnfortunately, we had a fatality yesterday. A police officer got in a gun battle with troops clearing the street and was killed.â

        âoeUnfortunate, indeed. How long until Smith runs out of food or water, or the unit runs out of power?â

        âoePower will last about a week, food and water longer.â

        âoeI want you to get with engineering, when we get it back we need to find a way to keep this from happening again. Is that all, Colonel?â

        âoeYes, sir.â

        âoeOkay, youâ(TM)re dismissed.â

        Things were quiet the next two days, and social media started to grumble.

        The General got a missive from the President himself, he was to meet with one of the Presidentâ(TM)s people.

        General Ferguson called the St. Louis Chief of Police. âoeWe need your help. We know what it is, but we canâ(TM)t tell you. I'd like to have Sergeant Capone on the waterfront today.â

        âoeIâ(TM)m sorry, General, but I don't think you have the authority to give me that order. Youâ(TM)re going to have to speak to the mayor.â

        âoeSgt. Capone, can I see you in my office?â

        âoeOf course.â

        âoeClose the door, would you?â

        âoeWhatâ(TM)s this about, Lieutenant?â

        âoeDamn it, Bob, donâ(TM)t give me that âLieutenantâ(TM) crap, weâ(TM)ve been friends since high school. What the hell is going on?â

        Capone was puzzled. âoeJoe, I have no idea what youâ(TM)re talking about. What the hell are you talking about?â

        âoeDamn it, Bob, what the hell did you do? Why does the mayor want to talk to you?â

        âoeWhat? Why would he want to talk to me? Come on, Joe, tell me what this is all about.â

        âoeHis assistant wouldnâ(TM)t say. Anyway, you need to get down there right now, the guy from the mayorâ(TM)s office sounded scared. Let me know whatâ(TM)s going on. I hope you âre not in trouble.â

        âoeMe, too, but I donâ(TM)t know what I would be in trouble for. Iâ(TM)ll let you know.â

        âoeOkay, get your ass down there!â

        âoeCan I help you, Sergeant?

        âoeI was told the mayor wanted to see me. I...â

        âoeSgt. Capone?â

        âoeYes, maâ(TM)am.â

        âoeOh, please follow me, heâ(TM)s waiting for you.â

        The mayor was with an Army general in uniform. He stood quietly as the mayor spoke. âoeSergeant, the president called me.â

        Bob was puzzled but silent. The mayor continued hesitantly. âoeSergeant, all I know is itâ(TM)s vital for national security that you do whatever General Ferguson asks. Will you do that, Sergeant?â

        Of course he said âoeyesâ. Only an idiot would answer otherwise. The general looked at the mayor. The mayor said âoeExcuse meâ and left.

        âoeYou were in the service?â the general asked.

        âoeYes, sir. Air Force.â

        âoeWhy didn't you re-up?â

        âoeI didnâ(TM)t want to be a bubble chaser, I wanted to be a cop.â

        âoeA bubble chaser? What's that?â

        âoeA hydraulics technician. We were âbubble chasersâ(TM), electricians were âspark chasers', the...â

        âoeDid you have any kind of clearance?â


        âoeSecurity clearance.â

        âoeOh, yes, sir. I worked on some of the stealth aircraft. I thought you fellows would have looked that up.â

        âoeWhat kind of aircraft?â

        âoeI'm sorry, sir, I can't discuss them.â

        The general grinned broadly. âoeExcellent. Yes, we did look it up. All of this is on a âneed to knowâ(TM) basis. Weâ(TM)re dealing with some top secret gear.

        âoeI can't tell you what's going on, of course, but you need to know we need you as bait.â

        âoeBait? For what, sir?â

        âoeI can't tell you. All you need to know is that weâ(TM)re going down to the riverfront and you need to stick as close to me as possible.â

        A knock came from the door and the general answered it, and was given a sheet of printed paper. He glanced at it, and said âoePlease wait here, Sergeant. Iâ(TM)ll be back shortly.â

        He walked down the hall, where an aide told him âoeThe units are ready, sir.â

        âoeThank you, Lieutenant.â He changed into a police officer's uniform and collected Sgt. Capone. They drove to the riverfront in a police cruiser, got out, walked a few yards and stopped.

        Capone noticed the general's strange weaponry, but knew better than to ask about it. It looked to him like a paintball gun. Laser? Maybe. This whole experience was very strange, he thought.

        The day was uneventfully boring.

        It was far from boring at the police station; all hell was breaking loose. Several squad cars were destroyed, and the police were close to panic. It lasted for maybe twenty minutes, and the destruction stopped when the helicopters showed up.

        The mayor appeared on the television news that night, assuring residents that the next day the police would all be on their normal assigned duties but the curfew was still in place until the president ordered otherwise.

        The next morning General Ferguson and Sgt. Capone were back down by the riverfront. An hour later a car became animated, hurling itself through the air at the general and the policeman. Capone ran and the general kept firing his paint gun.

        His fourth shot splattered in the air, becoming an animated blob the general could see flying through the air. He kept firing until his gun was out of paint.

        There was an awful racket coming from the flying blobs, the sound of heavy steel on heavy steel.

        âoeCapone!â the general ordered. âoeBack to the station, Iâ(TM)ll take it from here.â

        The Sergeant mulled over what he had seen as he was driving back to the station. It looked to him after it was splattered with paint like it was some kind of giant headless humanoid robot. He wondered what it was, but knew he would never know for sure, but the military seemed to have found a way to make objects invisible in visible light.

        He went to see the lieutenant as soon as he got back. The lieutenant had him close the door. âoeSo whatâ(TM)s going on, Bob?â

        âoeSorry, Joe, itâ(TM)s a military secret and Iâ(TM)m not allowed to talk about it.â

        âoeWell, at least I know you're not in trouble. The mayor called, youâ(TM)re getting some kind of medal or award or something, so I guess I should say âgood workâ(TM).â

        Down by the riverfront an Army tech Sergeant was unlocking the paint spattered, otherwise invisible machine, pistol drawn and at the ready. After looking inside he holstered his pistol and called down to the general. âoeHeâ(TM)s dead, sir. Apparently shot himself, thereâ(TM)s a hell of a bloody mess inside the unit.â

        The general ordered that the two invisible units put all three units in a semitrailer to be shipped back to the base.

        That evening the president was on the television news, praising the Army and police Sergeant Bob Capone, and informing everyone that the danger was passed and the curfew was lifted. The mayor came on and praised the city police force in general and Bob Capone in particular.

        âoeReinlist...â Bob thought. âoeNonsense, Iâ(TM)d far rather chase criminals than bubbles. I hate working on hydraulics!â

User Journal

Journal Journal: "My God! It's full of fail!" -David Bowman 3

What a mess.

Yesterday when I turned my computer on, an old Acer Aspire One, the "Upgrade to Windows 10!" nag screen popped up. Okay, what the hell, I'll try it, since Microsoft says going back is easy.

It took four hours to download and another hour for "preparing to upgrade Windows" to finish, and I was given a choice - upgrade now, or schedule for later? I scheduled it for nine last night, since I wanted to use the computer for, you know, computing.

At nine I told it to go ahead. I probably went to bed around ten, and the computer screen was still black with a "working..." graphic.

This morning it said it was ready. It rebooted, and took a full half hour to reach the desktop, which was simply butt-ugly and primitive looking. The kids doing the designing at Microsoft really suck at what they do.

Before it got to the password box there were some user-hostile Microsoft spyware to opt out of. That, and the extreme slowness and butt-ugliness is all I could see that was changed. All of the changes seemed completely cosmetic. I found no additional features or usefulness at all.

My shortcut to Firefox on the task bar was gone. Microsoft Word and Excel were gone as well, although Open Office was still there. I went through the start menu's "other programs" or whatever it's called, and those applications were just gone.

Microsoft is just evil.

I have the flashblock extension installed, with a few sites whitelisted. Since KSHE changed their stream provider, I can't hear it on Firefox, so I set it to run IE on startup with the KSHE player as its home page. It took a full fifteen minutes before any music came out.

The new IE is called something else, I forgot what, but fortunately they didn't change the icon much or I'd never have found it. What is wrong with those people?

And I have never seen a slower computer, and my first one back in 1982 had a CPU that was over a thousand times slower than my notebook. The computer was simply unusable and extremely hard to navigate.

I was really glad I have my passwords written down, and it looked like I was going to lose all my bookmarks. I downloaded Firefox, and decided to go back to W7 before installing. I worried I'd have to buy Word, since the magazines all insist on it and Microsoft had apparently uninstalled it. Oh, magazines. I got my first rejection letter yesterday. I'll post it tomorrow.

Windows Ten is the worst operating system I've ever used. Of course, I understand that W8 was worse.

I went to uninstall it and it said I'd have to plug it in to - and it was fully charged. I figured it would take all day, so I plugged it in and set it going. Then doing something I never do, I went to facebook on my phone, and I hate typing on a phone.

Surprisingly, it only took an hour, and after it booted it seems to be like it was before the "upgrade". Firefox, Word, and Excel were back.

Tomorrow: Stealth

User Journal

Journal Journal: Gimpy text and Mars

I use the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) to design book covers. It's an excellent free open source program that has three weaknesses -- its menu structure is completely illogical (but can be gotten used to), I can't find a full spectrum palette, and its text handling is so poor as to be useless.

I have a workaround for the bad text. Open a word processor that will output a PDF file, choose your typeface and size, choose the text's color and write the text. Save it as a PDF and GIMP will open it as an image in as high a resolution you need. Just make the background transparent, situate it over your graphic, and merge the layers.

Speaking of books, I made a Mars, Ho! YouTube video. Yes, there is a pussy in it.

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Journal Journal: Table of Contents

I've spent the last three days working to fix the ePubs and AZW3s of Yesterday's Tomorrows. I had just ran it through Calibre and did a quick check, noting that the table of contents didn't display anything.

It took a lot of research and learning to fix the ToC, and while doing so discovered something even worse - some of the illustrations were covering up the text. Damn!

Trying to figure out the ToC I tried several things. One was installing the Write2epub extension to Open Office.

It really sucked, especially with this book. It had some ugly sans-serif typeface, and there were huge swaths large and bolded that I never told it to do. And there was still no table of contents.

While googling and reading and finding out that e'books were mostly based on HTML5, XML and a few other things, I got a little disheartened. This was going to take forever, because I had a lot I had to learn.

I ran across Google's e'book editor "Sigil" and installed it. I have no idea if it's any good, because there's no documentation and I can't make heads or tails out of it.

So I went back to Calibre and studied it some more, educated a little but not much by the internet, and saw a long string with an "and" in it, "h1 and h2" and recognised this from HTML and the rest of the garbage from programming for thirty years. Stupid Calibre was telling it to make everything part of the table!

It took a bit of trial and error to get the right parenthesis and brackets in the right spots that the conversion wouldn't crash with an error, but I finally got a working table of contents.

Now to address the obscured text. That took quite a bit of head scratching as well.

I finally just decided to make the input make the output behave, rather than trying to tweak the output itself. What finally worked was to load the offending images in GIMP and add a white space where it was covering the text. That worked.

So if you've already downloaded one of the e'books, you should delete them and download the new version.



I think I'll take the day off tomorrow.

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Journal Journal: Futurists...

I just uploaded the last item in "Yesterday's Tomorrows", a futurist essay by "the father of science fiction," Hugo Gernsback. In his essay, written in 1926, he describes the year 1976. Those of you who believe the guys who say the singularity is near or that death will be conquered within your lifetime should read it.

Futurists! Where in the hell is my flying car? Why are there no bases on the moon, like the futurists said in the 1960s we'd have by now? Why did no one see digital photography coming? Or phones in your pockets? Or the internet?

Gernsback sold electronic components, some of which he designed himself, yet didn't seem to understand "electricity, the mysterious fluid." He thought we'd be able to control the weather with it, and even more nonsensical things. He seemed steeped in the cult of Tesla, who had promised wireless delivery of electricity.

Coincidentally, Soylent News just mentioned a story about transplanting porcine hearts into humans, and the company's co-founder is a futurist. Of course, I left a comment about futurists.

I go into it in detail about futurism both in the book's foreword and the introduction to the Gernsback essay.

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Journal Journal: Yesterday's Tomorrow is now available!

It turned into a beautiful thing. It's full of illustrations, plus photos of the authors and covers of the magazines the stories were printed in. It has the first use of the word "astronaut", the cover story of the issue of Astounding that is said to have ushered in the "golden age of science fiction, A.E. van Vogt's first published science fiction, a few other firsts, and five stories that are printed from cleaned up scans of the magazines. There are biographies of all the writers in the book.

I usually encourage folks to read the stories online or check a copy out from their local library, but not this time. The printed book is head and shoulders better than the electronic versions.

There are stories by Isaac Asimov, John W. Campbell, Murray Leinster, Frederik Pohl, Neil R. Jones, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., A. E. van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Phillip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, James Blish, Lester del Rey, Jerome Bixby, and a futurist essay by "the father of science fiction" Hugo Gernsback.

It will be a little while before the HTML version is available, since they're not done yet, but I'll post them as I finish them. Meanwhile, there is a PDF, an ePub, and an AZW3 posted for free download.

Yesterday's Tomorrows

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Journal Journal: Number Five 2

I just sent off for the fifth and, I hope, last pre-publication copy of Yesterday's Tomorrows. I was sure it would be finished a month ago, but there were problems printing it due to some of the illustrations being too high of a resolution. It took a month to get the fourth printed.

I can't decide whether or not to assign an ISBN to it, since the book may not be legal in all countries. What do you think? I only have three or four left, and a block of ten is $250. Should I use one? The only country besides the US that has bought my books was Great Britain, and very few there although the web site gets visits from all over the world.

I'm pretty sure I'll never sell a book in Australia, because they're crazy expensive down there; tariffs, probably.

Oh, if you want to read the copy of Huckleberry Finn at my site, better hurry because when I post Yesterday's Tomorrows I'll have to take the Twain book down to make space. It will be back up this fall when I renew my URL and upgrade my hosting level. When it's back up I'll have a version that's easy to read on a phone.

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Journal Journal: A suggestion to mobile browser makers and the W3C 4

There are an awful lot of pages on my web site, and I've been busy making them all "mobile-friendly". Most of them are little or no problem making them look good on all platforms, but there are three that are especially problematic.

I jumped this hurdle (well, sort of stumbled past it) by making two of each of the pages with a link to the mobile page from the index.

Ideally, I could just check to see if it was a phone or not and redirect phones to the mobile page, but there's no way to make this 100% successful*. Each brand of phone has a different user agent, there are a lot of installable phone browsers. On top of that, is it an Android phone or an Android tablet? With the minimum typeface size and viewport set, those pages are fine on the PC version but the phone version looks like crap.

Apple should have thought of this when they made the first iPhone, and Google should have thought of this when developing Android. The answer is simple, but it can only be implimented by browser makers and perhaps the W3C.

From the beginning of the World Wide Web, browsers looked for index.html, the default front page in any directory. This worked fine before smart phones, but no longer.

Phone browsers should look first for mobile.html, and if it exists display that, and display index.html if it isn't there. Tablets and computers would behave as they always have.

It doesn't have to be mobile.html, it could be any name as long as everyone agreed that it was the standard, like they did with index.html.

Maintaining a web site would be much easier if they did this. What do you guys think?

* A reader tipped me to the Apache Mobile Filter. It looks promising, especially since my host uses Apache. I'm looking into it.

User Journal

Journal Journal: How to make "mobile-friendly" web pages 3

I finally got the full texts of Nobots and Mars, Ho! to display well on a phone. My thanks to Google for showing me how, even if the way they present the information is more like trial and error, but it's actually easy once you jump through all their hoops. I'll make it easy.

First, you need to make sure it will fit on a phone's screen. I've been preaching for years that it's stupid to use absolute values, except with images; if you don't tell the browser the image size and you are using style sheets, your visitors will be playing that annoying "click the link before it moves again" game.

Some of you folks who studied this in college should demand your tuition be refunded, because they obviously didn't teach this.

Giving tables, divs, and such absolute values almost assures that some of your visitors will have that incredibly annoying and unprofessional horizontal scroll (*cough* slashdot *cough*).

None of the elements (images, divs, etc) can be more than 320 pixels wide, and you need to tell the browser to make it fit on a screen. To do this, add this meta tag to your page's head:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

Next, you need to make sure the text is large enough to read without double tapping. The <p> tag does this:

<p {min-height: 16px}>

This needs to be placed after the <body> tag and before anything having to do with text.

To test it, just pull the page up on your phone. If it scrolls sideways, you need to work on it.

If you're worried about your Google pagerank, Google has a "mobile friendly test" here. If you flunk, well, when Google says "jump"...

My main index page fails their test. To make it pass the test I would have to ruin the desktop/tablet design. As it is now, the text is readably large on a phone but it has a sideways scroll, which is tiny if you hold the phone sideways, and I added a link at the very start of the page to a version that will pass Google's test, looks fine on a phone, not bad on a tablet but looks like excrement on a computer. The main index works fine on a tablet, since I've made it as "mobile-friendly" as possible.

I'd have it redirect if it saw Android or iOS, but it's been fifteen years since I've done that and I've forgotten how.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Sorry I haven't written...

I have two new stories nearly finished, but I've decided to see if I can sell first publication rights to a magazine. If everyone rejects them, I'll post them then. If one is accepted, it will likely be quite a while before I can post.

With three books in the works I've been really busy. Hell, I've been working harder since I retired than I did when I worked! I got the index pages to my three published books and the "coming soon" page for Yesterday's Tomorrows "mobile-friendly". I don't know why I'm bothering; almost nobody surfs in on a phone or from Google. But at any rate, I got the book Triplanetary and the first two chapters of Mars, Ho "mobile friendly" as well. The Time Machine is next; the epub versions of my books are better than the HTML versions, on a phone, anyway. Twain, Dickens, and God are going to be mobile-hostile for quite a while because of all the artwork in them.

I couldn't make the main index "mobile friendly" without making it look like crap on a computer screen, so I made a copy "mobile friendly", posted it as mobile.html and added a link from the main index.

Site stats say Google has spidered, so I tried to find Mars, Ho!" by googling on the phone. Nothing but Marsho Medical Group, Andy Weir's The Martian, and a facebook page for someone named Mars Ho. Googling "Mars, Ho! novel" did bring up Amazon's e'book copy halfway through the page.

"Mars, Ho! mcgrew" brought up Amazon's e'book first, followed by the mobile-hostile main index, THEN the actual Mars, Ho! index which IS "mobile friendly" (it passed their test). And I thought "mobile friendly" was supposed to raise your ranks? What's up, Google?

The second copy of Yesterday's Tomorrows came yesterday. I didn't expect until the day after tomorrow. I went through it twice yesterday and it's almost ready; there is still a little work before it's published, but it won't be long.

It's a really nice book, with stories by Isaac Asimov, John W Campbell, Murray Leinster, Frederik Pohl, Neil R Jones, Kurt Vonnegut, A. E. Van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Phillip K Dick, Frank Herbert, James Blish, Lester del Rey, and Jerome Bixby. Covers of the magazines they appeared in are shown, with short biographies and photos of the authors. It's also well-illustrated with illustrations from the original magazines.

Random Scribblings: Junk I've littered the internet with for two decades will probably be next year.

Oh, how do you like my new shirt?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Product Review: Seagate Personal Cloud 5

Around the first of the year all three working computers were just about stuffed full, so I thought of sticking a spare drive in the Linux box, when the Linux box died from a hardware problem. It's too old to spend time and money on, so its drive is going in the XP box (which is, of course, not on the network; except sneakernet). I decided to break down and buy an external hard drive. I found what I was looking for in the "Seagate Personal Cloud". And here I thought the definition of "the cloud" was someone else's server!

I ordered it the beginning of January, not noticing that it was a preorder; it wasn't released until late March. I got it right before April.

I was annoyed with its lack of documentation -- it had a tiny pamphlet full of pictures and icons and very few words. Whoever put that pamphlet together must beleive the old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words". Tell me, if a picture is worth a thousand words, convey that thought in pictures. I don't think it can be done.

I did find a good manual on the internet. For what I wanted, I really didn't need a manual, but since I'm a nerd I wanted to understand everything about the thing. Before looking for a manual I plugged it all up, and Windows 7 had no problem connecting with it. It takes a few minutes to boot; it isn't really simply a drive, it must have an operating system and network software, because it looks to the W7 notebook to be another file server. Its only connections are a jack for the power cord and a network jack.

The model I got has three terrabytes. I moved all the data from the two working computers (using a thumb drive to move data from XP) and the "cloud" was still empty. Streaming audio and video from it is flawless; I'm completely satisfied with it, it's a fine piece of hardware.

However, it WON'T do what is advertised to do, which is to be able to get to your data from anywhere. In order to do that, Seagate has a "software as a service" thing where you can connect to a computer from anywhere, but only the computer and its internal drives, NOT the "personal cloud". And they want ten bucks a month for it.

I downloaded the Android app, and I could see and copy files that were on my notebook to my phone, but I couldn't play music stored there on it. I uninstalled the crap. "Software as a service" is IMO evil in the first place, but to carge a monthly fee to use a piece of crap software like this is an insult. Barnum must have been right.

If you're just looking for an external hard drive, like I was, it's a good solution. If you want what they're advertising, you ain't gettin' it. The Seagate Personal Cloud's name is a lie, as is its advertising.

User Journal

Journal Journal: We've been spelling it wrong for over a quarter century 8

I'm surprised that this hasn't been addressed by the academic communities. Someone with a degree in English or linguistics or something like that should have though of this decades ago.

This word (actually more than one word) has various spellings, and I've probably used all of them at one time or another. The word is email, or eMail, or e-mail, or some other variation. They're all wrong.

It's a contraction of "electronic mail" and as such should be spelled e'mail. The same with e'books and other e'words.

So why hasn't someone with a PhD in English pointed this out to me? I have no formal collegiate training in this field. It's a mystery to me.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Are printed books' days numbered? 4

In his 1951 short story The Fun They Had, Isaac Asimov has a boy who finds something really weird in the attic -- a printed book. In this future, all reading was done on screens.

When e'books* like the Nook and Kindle came out, there were always women sitting outside the building on break on a nice spring day reading their Nooks and Kindles. It looked like the future to me, Asimov's story come true. I prefer printed books, but thought that it was because I'm old, and was thirty before I read anything but TV and movie credits on a screen.

And then I started writing books. My youngest daughter Patty is going to school at Cincinnati University (as a proud dad I have to add that she's Phi Beta Kappa and working full time! I'm not just proud, I'm in awe of her) and when she came home on break and I handed her a hardbound copy of Nobots she said "My dad wrote a book! And it's a REAL book!"

So somehow, even young people like Patty value printed books over e'books.

My audience is mostly nerds, since few non-nerds know of me or my writing, so I figured that the free e'book would far surpass sales of the printed books. Instead, few people are downloading the e'books. More download the PDFs, and more people buy the printed books than PDFs and ebooks combined.

Most people just read the HTML online, maybe that's a testament to my m4d sk1llz at HTML (yeah, right).

Five years ago I was convinced ink was on the way out, but there's a book that was printed long before the first computer was turned on that says "the news of my death has been greatly exaggerated".

* I'll write a short story about the weird spelling shortly.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Where's my damned tablet? 11

I'd like to know why in the hell nobody is selling a tablet, or maybe an app for existing tablets, that will let me watch over the air TV on it?

All the necessary hardware is there. Wi-fi and bluetooth are radios. Some cell pones can pick up FM music stations, and have been able to do so and have done so for years.

The FM radio band sits between channels six and seven on the VHF television channels. If it can hear radio, it can see TV.

The technology is there, why isn't the commercial device to be found? Offer a tablet I can watch TV without the internet and I'll buy one. Maybe two.

Backed up the system lately?