An alarm woke me up at quarter to seven and for once I didn't mind a bit, and in fact I was glad it woke me up. I was in the middle of a really weird dream. A herd of cows was stampeding towards me, only they were running on their hind legs and somehow carrying big butcher knives in their front hooves, all singing a Chartov song while coming at me. Too many westerns, I guess.
It was engine seventeen, something was wrong with it. I shut it down from the pilot room and started a pot of coffee perking before I shit, showered, and shaved. Destiny woke up about the time I was getting dressed.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"I don't know, maybe ten or fifteen after seven."
"You're up early again!"
"Yeah," I said. "Alarm woke me up from a really weird dream, something wrong with engine seventeen. I shut it down and corrected course so eight o'clock should be easy this morning. Hungry?"
"I probably will be. What are you having?"
"Steak and scrambled eggs and toast. Should I have the robot make you that?"
"Sure, only I want my eggs sunny side up. Is there any good coffee made?"
"Yeah, I made a pot, most of it is still left."
She got out of bed and put on a robe and followed me into the dining room, where the robot was already cooking our breakfast. I put the news on. Not much new, some problem at that big Venus station, an outbreak of some disease they thought had been eradicated decades earlier. They were worried it might get back to Earth.
I think they only have the news to scare people and make them worry.
We ate our breakfast and drank coffee and Destiny started a second pot as I went back to the pilot room for the eight o'clock readings. Like I figured they were fine, and I was sure glad because this was going to be another busy day, what with number seventeen shut down and today I had to inspect cargo.
The passenger section was, like usual, a big waste of time. Cargo were all asleep except the German woman, who was in the commons with Tammy, and a girl named Angel who was bending over the sink. She turned around and looked at me with those scary red monster eyes. I freaked out, ran, and ordered the door locked behind me and called Tammy.
"We have a serious problem," I said. "Angel is going through withdrawal."
"What? I left her a dose, someone must have stolen it. I'll be right there." She came running down the hall holding her fone. "How bad is she?"
"Bad," I said. "Redeye bad."
"Oh, no," she said. "I'll be right back, try to keep that door closed. If she gets out we're all dead."
"Wait! Where are you going?"
"To rig up a spray bottle. This is going to be very dangerous but it has to be done." She ran to her quarters.
I had an idea and pulled out my fone. "Computer," I said, "what's the best way to knock that bitch out?"
The fone said "Parse error, there are no female dogs on board and 'knock' is not in context. Please rephrase."
Who programs these God damned stupid things, anyway? Back when computers were new, speculative fiction movies had computers that could think. These stupid computers sure can't. God damn it, I was going to have to talk like I went to college... only I ain't went to college, damn it.
"Uh, how can I..." I had to think a minute. "Make the woman in cargo twenty two go to sleep fast with the least amount of harm?"
The fone said "waiting until she falls asleep naturally would cause the least harm." Stupid computer.
"What will cause her to, uh... lose consciousness quickly with the least amount of harm?"
"Replacing the air with an inert gas would accomplish the task," it said. Whatever the hell an "inert gas" is.
"Okay," I told it, "replace the air in cargo twenty two with an inert gas."
"Please choose which inert gas you wish to replace it with."
God damn computers! "What gas will knock... uh, put her to sleep with the least damage?"
"Computer, replace the air in cargo twenty two with nitrogen and then open the door when she goes to sleep."
The door opened, and Tammy came running back carrying a spray bottle. "It's okay," I said. "She's not conscious, I knocked her out."
"Wow, John, remind me not to piss you off," She said. She took care of Angel while I finished my inspection. There was some minor damage to her sink, and I wondered what the hell that crazy animal was trying to do. As I was leaving the room, a medic Tammy had summoned rolled in.
I'd do the commons and sick bay after the engines and generators.
Everything was fine down there, all things considered. The generator was a little warm, but readings said it had been a lot warmer at seven.
All the engines except seventeen were fine. Seventeen had shorted out; we were lucky the alarm went off or either the generator would have probably been damaged so bad it would have to be rebuilt, or the rest of the engines might have fried, or both. I logged it; the robot was already working on it. We'd be fine with only one engine out. At one time earlier in the trip I'd had three or four that weren't lit, but there are a hell of a lot of the huge things.
I checked out the rest of the monstrously big things. That's where I spend most of my work day usually, downstairs inspecting engines since there were so many of them and they all had to be inspected.
I trudged back up the five damned flights of stairs and decided to have lunch before finishing inspections; it was already twelve thirty and I was starved.
I had a cheeseburger and Afghan style fried potatoes for lunch. Destiny had a steak chef salad, joking about pork. Her pig jokes made me think about the German woman.
"I still have a little more work," I told her. "Engines took forever today because of number seventeen, I spent half an hour on just that one alone. I still have to inspect the sick bay and commons. Want to go for a walk when we finish eating?"
"Sure," she said. "I'll come along."
We finished eating and walked to sick bay. I inspected it and we went into the commons, where Lek and Tammy were drinking coffee and eating turkey sandwiches. Lek was still wearing clothes and acting pretty damned ladylike for a dropper. Tammy was doing some damned good work with that one, she should be proud.
We got back home at two or three and destiny put on an old two dimensional comedy western named "Wagons East". It was a really silly movie and we laughed our asses off watching it. Destiny said that part of this one had to be done in a computer because one of the stars, the fat guy who played the wagon master, died before they finished shooting and they had to map his face to a body double. She said computers used in movies was still really new when that one was made.
When it was over we ate a poor man's dinner; prime rib, baked potato, salad, and wine. I only drank one glass, I hate hangovers. Especially wine hangovers.
I did have two beers while we watched The Underpass. That's a new one, you guys probably saw it already.
We listened to some old classical blues and cuddled when it was over and went to bed.
As I was going through Google News this morning I ran across an item about actor Morgan Freeman talking to a couple of astronauts on the ISS at a round table discussion at JPL before an audience of what looked like two or three hundred people, all of whom were JPL employees.
He was there with the producer of his show on the Science Channel Through the Wormhole and with its writer, a physicist.
There was no link from the newspaper article, but Google found it here on YouTube. Those of you who think we should go to Mars instead of "wasting time and money" on the ISS should watch it; it will be an eye opener for you.
Everyone else is likely to enjoy the presentation as much as I did. All sorts of science is discussed, and there's a fascinating part about testing parachutes for Mars landings. There's also a clip from Through the Wormhole and it looks to be as good as Cosmos, although I haven't watched any full episodes.
I was surprised to find that Mr. Freeman is a fan of science fiction. When he asked for a show of hands, asking who was alive to see the moon landing, maybe a half dozen raised their hands, although most of the audience was interns.
For those of you, like me, who don't have cable or your provider doesn't offer that channel, more googling found that all the episodes are online here.
An alarm woke me up at quarter after six. What the hell? Fire in P117? I put on a robe, and as I trudged down there Tammy was running into the commons. I wondered what was going on.
I got to Passenger quarters 117 and it was a damned drill, the light wasn't flashing and I didn't smell any smoke. I really didn't expect to, because except for Tammy's quarters none of the rest of the passenger section was occupied and wall panels blowing up is pretty rare. Most fires are caused by old maids and on this trip, stupid passengers. I don't know why they have those things cleaning empty quarters.
I passed Tammy on the way back. "I missed Rilla," she said. "I forgot she got up early to eat."
As I passed the commons on the way home I saw the obese blonde German woman leaning back in a chair, an eyedropper on the floor next to her. I'm glad I read Tammy's book, she was going to want a dildo in a minute or two and I sure didn't want it to be me. I hurried back to my quarters and started coffee, since it was too late to go back to sleep, and headed to the head to pee.
Zero G football was in the semifinals and I caught the last quarter of the game. Belgium beat Brazil two to one. I told the robot to make scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns and went to shit and shower.
God DAMN that Mexican food, my asshole was on fire! It felt like I was shitting flames. Why do I keep forgetting what spicy food does to my asshole? Fuck!
When I got out of the shower Destiny was at the table wearing a robe and drinking coffee. "G'mornin' sunshine," she said. "You're sure up early."
"Yeah, I had an alarm. Just a drill, though. What time is it?"
"I don't know."
"Computer, what damned... no, back up. What time is it onboard the ship?"
"The present time is seven twelve."
I decided to set up a holographic map of EMF in my living room, even though it would be a while before we saw any pirates. I didn't know it then but they would show up early. Way too early.
Destiny had the news on the video. Some scandal in the capitol but I wasn't paying attention; I still hadn't had enough coffee.
At five 'til eight I went to the pilot room. Everything checked out, so before I started my inspection I set another holographic map up in there as well.
The maps marked spacemarks and radio transmissions and used what engineers called a "passive radar system" to mark objects but I really don't know what that means. I thought "I'm taking some classes when I reach Mars."
The passenger section was, as usual, fine. The commons, however â" it was empty and I smelled smoke. It was one of the waiters. I pulled out my fone. "Computer, shut R47 down and send a repair robot."
I went outside and called the computer again, instructing it to seal the commons and depressurize it until R47 was powered down and taken in for repairs. I'd have to finish inspecting the commons when I was done with the rest of the inspection.
The German woman walked up looking angry. "Hey, Joe," she said with her heavy accent, "I'm hungry, why is the restaurant closed?"
The passenger section had quarters like apartments with their own cooking and serving and coffee robots, but cargo quarters are single rooms with a sink and toilet, although of course there's also furniture in them. People flying in the cargo section have to eat in the commons, or have robots bring it from there.
"One of the robots is smoking so there's no air in there right now. It won't be long before you can eat."
"But I'm starved!"
Tammy walked up. "Hi, John, what's going on?"
"Smoking robot," I said. "Shouldn't take more than ten minutes."
"Ten minutes!" the blonde said. "I'll die of starvation!"
Tammy said "I'll take care of it, John." Right then a robot wheeled up and the commons door opened. Tammy and the fat girl went inside and I went to the sick bay as the robot dragged the other robot out.
Sick bay was fine, so it was time for the stairs. Damned stairs.
The working generator was okay, as were the engines, except seventeen. I started number sixty three back up and noted it in the log. Even twenty four checked out so I restarted it as well. No robot today, so I started it back up. Seventeen was good, too, so I started it back up as well.
The broken generator was still broken, of course. But everything else was in great shape for once. I trudged back up the stairs.
The only one in the commons was Lek, the one who could talk okay. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sipping coffee. A dropper with coffee? According to Tammy's book that shouldn't happen. I called Tammy and gave her the news.
"Wow," she said. "I'll be right there."
Lek said "Hello, Captain."
I said hello and finished my inspection as Tammy came in carrying a pot of coffee and sat down with Lek. "Here, Lek," she said, "I brought some good coffee. But should you be drinking coffee at all?"
"Animals no drink coffee," Lek said, "and I no want be animal. I not remember what coffee supposed to taste like."
I left her to Tammy, she was the expert, after all, and I went home.
"You're later than usual," Destiny said.
"Busy morning. Smoking robot, hungry fat girl, started a couple of engines..."
"Okay, okay," she said laughing. "Lets have lunch. T-bone and mashed potatoes and slaw okay?"
"Sure." I had the robot bring me a glass of shike.
We took a short walk then watched some old two dimensional movie about the American Civil War, even though the actual war part only took a couple of minutes. I think it was called "Lincoln". By the time it was over it was supper time. We watched one of the movies Destiny called a "spaghetti western", listened to some Chartov for a while and went to bed.
In 1969 I was a seventeen year old nerd in high school, using my slide rule to cheat in math class. I was probably the only one in the school who even had a clue how a slide rule worked, let alone owned one.
Most of my teenaged friends were amateur musicians, and I'd fix their broken amplifiers for them. Guitar fuzzboxes were relatively new, and they were expensive, costing well over a hundred dollars in an age where a gallon of milk or gasoline cost not much more than a quarter and a high-end TV set, including oak cabinet, was around $500. I'd take ten dollar transistor radios, usually used and often broken, and hack cheap fuzzboxes out of them and sell them to my noisy friends for chump change.
I also worked at a drive-in theater, and the nights that I had to work in the ticket booth were boring nights, once people stopped coming in and the movie started. I couldn't keep enough library books checked out to keep me occupied, and Cahokia didn't have a very good library, anyway. So I bought a little twelve inch black and white Panasonic TV for the ticket booth. It also came in handy on the nights I didn't work, because we only had one TV in the house (the norm back then) and my younger sister and I would argue about what to watch, and our parents would wind up shutting it off. So now I had my own TV.
The whole world was anticipating Aldrin, Griffin, and Armstrong's trip to the moon. I don't remember what night of the week it was on, but I did have to work. In the summer the drive-in was always busy unless it was raining, which it wasn't.
My boss' name was George, and he and his his brother owned a string of theaters and restaurants. George was a good guy, a short, fat, second generation Greek with a great sense of bawdy humor. But he hated TV - TV was the theater's enemy, the competition that in his mind kept food out of his overerprivileged childrens' mouths. Despite this, tonight I was taking my TV to work and not to the ticket booth; Jim was selling tickets that night.
I pulled up and parked my mothers' car by the concession stand and walked in with my little television.
"WTF do you think you're doing with that thing? George demanded.
"I'm watching Niel Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon."
"No, you're not. We're going to be busy tonight and I'm not having a TV set in my concession stand."
"Sorry, George," I told him, "but the first moon landing is only going to happen once. We're incredibly privileged to be alive right now. You can fire me and I'll go home, or I can watch it here. But I'm watching it!" Bill the projectionist came in, cursing himself for not bringing a television, and he saw mine. "Allright!" he exclaimed. George gave him a hard time, and they argued about it for a while. I was ready to go home.
George relented, and he was wrong about being a busy night, as we only had one carload of people; everyone else was at home watching the moon landing. George was one of the few people I knew that didn't care about it. My grandmother was sure that the moon landing was going to end in disaster, as God would surely not let us leave the planet and go to heaven to land on the moon. Everyone knew how dangerous it was, and how after tonight the world would be a completely different planet than it was the day before. Human beings were going to step onto the surface of another world and walk around.
I doubt those born afterwards can imagine what it was like. This was one time history was being made, everybody knew it, and everybody was going to watch it happen on live TV.
"Where in the hell is everybody?" George kept demanding, worrying and fretting.
Bill said "They're all at home watching history being made, you dumbfuck," before going into the projection booth do do his nightly maintenance, which included splicing films where they were broken, firing up the arc lights inside the projectors, and getting the projectors synced. Each movie came on six to eight reels of film, and there was a mark at the top right of the screen that flashed momentarily to tell the projectionist to switch projectors. To the viewer, it was seamless if the projectionist was competent. You can still see the reel change marks on old movies you see on DVD if you know where to look.
The way a drive-in worked, there were short steel poles at every parking spot, with two speakers hanging on them. You would park your car, and take the speaker, which had a wire going into the pole, and hang it from your car's window by its hook.
There was a reel to reel tape in the projection booth that played the same tape every single night over those speakers. The sun started setting, and that Godawful song from the movie M*A*S*H that I had to listen to every night I worked the concession stand played. "And suicide is painless, it brings on many changes..." What a stupid song, I thought to my self for the seemingly millionth time. I wished they'd get a new tape.
George was cursing the government for sending men to the moon. "What a fucking waste of tax money!" Of course, what had him really pissed was the business it was costing him.
The sun set and the movie started. I don't even remember what movie was playing that night. I watched TV most of the time, and there was only one show on - the moon show, on every channel, except of course every channel had a different moon show, up to the point where they were starting the landing. Bill almost missed one of the reel changes because he was out there watching with me.
As the lander was touching down, all of us were watching in awe, even George. The lone carload's occupants came in to the concession stand. "Is there a TV in here anywhere?"
We all watched the moon landing; me, George, Bill, the other kids who worked there, and our lone carload of customers, on my little twelve inch black and white TV set. That's one small step for Neil, one giant leap for a young nerd watching it on TV at work.
First posted at Slashdot on July 20, 2009. Reprinted to commemorate the forty fifth anniversary of the first landing on the moon.
The CEO's fone buzzed; it was time to look over the papers from engineering staff, then meet them in the engineering department. He pulled them up on his tablet.
Most of the answers to his queries were interesting and original. He noted that every single one of his engineers rated Robertson as the worst engineer in the shop, regardless of their own engineering specialty, and the one they least wanted to be chief.
He decided to promote Ron Kowalski to chief engineer; his Masters degree was in engineering, of course, but his minor as an undergrad had been psychology, and he was well liked by the rest of the staff. For the chief, this was even more important than his expertise at engineering, since he would be good at communicating with the other departments as well.
He called him to his office and told him once he got there "Mister Kowalski, you're the new department head, congratulations."
Kowalski looked startled. "Me? Sir, I'm no good at all at bureaucrat stuff."
"That makes you perfect for the job," Green replied. "This organization has way too much bureaucracy as it is, a bureaucrat would add even more. Bad for productivity. That was one of Mister Robertson's worse traits, he was a born bureaucrat, paying too much attention to the book but not able to pay much attention to people at all.
"It's important that your programmers are programming in an area they know and like."
"Yes, sir," Kowalski replied, "that was our biggest complaint; Mister Robertson always seemed to give us the jobs we hated and were worst at. I couldn't believe he had Mohamed Aziz program the pork chef; he's Muslim and they consider eating pork sinful, and what's worse the man hates to cook."
"Well, your first job is to assign someone who loves cooking pork and is proud of his cooking skills to write a pork program."
"That would be Dave Wilson, he really wanted that assignment and complained so noisily when he didn't get it that Richardson threatened to fire him."
"Excellent, we'll need a barbecue program as well. Does Mister Wilson like barbecue?"
Kowalski grinned. "He probably knows more about barbecue than any of us other engineers or programmers. Mister Richardson has him programming robots to make coffee since you talked to him."
"He does drink coffee, doesn't he?"
"He practically lives on it, but he won't touch the coffee the robots are making now."
"Will it take him long?"
"No, Dave hacks out code faster than anybody else here. Sometimes it's a little bloated but programs can be trimmed down later, and every coffee drinker here, which is most of us, is sick of wasting their time making coffee when the robots should be able to. Knowing Dave he'll have it done today or tomorrow."
"I want you to do some reassignments. If anybody hates what they're designing or programming, give them something they like and are good at. Are any of your people less than competent?"
Kowalski grinned. "Not since you fired Mister Richardson."
"Well, Mister Kowalski, it looks like you're getting off to a very good start. Your biggest headache is going to be financial. Everyone in that department thinks their MBAs and accounting degrees make them able to boss other departments around. If they give you any trouble, don't hesitate to shoot me an email."
"Yes sir. Thank you."
"Do you like pork, Mister Kowalski?"
"Not really. It's way too expensive, anyway."
"Well, if you did like it you could afford it once in a while now. Your new title comes with a new salary. Okay, now lets go meet your staff."
"They're all waiting in conference room twenty three," Kowalski said. "That's where I was when you called me, we were waiting for your visit.
After they entered the big conference room, the CEO said "Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news for you all. I have appointed Mister Kowalski as your department head..."
The room burst into cheers and applause, making Green wait a minute to finish.
"I have some even better news than that. How many of you are working on projects Mister Richardson gave you that you hate? Those who are, please raise your hand."
A majority of them raised their hands.
"Well, Mister Kowalski is going to fix that. We're no longer going to have Hindus program robots to cook beef and Muslims to program pork chefs. When the meeting is over, see Mister Kowalski for assignment changes, let him know what you would like to be working on.
"Are there any questions?"
I was almost late for my eight o'clock visit to the pilot room, and only had time to grab a robe. I didn't even have time to grab coffee, let alone a shower and breakfast. We shouldn't have watched that last movie, I guess. Well, inspections would be a little late today. I grimaced, and ordered a cup of coffee from the computer. Those robots must use instant coffee rather than perking it, because it tastes nasty but they get a cup to you in no time, even though it seems like forever when you really need a cup of it. It takes five or ten minutes for my pot to make coffee.
It was nasty, but it was coffee, or an almost reasonable substitute for coffee. At least it would make me more alert. With all those damned drug addicts on board I need to be alert!
It looked like today wasn't going to be nearly as easy as yesterday. There was a course correction and engine sixty three had a minor undervoltage. I shut it down from the pilot room as Destiny came in with a cup of good coffee that robots can't make; she must have gotten up right after I did.
"Thanks," I said. "How late were we up last night? I almost didn't make it here on time."
She laughed. "I don't know, that last movie seemed like it was pretty long, and we cuddled longer than usual after it was over, too. Want some breakfast?"
"Sure," I said. She ordered the robot to make scrambled eggs and bacon and had a little fun with the computer, asking for pork bacon, and toast, and drank coffee with me as I finished up in the pilot room.
I got dressed and we ate a quick breakfast. My morning shower would have to wait today. Engine inspections were first. The robot plugged into sixty four had repaired it, so I unplugged the robot from it and restarted it and plugged the robot into number sixty three.
Robots were still working on engines seventeen and twenty three. Twenty three had two different kinds of robots working on it, so I logged that. The port generator was still broke, of course, but other than being broke and completely useless it was fine. The starboard generator was in good shape, too.
Despite having a nasty first cup of coffee and almost being late to work I was in a pretty good mood. I decided to let the girls who were confined out as long as they promised to be good... hah, like that promise meant anything. But like Tammy had said, these girls couldn't help themselves any more than a house cat can help clawing your furniture.
Billie was actually civil, and what was even more amazing was that Lek was actually clothed! I complimented her on the dress. "Thank you," she said, "I ashamed. I no want act like animal although I am one."
That was a pretty good sign, according to Tammy's book. I was in an even better mood.
There were three girls whose names I couldn't remember, the German blonde and the skinny redhead and a more normal sized woman with green hair in the commons. Why her hair was green I had no idea; weird hair colors were a fad a few hundred years ago but were way out of style these days. Might as well have tattoos, those things were popular a few hundred years ago too but nobody had them these days. Maybe the weird hair color fad was coming back? What's next, nose rings? Those people back in the twenty first century were crazy.
The redhead and the German were eating, and the woman with the green hair was drinking something pink.
I inspected sick bay, and finally could take a shower. Destiny had the robots make hoagies and potato splitters for lunch while I took my shower and put on clean clothes. The noisy maid was cleaning as we ate our sandwiches.
We took glasses of shike to the living room and watched an episode of Rawhide. When it was finished Destiny said "I think I'll take a walk, want to come along?"
"Sure," I replied. "Cabin fever?"
"Yeah, a little."
Tammy was in the commons by herself with a tablet and stylus as we went past, so we decided to have another shike. "Working?" destiny asked.
Tammy looked around furtively, making sure there were no droppers, and said "Yeah. I'm writing a paper on the effects of low gravity on droppers, I'm really learning a lot on this trip. We only had a very little bit of data on that aspect of their addiction, so this is some important research. What are you guys up to?"
"Just going for a walk," Destiny said. "I haven't been getting enough exercise lately and I seem to be tired all the time. I might even walk down a few flights of stairs."
"I'm not," I said. "I get enough damned stairs every day. Tammy, Lek was actually wearing clothes this morning!"
"Really? Which one?"
"The one that talks English okay, the only Thai on board that does. I think she's the one that knocked me out."
"That's great!" she exclaimed, beaming. "I'll have a gurney examine her, maybe I can get that kind of progress from all of them, or at least more of them."
"Well, I don't know," I said, "she said she's ashamed that she's an animal."
"Excellent!" she said, and furiously scribbled something in her tablet with its stylus.
We went back to our walk, passing a few naked droppers as we went. By the time we got to the stairwell Destiny said she changed her mind about climbing stairs, so we went back to my quarters and watched some ancient movie called "Dumbo" that had no actors, just colored moving drawings.
A century ago all movies were like that, except the drawings were done inside a computer and looked like they were real people and buildings and stuff... or almost. Now days only low budget B movies are made inside computers, they've gone back to using actors and sets and props again.
We had some kind of Mexican dish for dinner. I don't know what it was called, but I didn't care too much for it, it was way too spicy.
We watched a short movie about four college professors and their dumb blonde neighbor who wants to be an actor, then a beautiful old fantasy called "Lord of the Rings," or at least the first part -- it had been taken from an old book that was written in three long parts.
The we cuddled to some classical music and went to bed. And no, it's still none of your damned business.
He'd only read a little more of the report when he laid the tablet down and grabbed the fone and called his secretary. "Book a flight to Mars as soon as you can get me there," he said.
He composed a letter to his daughter. "Dear Destiny," it said, "I wish you'd stay in touch. I'm in the middle of reading your fiancee's report and I see you're getting married. Please wait until I get there, I want to give my daughter away
After he sent the mail a message from the company president came in.
"Dewey, I just now fired that idiot Richardson. That moron must have had a devout Jewish Rabbi to program the robots to cook pork, because I just had barbecued pork steaks on this ship and they were worse than the coffee.
"The ship's captain is excellent, from what I can tell as a random traveler. You know I went under an assumed name. Well, no sooner had the robot brought me coffee when the captain himself brought a pot of excellent coffee in and apologized for the robot coffee. He said he made coffee for all his passengers, even when he was flying cargo class passengers. At least some of our people are doing a good job, even above and beyond. Captain Muñoz said that all the first class captains were doing it, and even most cargo captains, and that there was one guy named 'Tex' that made barbecued pork for his passengers. Steaks, ribs, chops, Muñoz said that Texas is famous for barbecue. I understand that the Australians are pretty crazy about barbecue, too.
"Anyway, I wish you'd talk to Engineering and promote someone as chief. See you when I get back to Earth."
He composed a memo to all engineering staff.
FROM: Dewey Green, CEO
SUBJECT: New Chief
Staff, your chief has tendered his resignation immediately and I am looking for his replacement. I want my engineers to be productive, and you're more productive when you enjoy your assignments. I want my engineers to be happy.
Please reply with answers to the following questions, and let none of the answers be your own name.
1. Who do you consider to be our best engineer, and why?
2. Who would you most want to be chief engineer, and why?
3. Who would you consider to be our worst engineer, and why?
4, Who would you want least to be our chief engineer, and why?
5. Which or our engineers has the best people skills?
I expect a reply in one hour and will expect all of you to be in conference room three in two hours.
He poured a cup of coffee and continued reading.
Last weekend Mars, Ho! passed the magic 40,000 words, the number of words necessary for a science fiction work to be a novel.
Tuesday it massed the even more magical 42042 words; that's the number for marijuana glued to the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything. More importantly, it's the exact number of words in Nobots. As of this writing Mars, Ho! is 47,000 words. I don't think I'll reach my 100k goal, there are only half dozen more chapters to write.
Oddly, Mars, Ho! is turning into a genre that I usually don't enjoy -- horror. "Drugula". But Knolls will later be glad he has a boat full of dangerous monsters.
The next five chapters have been written, which are followed by a few that aren't written yet, followed by ten written that go almost at the end of the book.
Yes, I've become obsessed with this thing. Tomorrow, Knolls gets a surprise that you've probably already guessed.
This chapter goes between the present chapters seven and eight.
The CEO of the company was annoyed. More than annoyed. He put the report down and buzzed his secretary.
"Yes sir?" she said.
"Who's in charge of scheduling?"
"I believe that's Ms. Martinez."
"She's in charge that department?"
"I want to see her. Right now. And the head of financial as well. What's the financial head's name?"
"Yes sir. The head of financial is Larry Griffins."
He drummed his fingers as he waited impatiently for his incompetent staff. This was inexcusable, so they damned well better have a good excuse. The two finally came in together with worried looks on their faces; neither had actually met the highest ranking officer in the company, and he had an angry look on his face.
He said said "Miss Martinez..."
"Missus," she said defiantly. She was going to get fired anyway, she thought, even though she didn't know why. If she were going to get fired, she'd not be disrespected.
"Sorry, Missus Martinez," the CEO said sarcastically. "I'd like to know why Mars two eighty four didn't wait a week and a half to launch? And you, Griffins, why are you letting stockholders' money be wasted like that?"
Both looked puzzled, and said in unison "Sir?" Martinez added "I don't understand. We schedule according to launch availability as the requests come in, in order."
"And you allow this, Griffins?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand, either."
"Christ!" Green exclaimed, exasperated. "Didn't either of you go to college?"
"Yes sir, I went to U of I," Martinez said.
"I have an MBA from..." Griffins started.
Green interrupted him. "It's basic physics, people! Orbital mechanics! My boat captains think you're really ignorant; they know how stupid it is to launch at the wrong time and are reporting on it, and they're only high school graduates."
Martinez frowned. "I only had one physics class, my major was math."
Green shook his head. "Look, you two need to communicate better with the other departments. Especially you, Griffins. Mrs. Martinez, we have astrophysicists who could save this company a lot of money if you'd let them. Don't just have them plot trajectories, talk to them and even more importantly listen to them. Don't just have them guide ships, I want them to guide you.
Griffins, this is mostly on you. You're supposed to be finding ways to save this company money and undereducated boat captains are doing a better job of it than you are. I have reports that we're underenginnering parts to save money, and spending even more to replace them. Don't issue orders to engineering; you're not an engineer. Listen to them, make sure you find out repair costs and calculate that in with engineering and manufacturing costs.
"Martinez, from now on consult with astrophysics for scheduling! You should already be doing it. Now get back to work, both of you."
They left and he buzzed his secretary. "I want a meeting with all department heads tomorrow at nine in the morning." These people were going to communicate with each other or he'd replace them all.
"Yes, sir. Mister Bush is on vacation in Rio though, sir."
"Then have whoever he left in charge attend and contact Bush and tell him he'd damned well better be there by teleconference, and I don't care if he's on the beach in South America naked with a tablet."
"Yes sir," she said. "Wow," she thought, "he's really in a bad mood today!"
He started reading again.
Destiny and me woke up at the same time the next morning. We cuddled a while, made love again, then made coffee and took a shower together while the robots made us steak and cheese omelettes and toast and hash browns. Destiny put on the news. There was something about a problem in one of the company's boat factories; some machinery malfunctioned and killed a guy. I sure took notice of that! They didn't really have much information about it, though. They said something about trying to build in safety laws into the programming, I think I heard about something like that before.
Something occurred to me. "You can afford pork but it makes you feel guilty? I didn't know astronomy teachers made that much money."
"We don't," she said. "I should have told you, I don't just work for the charity, it's my charity. I started it."
"Sorry, I never give my money any thought. My dad's Dewey Green."
I almost fell out of my chair. "Your... dad..." I was almost speechless. "Uh, your dad's my CEO? No shit?"
"Does it matter?"
"I don't know," I said. I was dumbfounded. "I can't support a CEO's daughter on boat captain's pay!"
"You don't have to, silly, I pay my own way. Didn't you say you were going to retire and live on Mars with me? Didn't you say you wanted to tend bar?"
"Well, yeah, but bartenders don't make much money either."
"No, but bar owners do. At least successful ones, you'll have to take some business classes."
"I was going to go to college anyway, can't have a high school grad married to a PhD. What's your dad going to think?"
"It doesn't matter, he has no say. I'm not dependent on him and I won't be dependent on anyone. I got my endowment when I was twenty one and invested it. I have more money that he does, even."
"Holy shit," I said.
"Computer," she said, "what time is it?"
"The present time is seven fifty eight."
"Oh shit," I said, running to the pilot room.
Except for a slight course correction everything was fine, and that only took a minute. The computers do the work, I just make sure they all agree with each other.
The commons only had the fat blonde in it. These girls almost never ate breakfast, except for the blonde. She was always in there eating, it seemed. Inspection was easy.
Cargo was easy, too. Every single one was asleep, which was a relief. Tammy was keeping the animals under control and even keeping them human, apparently.
It was the passenger section that was a pain - R1 caught fire. Why in the hell are robots programmed to clean unoccupied quarters? Rooms that are never occupied shouldn't even have any air in them. Air is a fire hazard!
Anyway, there was nothing I had to do except log it. Another maid would come by to clean the mess after another robot dragged it off and repaired it. I thought of something, then thought better of it. I almost told the computer not to use parts cannibalized from other broken machines, but at this rate we would run out of maids. And probably other robots as well.
The sick bay was empty but I had to inspect it anyway, mostly to make sure its drugs were all secure, especially with all these drug addicts on board, but since there was nobody there it didn't take any time at all. Now it was time for my daily exercise routine, my five flights of stairs down to the engines and generators, and my long walk from one generator to the other, stopping at all those huge ion rocket motors.
All the engines and the lone working generator checked out and there weren't even any robots working on any of them, so I was done early for a change. I was glad of it, as busy as I'd been lately I could use some time off. I trudged up the five damned flights of stairs and walked back to my quarters.
Destiny was reading as I walked in. "Johnie! You're home early!"
"Easy day for once. Computer, what time is it?"
The computer said "The present time is eleven thirteen."
"Want to eat lunch early and watch something?" Destiny asked.
"Sure," I said, and grinned. "Ham sandwiches?"
She laughed. "Yeah, with pork bacon and a side of caviar and a hundred year old bottle of French wine to go with it! How about a cheeseburger and shike?"
"How about a pizza and beer," I suggested.
"Sounds good to me. Computer, a medium supreme pizza and two beers. We can eat it while we're watching. What do you feel like?"
I didn't care. "I don't know, pick something."
She put Spaghetti on. Huh? It's an old science fiction comedy from the first part of the twenty second century. Destiny said it was one of the last two dimensional movies, holograms were getting cheap enough to start being popular.
We had spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread for dinner and put on a modern holo, a really bad holographic recreation of one of the old westerns. It sucked, she shut it off after fifteen minutes and said "We should watch a spaghetti western."
"Huh?" I said. "What's a 'spaghetti western'?"
She said that a "spaghetti western" was a movie about the ancient American west that was filmed in Italy. No, I don't know why where a movie was made would matter, either.
Instead of a spaghetti western she put on an old two dimensional shades of gray horror comedy. Huh? No, I never heard of a horror comedy either, but it was hilarious. Destiny said the movie studio had balked at its not having colors, but they were making fun of the horror movies from fifty years earlier when none of them had colors.
When it was over we shut it off, put on some music, cuddled a while, and went to bed.
Huh? None of your damned business!
"Good morning, Mister Green."
"Good morning, Mister Osbourne. Ladies, gentlemen, I had a particularly trying day yesterday, as a few of you know," the CEO said, looking at his chief of engineering. "We have a serious problem in the company and it lands squarely in your laps. Folks, we're getting complacent and sloppy and it stops right here and right now or heads are going to roll.
"If any of you think some of your employees are less than excellent, reassign them to something they're good at or get rid of them.
"Mister Osbourne has a few words to say about a few of the problems we're having and some solutions to those problems. Mister Osbourne?"
"Thank you, Mister Green. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a severe quality control problem lately. Human Resources hired a saboteur who was employed by pirates to work in the shipyards. That is unacceptable, we do not hire pirates. Ever. It had better not happen again. I looked into the matter myself, and he should have never have been able to pass a background check to begin with, the man should have never been hired in the first place. He had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor retail theft and was fined for it when he was younger. We do not hire thieves or any other criminals, period. Any criminal record at all no matter how minor, and I'm not talking traffic tickets here, use some judgment, that's what you're being paid for, is not suitable for employment at this shipping and travel company.
I want everyone's records checked. If we have any felons on the payroll I want them terminated immediately; our contract with the union gives us the right. Anyone with a misdemeanor I want transferred to somewhere where they can't cause mischief, and that means they're not to be anywhere near one of our ships or near anything that goes into their operation. Mister Johnson has suggested this to me, and I agree with him. He's still looking for other measures, he's only been on the problem since yesterday.
"But what's just as bad and possibly even worse is you people are assigning the wrong people to the wrong teams. Our passengers pay a lot of money to ride our transportation and they don't expect bad coffee and they don't expect to have to make their own. It was sheer stupidity to assign a programmer who doesn't even drink coffee to program robots that make coffee. You wouldn't assign a Jewish or Muslim person to program a cook to prepare pork, or an American to program it to cook escargot."
Richardson went pale and said "Sir, we can't discriminate against a person on the basis of religion or national origin."
"Of course not," the President said, "but you can discriminate on the basis of competence. Don't assign a programmer to a project that he or she would not want to sample the end result of himself.
"No one is competent in building a repair robot unless he or she can repair a robot him or herself. Look, your programmers are nerds, if someone likes fixing stuff in his spare time as a hobby, have him program repair robots, not the guy who loves to cook and hates to work on a machine. If you're working on something you love you'll create excellence. If you hate what you're doing you're going to hate the work and the best work you do will never be better than mediocre. You think a guy who doesn't like coffee wants to program a robot to make coffee? Do you think a Muslim wants to program a cook to prepare pork? He would have stern religious objections. Just ask your staff what they want to work on. Come on, this isn't theoretical physics.
"It isn't just Richardson," the President said. "I dug up similar sloppiness, incompetence, and downright stupidity in all the departments. Ladies and gentlemen, you're becoming complacent and I'm simply not going to tolerate it from any of you.
"And talk to each other! We could have saved a lot of money had scheduling been talking to orbital instead of just giving them schedules. There's probably a whole lot more money to be saved, as well. Mister Griffins, you, especially, need to talk to the other heads. Folks, if you or any of your people have ideas for saving money, call Mister Griffins. If he doesn't listen, call me or Mister Green.
"From now on, our ship's Captains will be making a report after each run. I want all of you to read those reports when they come in; Captain Knolls' report is in your in-box now. You should expect Captain Kelly's and Captain Ramos' in a day or two.
"I want a progress report from each one of you in one week. This meeting is adjourned. Now get to work, you have your work cut out for you."
The president and CEO sat there silently until the last of the department heads left the room.
The president said "You know, Dewey, I haven't been to space in fifteen years, way back when we still used fusion generators on our boats. I think I'll visit Mars for a weekend and have a look at our repair facilities there."
"Yes, I agree. We haven't knuckled down and gotten our hands dirty in a while. I think I'll visit the various departments tomorrow, surprise all of them. Well," he said standing up, "I have a report to finish so I'm getting back to the office. I'll see you at the board meeting this afternoon.
I guess Destiny had stayed up and read or something. I woke up about six, started coffee and was glad the robots were almost as good at cooking as they were bad at making coffee. Unless it had to do with barbecue sauce, and who has barbecue in space? Especially for breakfast?
Or pork, I remembered. I don't eat pork, it's too damned expensive these days and I like beef and chicken better, anyway, but George Wilson, one of our guys who hauls first class passengers, eats it sometimes because the company has pork on first class boats and he tells me the pork is as bad as the coffee. Odd that they cook bacon pretty good, but all you have to do with bacon is microwave it. The robots would have to be dumber than they already are to mess bacon up. Besides, only rich people eat pork bacon, normal people have turkey bacon and you cook them both the same way. I had a pork bacon sandwich with lettuce and tomato in a restaurant once and couldn't tell the difference. Except for the size of the bill, that was a damned expensive sandwich!
But that one trip I was hauling frozen pork to that big science station in orbit around Venus I had plenty of pork. Too much damned pork. Especially since I can't cook pork much better than the damned robots can. Yeah, my parents taught me to cook when I was a kid but we were poor, had to print everything out and we damned sure couldn't afford a luxury like pork.
I was twenty three before I ate my first ham and cheese sandwich, as a treat to myself on my birthday. I didn't see what all the fuss was about, I thought thin sliced turkey was better, and a hell of a lot cheaper...
Huh? Oh, sorry, my mind wandered. Anyway, while coffee was perking and the robots were making breakfast and Destiny was sleeping I took my shower and got dressed.
The smell of decent coffee that robots can't make must have woke Destiny up, because she walked in as I was pouring the first cup. I handed it to her, said "Good morning, sweetheart," and poured a cup for myself and kissed her. "Hungry?" I asked. "I had the robot make waffles and sausage."
"Sausage? You have pork?"
I laughed. "Of course not, it's beef sausage. The company sure isn't going to pay for pork unless there's rich passengers traveling first class. And I damned sure can't afford it on a Captain's wages."
"That's too bad," she said, "I love pork sausage but it's way too expensive to eat very often, I feel guilty when I do eat pork. I usually just eat it on my birthday for breakfast."
"I never ate any," I said. She switched the video on and we watched the "news" while we ate. There was one item about a robot probe that was on its way to Alpha and Proxima Centauri at five gravities thrust. I wonder how fast that thing would be going by the time it was halfway there? Compared to that, Neptune's right next door, and it's a long way off, even from Mars! It was already months ahead of its telemetry, and no, I don't know what "telemetry" is but that's what they said on the news. It sounded impressive to me, anyway.
It was almost eight so I kissed Destiny and went to the pilot room. Everything was normal so I started my inspections. It would be a light day, since I didn't have to inspect quarters. I still had a hell of a lot of ion engines to check out, though.
After the generator had blown out I'd reduced power to a third of the engines, and twenty four, the one I'd made sputter when I'd killed all them damned pirates in the rock storm, and sixty four and seventeen, the ones with the funny voltages, were offline.
I plugged robots into all three of them and had them do a "twenty four hour diagnostic" which is what they tell me the robots do when you plug them in like that. I'd see the results tomorrow. I might need those motors when we were closer to Mars and pirates were more likely.
I climbed the five damned flights of stairs, and walked past the commons on my way home. The German woman was in there eating, and four more were playing cards. I wondered what they were gambling for... oh hell, I'm a dumbass, they were gambling for drops, of course. What else would they be playing for? I pretended not to notice and went home.
Destiny was reading, so I got a cup of coffee and started to sit down. "That's robot coffee," she warned.
I poured it down the drain and started a new pot and turned on the video and watched an old Western. She put her tablet down when it started. I asked what she was reading.
She grinned. "A history of fones. I was reading an old historical novel about a 1930s prison where they executed criminals by electrocuting them. Creepy book, but hard to understand in places, I have to look stuff up to see what the author is talking about. Back then 'fone' was spelled with a P H instead of an F and they weren't really fones, they only did speech and they were all wired together, either attached to a wall or by a wire than went into the wall.
"That prison book was creepy, I haven't finished it yet. Barbaric back then. What are you putting in?"
"An old western with that one guy from Rawhide, called The Outlaw Josey Wales," I answered.
"I haven't seen that one yet," she said, which surprised me. She's the one that got me liking these old westerns. I said "There's a movie listed that says it's about a 1930s prison, I wonder if it could be from that book you're reading?"
"Probably not," she said, "but anyway the movies are never faithful to the books and usually aren't nearly as good. Are you hungry?"
"I could eat."
She told the robot to cook a pizza and bring us some beers, and I started the movie.
That was a long movie, but it was a really good one. We went to bed after it was over, well, after cuddling and listening to music a while...
The company's co-founder, largest stockholder, and CEO was annoyed; this was certainly not his best day, golf aside. He'd spent too much time on the course and only had time for a little more of Knolls' report, and now he had to chew out that incredibly stupid chief engineer, who was knocking on his door and in danger of losing his job. This could have crippled the company. "Come in," the CEO said.
It seemed the company he and Charles had practically built from scratch was falling apart. God damn it, quality was deteriorating badly, and he was starting to think he needed a new head engineer.
"Talk to me, Gene."
God damn it, he thought. He opened a folder and handed a piece of paper to the engineer. "I'm talking about this schematic wiring diagram. How in the hell did this happen, and why was it spotted by someone who wasn't even an engineer?"
Richardson said "I honestly don't know, sir."
"Your teams are getting really sloppy, Richardson. This has been built into ten ships already and they're all going to have to be rewired because engineering screwed up on the blueprints. How in the hell could your team miss this? How the hell could you miss it? An intern discovered it! And he wasn't even an engineering student, he was just an electronics hobbyist."
Richardson hung his head. The CEO continued. "If these ships had been operational a lot of people would have died and it would have caused the company great financial hardship; we're self-insured. One more mistake like this and you're fired, Richardson, and I'll get someone competent.
"Now tell me, who programmed our robots to make coffee?"
"Robot," Mister Green said, "Make this man a cup of coffee. Richardson, I got a report from a ship's captain complaining about the coffee so I had one of the ship robots sent here to check. He's right, this is the worst coffee I've ever tasted."
"Well, sir, I don't like coffee myself, I had Larry Jones program it."
"Why in the hell didn't you test it? That's the kind of sloppiness I'm talking about."
"We did do chemical tests, sir..."
"But you never thought of having anyone who actually drinks coffee try it? Look, Richardson, I'll be blunt: you're on the verge of losing your job. We have paying customers booking passage on our boats and they don't expect to make their own coffee and they expect the coffee they're served to be good coffee. I want a program for a robot to make not just drinkable coffee, which this isn't, and not just good coffee, but great coffee. I want the program in a week and a demonstration in two weeks and updates sent to all the coffee robots as soon as it's tested, and by that I mean by a group of people who enjoy coffee. Put Jones on a project he's good at. This is unacceptable. Am I understood, Richardson?
"And I want you to weed out the incompetents in your shop. This sloppiness is inexcusable."
"Sir, the union..."
"Tell the union that if they give you any trouble there won't be a new contract, I'll replace every engineer and programmer in the shop as soon as the contract expires. The union is supposed to give us quality employees, and it doesn't look to me like we're getting them.
"Now, one more screw up and your career is over, Richardson. Now get out of here and get to work, I have a report to finish reading."
After Richardson left, he buzzed his secretary. "Get Human Resources on the fone. And schedule a meeting with all the department heads for nine tomorrow morning. And I don't want to take any calls unless it's the company President, my wife, kids, or an emergency after I talk to Human Resources." He drummed his fingers for a few seconds and the fone buzzed again. It was Osbourne.
"What's up, Charles?"
"Have you tasted our robots' coffee, Dewey? I was curious after reading Knolls' report. That's the nastiest coffee I ever drank. And I was in the Army."
"Yes, I did, and Richardson got a good ass chewing. I threatened to fire him, and I might still. And his might not be the only head to roll, Knolls' report was an eye opener. I want reports from all the Captains after each run from now on."
"So do I, I already ordered it. I'm leaving for Mars tomorrow on whatever of our first class passenger boats can get me there the fastest right after the meetings. I wish I could skip the board meeting.
"I'm especially worried about engineering, that's our most important function. I'm not too happy about financial, either. How did we let this slip past us, Dewey?"
"Hell if I know, Charles. Both of us are going to have to be more vigilant. Look, I have to finish reading this report. I may not finish it this afternoon so I want you to mostly take charge in the meeting since you've read the whole thing and have more information. I'll see you in the morning. Goodbye."
"See you, Dewey."
Sorry I haven't been here lately, but I've been working furiously on the book. There are five more chapters ready to post, followed by a few that haven't been written yet, then six more written chapters that go at the end of the book. The manuscript stands at 40,261 words as of this writing.
Note: There will be a chapter inserted between chapters nine and ten. Chapters have been renumbered in the manuscript.
Destiny was already awake and dressed when I got up the next morning. I'm glad she was there or I might have overslept.
"Are you going to sleep all day? Your breakfast is going to get cold. I'm eating."
I groaned, rolled out of bed, put on a robe and followed her to the dining room. She'd made coffee and had the robots make French toast, bacon, and tater tots. I didn't feel like tater tots. "What time is it?" I asked.
She laughed. "You need a clock right there on the wall! Computer, what time is it?"
The computer said "The time is seven twenty eight." Good, plenty of time. I finished eating and took a quick shower and started my morning chores about five minutes early. This time two of the computers disagreed with the other two. Two said "systems were nominal", one said that engine sixty four was getting three volts too much and the other said number sixty four was two volts short. Oh, well, I was going to have to walk the stairs anyway, so I decided I'd get engine and generator inspections out of the way first. Even though two or three volts was almost nothing when you're talking terrawatts.
As I passed the commons Lek walked up, the one that talked English kind of okay.
"Captain Knolls?" she said, which confused me because the whores usually called me "Joe" even though my name is John.
"Lek?" I said, "how can I help?" I read Tammy's book, I didn't want to piss these dropheads off.
"Look, Captain, you surely know what not having drops does to us by now."
I almost said "I ain't got no drops, bitch" but I didn't. Instead I said "You're short of drops? Look, talk to..." Damn, I almost screwed up and gave Tammy away. Damn it, John!
"Uh," I continued. "You need drops? Look, Lek, I finally get it. I do inspections and can confiscate..."
"No," she said, "It's Sparkle. She going to..." she hung her head. "Buddha, but I really hate myself. I not human without drops! What has happened to me? But Sparkle need drops or she be dangerous wild animal."
I really felt sorry for these women. I didn't think of them as whores any more, life had really kicked their asses. Tammy's book had really opened my eyes. Poor women. I called her on my fone, but she was already on it.
"Tammy, could you get some..."
"Drops to Sparkle?" she interrupted.
"Yeah. Is she..."
"She's okay. Now, anyway. But John, even though I knew, thanks. Please, if it comes up again call me, don't hesitate!"
"Jesus, Tammy," I said, "Of course I will, after I read your book I know how dangerous a dropless drophead is."
I finished walking down the hall to the stairs, then down that five damned flights. Most of this boat is engines. Second is generators, the generators take up more space than quarters and storage, and storage is as big as quarters.
I checked number sixty four first, of course. It read normal. I almost logged that, but it suddenly dropped two volts, then immediately to a two and a half volt overvoltage. Bill told me once that that usually meant a bad connection, he's kind of a nerd.
It's good to know nerds.
I shut sixty four down like the book says, then inspected the rest of them. I don't know why I have to check the port generator, since it's broke, but I do so I did.
The starboard generator was fine.
The damned alarm went off. Fire in cargo seven. I didn't know whether to cuss the damned whores or the damned stupid engineers who design shit that catches fire and have emergency drills when there's a real emergency.
I fucking hate it when there's an emergency upstairs when I'm downstairs. I have to run up five flights of stairs. Yeah, we're at half gravity now but it goes down slow, after the first day you don't really notice it dropping. The droppers hadn't complained, except when it had sudden changes like when we sped up to beat the rocks. I'm just glad I didn't have to run up the stairs that day I was climbing around outside. Oh, wait, I did, didn't I?
I wished we were at zero G, I could have made it to the top in seconds. But then, of course, the women would kill me.
The red light was flashing on cargo seven. "Computer, is there anybody in there?"
"Parse error, please rephrase question."
God damned computer. "Is cargo seven, uh, occupied?"
"Negative." That was a relief; not only does the company get pissed off when cargo was damaged, these weren't just cargo, they were people. Human beings.
At least, they were human when they had their drops. What Lek said was spooky, like one of those old horror movies Destiny likes, the old two dimensional ones with werewolves and vampires and no colors. I kind of shivered a little.
The flashing light went out and I went in. There was a burned up maid in the room. Hell, was it noon already?
Another burned up... wait, what was the number on that thing? R2? That's the same maid that burned up before. Whoever programs the robots that repair the other robots needs an ass kicking, or at least an ass chewing.
I pulled out my fone. "Computer, take R2 out of service until the Martian maintenance."
"Acknowledged." Another robot dragged it off to storage, and a third started noisily cleaning up the mess.
I went to the commons, which right now was a restaurant with robot waiters and robot cooks and about a hundred naked women. I thought "I'm going to start inspecting cargo at meal time!" Not that these girls eat much, except the fat blonde with the German accent. They slept more than anything.
"Attention," I yelled. They ignored me, the din continued. I pulled out my fone and addressed the PA, they can't ignore that.
"Attention, ladies, who lives in number seven?"
"That's Crystal," one of them said.
"Where is she?"
"I don't know. Oh, there she is," she said as another woman walked in.
"Where have you been?" I demanded. "You're supposed to go to the commons when your quarters catch fire."
"What?" she said, startled. "My quarters caught fire? I was in Leslie's cabin and got hungry. Is my stuff okay?"
What stuff? "Yeah, the only thing that burned was the maid."
"Good, I hate that noisy damned thing! Robot, I want a ham and cheese sandwich and a chocolate shake."
I finished inspection by one thirty and was starved by then. Destiny called. "Where are you? I'm starved," she said.
"Walking back to our apartment," I said. Oh, shut up you two, that's what I said. I told you I don't want that "professional" shit, I ain't no God damned professional.
We had pizza and beer and watched an ancient comedy called Blazing Saddles and I didn't understand a lot of it, but some parts were funny. Destiny thought it was hilarious, and told me to read some history.
First, I want to thank you folks for your suggestions, although I didn't see them until I logged in this morning. The answer came to me last night when I was sitting on my porch with a beer in my hand and several in my gut.
The answer was simple and I don't know why I hadn't already thought of it, maybe I should drink more. I hacked out maybe 500 words, about half a chapter that will go between the present chapters 9 and 10. I'll post it when there's more than a skeleton, tomorrow is chapter 24.
And the answer was something you guys have probably seen way too many times at work -- corporate bureaucracy and lack of communications. What I wrote last night had the CEO chewing out the head of scheduling, a women with a BS in math who had only taken one physics class, and the head of finance, who held an MBA.
Stopping the boat a couple of times (like to help Captain Kelly) and detours around meteors didn't hurt.
As to the CEO, I have to apologize to you folks for something that may be a bit confusing; I'm changing the CEO's name.
The first germ of an idea for this book came last spring when I was sitting in the beer garden at Felber's talking to a couple of guys about Nobots. I hadn't realized that the patrons there were more literate than the general population, probably half of them read Nobots when I published it.
A few crack whores were walking down the street (it's a pretty bad neighborhood with plenty of characters who make fodder for fiction), and Dewey laughed and said "you ought to write a book about whores in space." I'd never seen a book with space whores, so it might be a unique idea, and writing a book about whores without it being pornography was a challenge.
A few days ago, Dewey said he wanted to be in the book, so I named the CEO after him, even though the Dewey Green in the story is nothing like the real Dewey.