Thursday, December 20, 2018

Kinderling 5:

And that was it.  The conspiracy was afoot.

Finding Uncle Zon and Father should have been simple.  Kinderlings, as a people, are generally very warm and generous.  Under normal circumstances, I would have been able to ask around and someone was bound to know where Father had been taken.  However, these were far from normal circumstances.  The people were scared.  Scared enough to let Baot bypass the Elder's council, declare martial law, and even go as far as detaining the one known survivor of the Elder's council.  The people followed along because he promised the one thing they wanted most, safety.  I hadn't heard if Mother or I were officially declared to be traitors yet, but I was keeping a low profile just in case.

I spent the whole morning and into the afternoon scouting around.  While I was lurking behind some empty shipping crates having a rest, I heard the whining wheezy voice of none other than Beso himself.  As I peeked out, I saw that he had a young Kinderling woman by the arm, practically dragging her behind him.

"Come to my office where we can discuss your situation.  As you know, Chancellor Baot has put me in charge of food rationing."  He said with a leering grin. "You want food for your family, right?  You can have some if you play your cards right."

The tone of his voice disgusted me.  These mines provided more than enough mushrooms to feed the whole village. There shouldn't have been any need to ration food.  A few years back there was a season with almost no rain. A lot of food sources dried up, but nobody went hungry.  The mushroom farm was expanded and managed to feed everyone.  Mushroom production was even higher now than it was then, and there are sadly fewer mouths to feed.  Food was the last thing we needed to worry about.

I hid back down behind the crates, I had to find my Father but I wasn't sure how.  I wondered if Mama had one of those compass things for him, but surely she would have already used it if she did.  I supposed that I could go down into the mines and look, but the mines were huge, and I had a very good chance of getting lost.  I needed to find someone who knew where they were.  I'm sure Beso knew, but it wasn't like I could walk up and ask him.  I didn't want to be anywhere near that guy.

It was then that I noticed the kitten had climbed out of my pack and slipped past me.  To my surprise, the silly thing was following Beso.  If Beso found out she was mine, he would probably kill her out of spite.  I tried to quietly call her back, but she wouldn't come.  I had no choice but to follow as carefully and quietly as I could.

As I expected, with the kitten following Beso and me following the kitten, we all finally ended up at what I suspect was Beso's office.  Beso and the young woman went inside while I hid behind a rock formation a ways away.  Perhaps Beso might go visit my Father at some point and I would be able to follow him.  Without any other ideas, I settled in to watch the entrance to Beso's office.

Not long after, the young woman came out of the office, hair and clothing a mess, clutching a small bag.  She Was obviously crying.

The whole thing depressed me.  The Gorf had attacked our home, Father and Uncle Zon were being held prisoner somewhere, and my fellow Kinderlings were preying upon each other.  And here I was, hiding in the rocks, and my only hope of finding my Father was following one of the rotten eggs around, hoping he might feel like gloating.  What other reason would he have to visit my father?

At least the kitten hadn't given me away by meowing like she did when we were in the forest.  In fact she was practically smoke.  I was barely able to follow her while she was following Beso, and I'm sure there was no way he would have been able to see her following.

*"the bad one wants to capture you"*

I vaguely heard the voice in my head.  The kitten was staring straight at me, like she was concentrating on something.

*"if the bad one thinks you are where you seek he will go there"*

Again, I heard the voice in my head.  It was stronger that time.  Again, the kitten was practically staring right through me.  Then, almost imperceptibly, she nodded.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kinderling 4:

I headed for the cave mouth, asking a few stunned looking Kinderlings along the way where the wounded were being helped, and soon found my Mama.  Right where I expected her to be.  In the middle of it all, bringing peace and order to chaos.

"Tandy!  Help that youngster over there.  He has a cut that needs looking after." Commanded Mama without so much as a pause.  I could tell from the way she said it that she was relieved that I had been found, had assessed my health and decided I was all in one piece, and figured out how to make the best use of my meager talents.  All in a single blink.  A lot of people thought my Mama was a cold, hard person.  They just don't know her like I do.  The "Help that youngster over there" was practically a hug coming from my Mama.  Some people hug... well... differently than others.

The little boy did indeed have a cut on his arm.  A deep one that was going to need some stitches.  Before she realized that my talents didn't run towards healing, Mama and I had a few weeks of "training" that nearly put us at each other's throats.  I love to create, to invent, to build magic devices.  Healing?  I just don't have any talent for it.  Mama, no the other hand, is so bursting with healing talent that it practically sings from her.  Not that she can't build magic devices too, she just tends to build small ones that are useful for healing.  Like the stitching needle in my med kit.  Mama made it out of Kinderling silver, and enchanted it to sew stitches with little to no pain.  She also added a bit of something in there that kept wounds that are stitched with it from becoming infected.  It was practically the most valuable thing I owned.

I may not have a talent for healing, but the skills I learned during those few weeks, and the med kit Mama helped me put together, has really come in handy.  I can't count the number of times and the number of ways I would have been in real trouble if I hadn't have had it with me.  I never go anywhere without it.

That little boy sure looked scared though.  Mama would have just snagged him and zip zip zip, the stitches would be all done before the first tear had time to fall.  I, on the other hand couldn't do that.  Luckily, a tiny lavender furball intervened.  With the kitten distracting the boy, I was able to do what needed to be done.  The boy was a bit wiggly, and the stitches weren't exactly my best ever, but they would do, and he seemingly didn't even feel them, so there was no crying.  I told you my Mama does some good enchantment work.

I left the kitten to watch the boy... or the boy to watch the kitten... or, well, they would watch each other while I asked around to see if I could locate the kid's parents.  He wasn't exactly a toddler any more, but he was still far too young to be away from his parents.  I'm not dumb, I did keep an eye on him.  A kid like that can wander off when you are least expecting it and it was a bad time for a kid to wander off.  I asked around to see if anyone knew where the kid's parents were.  What I found was heartache.  His parents were gone.  I couldn't tell him.  I needed to tell him something, anything, but I couldn't even muster up the courage to lie or say a lame "everything will work out fine".  If it weren't for the kitten being there to distract him, I don't know what I would have done.

Look, I'm not a coward.  For the past few years, I've been out in the forest where the Gorfs live almost as much as I've been safe at home.  Cowards don't go out into the forest.  But I couldn't tell this poor little boy that his parents were gone.  Late that evening, the boy's Aunt found us and I was finally able to give the boy back to his family.  What was left of it anyway.  His Aunt seemed like a nice lady and I hoped things would work out and they would both have nice lives. I wished there was something, anything, that I could do to make that happen.  There were so many hurting people all around, the village was gone.  There was nothing I could do.

I was so worn out, I just unrolled the sleeping roll from my pack and curled up in the corner to sleep.  After a few minutes, the furry little kitten crawled in with me and I fell asleep with my face buried in her fluffy fur.

Mama woke me up.  To most people, it would have seemed abrupt, but I was used to Mama.  I think most people's Mamas can be like that when they are "on a mission".  Mine was like that all the time.  Sometimes my brother and I wondered how they got Mama to stand still long enough for us to be born.  When we asked Father, he just laughed.  Then said "Never ever say that to your mother."  Hey, I understood.  Mama knew what people thought of her, but she was who she was and couldn't, wouldn't change for anyone.  It's one of the reasons she opened a clinic at our home rather than working in the village infirmary.  It's also why a lot of older Kinderlings preferred to come to Mama for treatment.  As one old GrandMum once told me "The infirmary tends to coddle patients and lets them lie around and be worthless.  Your mother whips them back into shape and gets them back on their feet."

This time Mama wanted to talk.  Privately.  That's never a good sign.

"Both your Father and Zon are in jail, and I think Baot is looking for an excuse to put me in there with them.  Everything is going below and that bloated ego fool is playing power games."

"Can't, too many hurt people.  General Baot wouldn't dare put you in jail where you can't help out."  I replied, hoping that I was right.

"It gets worse.  Baot says he's declaring martial law, and saying that anyone not doing their part can be executed.  I think he's working up to having Zon or your father to prove he's in charge.  He's also been asking about your whereabouts, and saying what a good match you would make for his nephew."

I almost laughed.  "Well that isn't happening."

"He has enough Kinderlings scared enough to do whatever he says.  I think it's time we left, and I'm not leaving without your Father."

"Sounds like it's jailbreak time.  Where do you want me?"  I was all for this idea.  I didn't know this General Baot, but he seemed like a bully, and I really can't stand a bully.  A bully is a good part of the reason my parents had been letting me go out into the forest.  Oh, not for me to hide me from the bully.  They let me go to protect the bully from ME.  Mama caught me constructing some rather nasty devices and demanded to know what I was doing.  When she heard what I had in store for the poor lad, she took them away.  Most of them she wouldn't even let me test on the Gorfs!  And nobody likes a Gorf!

"Your job is to spring Zon and your Father from the cell they fashioned out of the old offices on level two.  For my part, I'll see about finding your brother and a few others and getting supplies.  Can you handle that?"

"Meet?"

"Tomorrow night, at the old barrel."  Was all Mama said.  She knew I would know where to go.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Miami Pete 23:

I had never been to a fancy dress uniform dinner party.  I had never had a uniform before let alone a dress uniform, so I guess that isn't surprising.  When I saw the sheer number of utensils, I admit I panicked a little.  Then Mother Ahmisa had to go and apologize for not having a full set, and said she hoped it would be all right if we made due.

Not having a full set?

There were utensils on either side of my plate that I had never seen before.  Sure, there was the usual array of forks, spoons, and knives.  Which was confusing enough since I was used to using a spork on the rare occasion that I used a utensil at all.  Ration bars don't lend themselves to fancy eating.  But to have three forks, two spoons a knife, and another knife-like... thing...  Like a bent knife, and a curved scoopey thing sort-of like a spoon with the sides trimmed off, and the sides sharpened.

Cmdr. Barona finally noticed my confusion after a few moments and took over.

"Everyone find your seats please." she announced, and everyone found their place - Mother Ahmisa had even provided name tags - and stood behind their chairs.  I did likewise, not knowing what else to do.  "The Captain has a few words."

Drat.  I was sure Cmdr. Barona was getting me back for surprising her.

"Um..." I said, "Now that we have real uniforms, and well... welcome to The Haul-o-caster!"  It was lame.  I know nothing about public speaking.  I don't think I've ever seen anyone DO public speaking.  I was way out of my element, but the way the crew carried on cheering and clapping, you would have thought I'd have delivered a masterpiece.

Barona took over once again "Everyone be seated and enjoy."

What little I knew about Morgaites, I had expected to sit through a string of prayers to... Well, I didn't know who exactly, I didn't really know anything about the Morgan religion.  It's just reputed to be strict and demanding.  But what I saw was people, spacers, much like the ones I had met before.  Well, perhaps better dressed.  The uniforms were fabulous, but there was the same camaraderie that I recognized from other times I've seen crews gather.  These were my people.  I am a spacer, and these are my people.

It was a new feeling for me, a feeling of belonging.  Sure, I always felt like I belonged aboard the Haul-o-caster, and belonged with Pete, but this was different somehow.  Pete was my Captain, a father figure.  I belonged with him because in a way I belonged TO him.

This crew was different.  They chose to be here.  From what I could tell from the service jackets that Cmdr. Barona and I went through and from her comments, any of them could have found a position on nearly any ship in the Morganite fleet, yet they chose to volunteer for a birthing on the Haul-o-caster.  And by extension, they chose me.  Then backed up that choice by standing up and defending the Haul-o-caster against their fellow Morganites when Admiral Foster tried to take the 'rus system nav data by force.  I was happy when that incident was resolved without having to resort to violence, but I saw the look on my crew's faces.  Not a one of them was about to stand down.

I was thankful for the time I spent with each one of these crew members during our Captain's dinners, and the tutelage from Cmdr. Barona to prepare me for them.  Without it, I would surely have made a fool of myself.  This dinner was far more formal, yet I was able to relax a little bit and enjoy it.  At least I knew how to use a fork, after that first Captain's dinner, Cmdr. Barona showed me the proper way.  Who knew that there was a "proper" way of using a fork?  It has a pokey end, and a handle.  Obvious, right?  Not so much.  I had used a spork, but according to Cmdr. Barona, a spork isn't a proper eating utensil, and I was probably using it wrong too.  Ration bars are a lot easier to eat.  No need for a utensil, you just unwrap them and eat them out of hand.

The food was amazing.  Some of it I had no idea what it was, and there were a few things that Cmdr. Barona or Mother Ahmisa would quietly warn me not to eat very much of since my system wasn't used to "real" food.  After a short time, Cmdr. Barona got up saying she was going to relieve Lt. Tine so that he could join the party, but Lt. Cmdr. Dorn quickly asked if he could have the honor.

Kinderling 3:

Captain Zon of the Kinderling Militia and my father had been friends for as long as anyone knew.  Sometimes I swear their mother's birthed them out at the same time and somehow they were already old pals before the wetness of birth was washed off.  They do indeed share a birthday, although as far as I know Captain Zon's parents and my grandparents ran in much different circles, so it was highly unlikely that they knew each other.

Uncle Zon, as I call him, to my disappointment didn't seem at all surprised when I jumped down from the tree.

"Ah, Tandy.  Nice of you to join us.  We were looking for you, but you were well hidden, I presume by your no-see-me totem."  Uncle Zon was a big proponent of the militia buying as many no-see-me totems as I could produce.  There was, of course, a counter-movement involved that had all kinds of excuses why they shouldn't.  "She's too young, how can they possibly be reliable", "They are too expensive" (even though a price hadn't even been talked about), and my favorite "We don't need them.  Why should our patrols need to hide?"  Needless to say, the naysayers were all bean counter or administrators who never set foot outside the village.  Many of whom had never once seen a Gorf.

"If you couldn't find me, how is it that you managed to find the tree I was in?"  His men were most definitely surrounding the very tree I had sheltered in for the night.

"Your mother was kind enough to provide us with this compass, and we followed it right to you."  He replied, "Nice piece of kit that.  Your family comes up with the most amazing little devices."

I looked at the compass that Uncle Zon pulled out of his tunic.  It was wooden, and intricately carved in a way that only my mother could carve.  Intricate, beautiful, and graceful.  All while still looking rugged and dependable.  I only wish I could carve like that.  The compass was comprised of a round body with a hinged round lid, and a wooden needle inside that pointed right at me.  I never knew she had such a device.  It sure explained a lot, mama always seemed to know where to find me.  As I was wondering if I would be able to get a close enough look to discern how it was made, Uncle Zon closed the compass and put it back in his pocket.

"None of that young lady, your mother expressly told me not to let you inspect the compass too closely.  Something about not wanting you to get any ideas on how to defeat it.  Besides, now that we've found you, we must go quickly!"

"Uncle Zon," I asked, "Just why are the Militia out here looking for ME?  I've only been gone since yesterday and Mama doesn't usually start to worry till I'm three or four days overdue, one day overdue is normal."  It was true.  I wasn't an adult, and most kids my age, including kids that were a few years older, weren't allowed anywhere near the edge of Kinderling territory, let alone out into the forest beyond, but I often spent a few days at a time out in the forest.  I knew what I was doing, and I was always careful.  Well... except for bringing the kitten along this time, that was a pure bone-headed mistake.  One that once my parents got my report about, I always told them everything, I would probably get a good stern lecture for.

"Something has happened Tandy.  Some of the Gorf tribes have consolidated under a single leader and they have over-run the village.  We are heading to the mushroom gardens, your family is there.  From there, I don't know what will happen.  When I got your parents out of the village, your mother checked the compass and you were far from where she expected you to be.  She was worried that you had been taken by the Gorfs, so I offered to come find you.  I'm happy to see that all that worrying was for nothing."

"I'm sorry to cause such problems Uncle Zon.  I hope you won't get in trouble with the Eldest for wasting time on one stupid little Kinderling girl."  I truly was sorry, with Gorfs attacking the village, the Militia was bound to be needed elsewhere.

"Tandy, the Eldest is gone.  When the Gorfs attacked, they went strait for the central tree.  The Central Guard were overwhelmed.  They did things..."

Uncle Zon was clearly disturbed by what had happened.  I was sure I didn't want to know what he meant by "They did things".

I could tell we were taking a longer route to the Mushroom gardens, keeping well away from the paths we usually used.  I suspect that Uncle Zon was worried that the Gorfs were watching the paths, hoping to capture more Kinderlings. In spite of this, we eventually found our way to the Mushroom gardens.

Calling them the Mushroom gardens doesn't really do a good job of describing them.  Originally, it was nothing but a cave.  Then and enterprising young Kinderling explorer decided to map the entire cave system since nobody knew exactly what was down there.  During his explorations, the Kinderling found a vein of silver in one of the lower chambers.  Soon he had a silver mine established.  Then a smelter.  Artisans in the village used the silver to create such wondrous works of art and magical devices that traders came from far and wide to trade for Kinderling Silver.  That was when the Gorfs came.

It isn't really known if all the extra wealth is what brought the Gorfs, or if it was just a natural migration, but came they did.  Before long the trade route, already difficult because the encroaching forest, became impassable.  With no trade, there was no reason to mine more than the small amounts of silver wanted by the villagers.  That's  where the Mushroom Gardens came in.  The enterprising young explorer, no longer so young, but still enterprising realized that with Gorfs surrounding the village, it would become more and more dangerous to go into the forest to gather food.  So he turned huge parts of the silver mine to mushroom growing.

We arrived in time to witness a heated argument.  My father, a well respected leader and member of the Elder's council, was arguing with the head of the Militia, General Baot.

"I will not send men that are needed here, off on a wild goose chase!  The militia has already lost half of it's men, and you've sent that fool Zon off to his death chasing after that flighty girl of yours!" Yelled the General.

Off to his death?  I quickly checked.  Nope, Uncle Zon was very much alive.

"That girl needs to settle down and marry a nice boy like my nephew Beso, and quit fiddling with all that useless, dangerous magic before she harms herself!"  The General continued.  "She'll never find a good husband this way!"

"All we need is a small number of soldiers, perhaps a squad, to escort an ambassador down the old trade road to the Kingdom of Dorinth.  There the ambassador can re-new ties with the Dorinth, and request help.  We have a Treaty.  In accordance with the Treaty, they will render aid."  My father was angrier than I had ever seen him.

"Well good thing this is a militia matter, ELDER," The General spat "So I'm in charge and you can't waste any more lives.  Nobody is going to Dorinth.  We haven't had contact with Dorinth since before I was born, and I don't think they'll bother to uphold a dusty old Treaty that nobody remembers."

"I am the only surviving member of the Elder's council.  Until a new government is formed, it's my call, and we are sending an ambassador to Dorinth.  The rest can retreat into the Mushroom garden and wait until Dorinth comes, or the Gorf get bored and wander off."

"Sargent!  Take this man into custody for his own protection!"

I was shocked.  The Sargent motioned to a couple of his men and they grabbed my father and tied his hands behind his back.  Sure, father struggled, but as much as I love my father, I have to admit that he's pretty soft and doughy.  He's a thinker, not a fighter, and it didn't take much for those soldiers to subdue him.  Of course he yelled and cussed the whole time until one of the soldiers had enough and socked him up-side the head with his fist.  Father didn't make much of a fuss after that.

"Maybe you should go find your mother." Uncle Zon whispered to me.  "As much as I dread it, duty demands that I report to the General that I've returned."

As much as I heard about people being injured, I was sure that my mother would be in the thick of things.  Mama was one of the village healers, although she tended to work on her own rather than work in the infirmary with the other healers.  At a time like this, they wouldn't turn away the help.  The only logical place for the healers to set up shop would be inside the caves that lead to the mushroom gardens.

As I walked away, I cringed when I heard the General's voice yell "Sargent! Take this deserter into custody!"

I sure hoped Uncle Zon would be okay.  I almost turned around and went back, but what would I be able to do?  I was just a kid.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Kinderling 2

NOTE:  OK, switching over to first person.  Hope that doesn't mess anyone up.  This whole thing should have started out first person.

Kinderling 2:

I took a few moments to get my bearings.  I wasn't exactly able to navigate while I was flying on the go-stick, it was all I could do to keep from running into a tree.  Navigating at that speed?  No Sir, Ma'am.  It was way too fast for that.  Boy was it a rush though.

Once I figured out roughly where I was, I realized that I should have pointed the go-stick in a different direction.  Why do I always get myself into these messes?  I wasn't exactly further away from home and safety than I was, but I wasn't exactly closer either.  South I thought.  Yea, South should take me to the big ravine.  Providing the Gorfs didn't get the big idea of waiting for me at the bridge, I would be able to cross and be home free.  No Gorf in his right mind would follow me across the bridge to the Southern side of the Big Ravine.  Any that were that stupid wouldn't survive the Kinderling Militia that patrols the South side of the Ravine.  Those guys have no sense of humor when Gorfs are involved.

I was soon zipping through the woods at a run, naughty kitten in my pack with his head sticking out the top and his nose in the breeze.  Normally, I wouldn't have put a kitten into a pack, but without the go-stick there was plenty of room, and it wasn't like the kitten could keep up at this pace.  As I said, I am among the quickest of my kind.  Still, even I am no where near as fast as the go-stick was.  That flight was just plain terrifying.

After running through the forest for a while, I slowed to a walk.  The forest in this area is lush and green with huge ferns and that pleasant earthy smell that makes you want to take a nap.  As far as I could tell, I had finally given the Gorfs the slip.  Or as much of a slip as anyone ever gives the Gorf with their big fat noses anyway.  The real trick to it is getting far enough ahead of them that they grow bored and wander off before they manage to catch up.  It's not usually a problem, but sometimes you come across a particularly single-minded Gorf and days later, there he is.  Still following along.

I stopped for a few minutes for a quick swig from my water skin, and to listen carefully.  I could only hear the normal forest stirrings, and a low vibration sound from my pack.  The kitten had curled up and fallen asleep and was purring like a cat ten times her size.  Talk about punching above your weight.  More importantly, what I didn't hear was that "sniff sniff, mutter mutter" sound that usually accompanies a Gorf on a trail.

Continuing on, by evening I managed to finally find the Big Ravine.  It took me a lot longer than I expected, and I'm not ashamed to say that I had started to get worried.  It's easy to lose track or your direction while strolling through the forest.  It isn't like you can reliably see the Sun with all the leaves and branches in the way. 

Again I listened carefully.  No "sniff sniff, mutter mutter", so for now I was probably fine.  It was starting to get late and while a Kinderling does have decent night vision, the area North of the Big Ravine is known to have a lot of crevices to fall into, and rumor has it, there is a nasty subterranean Gorf tribe that lives in the area and only comes out at night.  I sure didn't want to meet any of those.

The only thing to do was to look for a tree with a nice big branch high enough to make a perch for the night and start out again in the morning.  Luckily, this part of the forrest was full of large trees, so finding a likely spot wouldn't be difficult. 

This adventure was supposed to have been a short look-about to find the just-right place to test my go-stick, and then a quick jog home to write-up my findings.  Father always insisted that I keep a journal for notes about the magical devices that I create.  Normally, I would have just brought it with me, but it didn't fit in my pack along with the go-stick, so I left it at home.  Nothing I could do about that now.  I would just have to try to remember everything till I got home.

Branch found, I scurried up the tree.

There is an art to tree-camping.  The first issue is not falling to your doom when you roll over in your sleep.  The answer isn't as difficult as you might think.  Most Kinderlings, at least ones that wander outside the safety of the village, keep a hammock in their packs just in case.  When looking for a tree to camp in, it's important to find one with a spot where you can tie up your hammock where it can't be easily seen from the ground.  Gorfs don't climb trees unless they have a reason to.  It's a failing, to go with all their other failings, I know.  But that doesn't stop them from looking up in the trees for a reason.  If a Gorf were to look up and see a Kinderling hammock, for instance.  That would be a reason for a Gorf to climb a tree.  So the best camping trees are the big ones, without any low branches to help a Gorf climb up and get you and a nice fat branch to hide your hammock by hanging it above the branch.

Of course, being me, my hammock has an extra twist.  I've enchanted a no-see-me totem that gently pushes eyes away and attached it to the under-side of my hammock.  It took me about a year to get the totem right, but now that I have it perfected, it works a treat.  I wouldn't leave home without it for anything.  Even the Kinderling Militia is interested in buying some as soon as I can get them made.  Sadly, the totem doesn't seem to have any effect on Gorf noses, so I might still wake up to find Gorfs stumbling around the base of my tree, but as long as they don't see me, they probably won't get excited enough to climb.  So I should be safe.

Nightfall found me in my hammock, with a small, possibly magical lavender kitten curled up on my chest.  I kept trying to sleep, but I couldn't. I kept going over and over the go-stick in my mind trying to figure out why it flew so much faster than I expected, and why it disintegrated so quickly.  Sure, I'd seen magic destroy some stuff before.  When I was small, I experimented on anything I could get my hands on, and I had very little control over my magic, so being covered in a fine black powder as yet another of my mother's carved napkin rings... somehow... went poof during a long, boring dinner party - complete with very important guests - wasn't unheard of.

"I don't know what happened Mama.  I was just sitting her concentrating on being a good girl and poof!" I would claim.  Yea... I don't think she believed me.  Not even once.  I think she started teaching me out of frustration for her napkin rings, and maybe for her social standing.

When I woke the next morning it seemed like only moments had passed and I hadn't slept a wink, but it was undeniably morning so I must have drifted off.  The kitten was still there and I was glad she?  He?  hadn't wandered off in the night.

Then I heard it.  "Sniff snuff, mutter mutter."  Coming from below.

I froze.  How had the Gorfs found me?  Surely I had gone far enough that even the most obsessed Gorf wouldn't have followed me.  And while Gorf tribal politics weren't something I knew much about, I was sure I had gone far enough to cross into another tribe's area.  According to my father's Militia friend, they have observed that Gorf tribes tend to be territorial.  I suppose they could have followed my scent trail this far, but why would they expend the effort?  Gorfs tend to be lazy, and there are much easier ways for a Gorf to find dinner than following MY trail all this far.

I wanted to peek, to see what the Gorf - Gorfs? - were doing, but I didn't dare.  They sounded like they were around the base of my tree.  The no-see-me totem should keep them from seeing me even if I peeked, but it isn't a sure thing and if they did see me there was no way I would escape this time.  They wouldn't even have to climb up and get me, they could easily shoot arrows or throw rocks till they hit me or I fell out of the tree. 

I stayed as quiet and still as I could.  Maybe they would lose interest eventually and wander off.

Then I heard a particularly un-Gorf-like sneeze, which was answered by a number of also very un-Gorf-like laughs.  I had been found by a Kinderling Militia patrol.  What a relief.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Miami Pete 22:

The rest of the flight to the hyper-jump point went smoothly.  The only thing of note being when the 'rus ships arrived well ahead of us and jumped away without causing any further issues.

When we arrived at the jump point, one of the destroyers, the Polly Bont, was sent through ahead of the task force to reconnoiter the other side.  Twenty minutes later, it returned with the news that it was all clear on the other side and the 'rus ships were nowhere in sight.  It occurred to me that that poor crew had gone through two hyper-jumps in less than a half hour, and presumably they would be taking their place in the task force and be jumping a third time.  That's a LOT of jumps in such a short time.  I felt for the crew.

Don't get me wrong.  I had long since gotten used to hyper-jumps.  Pete and I had hyper-jumped all over the place in our time together, including some of the longest jumps known.  Contrary to what the dirt-siders believed, hyper jumps are not instant.  Most only take a few seconds, but there are a few that take much longer.  Some are smooth and easy, while others make you wonder if the universe wants you dead.  As far as I've ever been able to find, nobody really knows why.  Rough hyper-jumps are hard on ships.  Nav data for a given jump point usually includes how long a jump will take, and a code for how rough it is.  I've even seen where someone added a  second by second rundown on what to expect in the Notes section.  My experience has been that the time and roughness code were usually pretty spot on, but the notes were nearly worthless.  I don't think two hyper-jumps are ever quite the same.  Some hauler Captains are careful to plan their hauls so that they can avoid the rougher hyper-jumps.   Pete, on the other hand, never balked at any hyper-jump run.  If it was there, and that was where we needed to go, that was where we went.  That attitude made us quite a bit of money over the years.  A run from Tampus III to Meritus V can take 23,864 seconds end-to-end, if you don't mind getting your brain rattled a little bit.  That's one jump that takes over six and a half hours. Or you can take the long road by traversing five different hyper-jump points and get there in around seven days including the time it takes traveling from jump-point to jump-point.  We always went the fast way.  Pete would simply have us suspend ourselves using bungee cords, and turned off the artificial grav.  Sure, we bounced around quite a bit, but it was almost fun.  The early delivery bonus was incredible.

The jump from Morgaite space back to Otford was pretty easy as far as hyper-jumps go.  It only takes about 36 seconds, and while it does have a medium roughness code, I wouldn't classify it as such.  It really feels like driving over a hill at high speed in a ground car.  There's an initial "oof", and then a "WEEEE!" and then you are out.  It always takes a few hours for my stomach to settle down from the "WEEEE!", but it isn't like it hurts or anything.

When we arrived at Ortford, the task force visited the former location of Ortford station.  And boy do I mean former.  It was gone.  The only thing left was wreckage.  there were a few bigger pieces that had obviously once been part of the station, and a few chunks that looked like they were probably from one of the various ships that had met their end, and nothing else.  The order came down from Force that we were going to stop for a day so that the wreckage could be investigated.  I didn't know why they were bothering, there wasn't a chance that anyone had survived and was still floating around in the wreckage.  But if they wanted to look, they could look as far as I was concerned.  We were on their dime.

Since the Haul-o-caster wasn't part of the investigation effort, I decided it was time to break out the goodies.  All I said was "Can someone go break out the new uniforms and distribute them." and there was practically a stampede.  Even Cmdr Barona ran for the hatch leading to the cargo bay.  Lt Cmdr Dorn and I were the only ones left on the bridge.

Lt Cmdr Dorn looked at where everyone had gone and raised an eyebrow, "Indeed" he said and turned back to his station.

"Indeed" I replied.  Dorn was one funny man, terrifying, but funny.

Good thing we weren't planning on going anywhere.

Before long, blue uniforms started appearing as the crew returned.  Everyone had huge smiles on their faces like it was the best day ever.  Morganites sure do like them some uniforms... who knew?

As the crew was fussing over their new uniforms, I tracked down Mother Ahmisa with an idea.

That evening, I had Cmdr Barona call a dress-uniform inspection for all hands in cargo bay one.  You should have seen the down faces on the people around me as the call went out.  I got the impression that while the Morganites did love having fancy uniforms, that didn't translate to loving uniform inspections.  Nobody loves inspections.  Well... nobody on the receiving end anyway.

This was going to be awesome. 

I recruited Chief Williamson and PO Smart to help with the surprise along with Mother Ahmisa.  I was told that my part in the surprise would be to stay on the bridge and run interference so that they could work without anyone finding out.  It was an easy task because everyone not on duty, or working on the surprise, were frantically trying to get brand-new uniforms into good enough shape to stand an inspection.  If you've ever had to do that, you'll know what I mean.

The time finally came for me to don my own dress uniform and meet my co-conspirators in cargo bay one.  When I arrived, I found the biggest spread of food that I had ever seen.  I don't know where they got them, but the Chief and PO Smart had found tables and chairs enough for everyone, and Mother Ahmisa found table linens and place settings.  Not just the ship's usual recyclable ones, real china and glass place settings with metal utensils.  To top all of that, there was REAL FOOD!  Meats and vegetables.  Other stuff I couldn't even begin to identify.  Bottles of wine.  Bread.  It was all far beyond what I was expecting.

To understand my surprise, you might need to remember that I'd been on the Haul-o-caster for well over ten years, and didn't have a whole lot of memories from before that time.  Ship-board food, by necessity, is usually ration bars.  I'd been eating ration bars for so long, that when I thought of "food", I was generally thinking of ration bars.  In that time, I also rarely left the Haul-o-caster.  So when Pete would go out to talk to perspective clients, or have dinner with a contact, or whatever.  I usually stayed behind.  He ate whatever one eats at a "dinner with a contact".  I just grabbed another ration bar from the bin in the "galley".

Pete once brought me an apple.  It took him twenty minutes to convince me that he wasn't playing a joke on me, and that it really was food. 

Then it took an hour before I finally figured out how to actually eat the thing.  Don't laugh.  Ever try to bite a big round thing?  Go ahead, imagine it, but don't think apple, think big round thing.  Not really a strong natural inclination there is it?  The point is, there isn't any handy corner or starting place.  Pete told me "you just have to bite it.  How hard can that it be?"

How hard can that be? 

Pete finally took pity on me and cut the apple in half. 

So you'll have to forgive me for being so taken aback by the amount and variety of foods.  Everything smelled so good.  I had no idea what most of those smells were, but I was in serious danger of drooling all down the front of my nice new fancy dress uniform.

As people arrived, most of them entered the cargo bay hatch with a look of dread.  Uniform inspections were never popular. 

Then they would see the spread, and their faces would go from dread, to confusion, and then to a smile.  I would watch the transformation, and when it was complete, I directed them to find a seat.

The last to arrive, other than Lt. Tine who I later found out had been detailed to bridge-watch duty, was Cmdr. Barona.  I think she had planned it that way, because she walked in with a rather large, officious looking clipboard, and a scowl, ready to met out some uniform inspection justice. Then she looked up and took in the room, and her mouth fell open.  In the time I had known her, I had come to think of Cmdr. Barona as being completely unflappable.  When we had received word that Admiral Foster was on his way to arrest us, I know I was scared.  Cmdr. Barona just took a deep breath like she does, let it out, and proceeded to give commands to get everyone ready to repel borders.  Like it was just another day's work.

But not this time.  This time I got her.

"Captain?  What is all this?"  She asked.

"Well, we got all these fancy new uniforms, and I thought we needed a good enough reason to wear them."

Friday, November 16, 2018

Miami Pete 21:

I could almost FEEL the news spreading about the ship that our new uniforms had arrived, but we were all hands on deck for the launch of the Task Force, so everyone was still wearing their old uniforms.  We weren't sure what the 'rus had planned, but to get to the hyper-jump point, we would have to edge right past them.

The past few days had been a flurry of meetings and planning.  At one point, an Admiral named Foster was chosen to lead the Task Force, and I could tell that Admiral Thomas wasn't happy about it.  Sure enough, Admiral Foster sent Storm Troopers to arrest me and my crew, demanding that we hand over the navigation data for the 'rus system.  Luckily we were warned well enough in advance, by the time they got to the Haul-o-caster, we had buttoned up tight, and they weren't able to get in before Admiral Thomas interviened.  I'm not sure what he said, but Admiral Foster stood down his attack and ran like the hounds of Hadies were on his tail.  After that strings, I'm sure, were pulled and Admiral Thomas became the new head of the Task Force.

Oddly enough, I think it ended up as a trade, because Admiral Foster was put in charge of Task Force Bravo.  When I asked Admiral Thomas, he said it was a slight demotion for Foster, and a slight promotion for him, but Foster could only blame himself because he overstepped his bounds when he tried to arrest me and my crew and appropriate private property without just cause.  Apparently, along with their religion which they are pretty tight-lipped about, the Morganites also believe pretty strongly in individual liberty and property rights.  Who knew?

Task Force 'rus was comprised of one battleship, two heavy cruisers, a pair of carriers, and a few dozen light cruisers and destroyers.  Added to that was the tender, A heavy fuel hauler, and a couple big supply freighters that comprised the "Fleet Train".  Oh, and little ol' Hauley.  The big iron, the battleship and the heavy cruisers were up front to form a wedge, with the carriers not far behind.  Haul-o-caster was safely snuggled between the carriers. The fleet train tucked in behind us, and the light cruisers and destroyers formed a grid that surrounded the entire back half of the formation, ready to move up if needed and ready to protect our soft flanks.

"Forward the Task Force as planned on my mark!" came the command from the Admiral through the comms.  I nodded to Ensign Barnes at the con, as if meant something, and was surprised to receive an "Eye eye, Captain!" in reply.  Neat!

It's not really possible to "sneak" in space, especially with an entire Task Force.  So the 'rus had to know we were coming.  I had the sensor suite pulled up on Pete's...  I mean, my... personal screen on the captain's console, watching to see what they would do.  They didn't move.

"Captain, I'm getting reports from the Task Force that the 'rus are powering up weapons" came the voice of Ensign Shelly, sitting at the communications station.

Then all heck broke loose.

"Captain, 'rus ships firing on lead vessels."  Informed Shelly, with only a small rise in the pitch of her voice.

"Steady as she goes helm." I heard myself say, "Comm, inform me if we receive any orders from Force."

"Baskins firing main guns." Shelly informed.  Hecktor C. Baskins was the name of the big battleship.  I had no idea who this Hecktor person was in Morganite space, but it must have been something good to have a battleship named after him.

"Scratch one 'rus! And another one!" Shelly proclaimed excitedly.  "The other's are turning tail and running towards the hyper-jump point."

"Excellent, Well done everyone." I said.  Well, they did do good.  Nobody paniced and everyone calmly did their jobs.  If this was the most exciting thing that happened on this trip, I would be content.

"Force says steady as she goes Captain.  We'll jump as planned when we reach the hyper-jump point."

"Acknowledge that Shelly."

"Eye eye, Captain."