Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Miami Pete 20:

The next day, I was hard at work in my office.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I was sitting there trying to come up with a single solitary thing that I was supposed to do.  My morning was spent walking around looking for something that needed to be done, and as soon as I found something and started doing it, one of the Morganites would come along and take over.

I did manage to get a few minutes with Dr. Farn, and the process of copying, Dr. Farn called it exporting, the engine technical details took all of half a minute.  I took the chip down to engineering, and handed it to a confused Chief Williamson because Petty Officer Smart wasn't around.  I'm guessing he was off doing some work somewhere.  When the Chief plugged the data chip in and looked at the contents he almost fainted.

"This is incredible!  Where did you get all this?  This is everything we need to work on the engines!"  he exclaimed.

"It was all in my head."

I don't think he believed me.

So I was hard at work trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, when Cmdr. Barona knocked on the hatch.  The whole thing confused me for a second, since I hadn't had anyone knock on my hatch before.  Pete was master and commander of his vessel.  He never knocked, and the few passengers that we've had over the years probably saw me as a thing rather than a person.  So most of them didn't bother to interact with me, the ones that did didn't bother with such niceties as knocking.

"Come!"  I said.  Hey, that's what Pete always said.  So who was I to buck tradition.

"I've come with some design ideas for a uniform for you Captain."  She said, and showed me a data pad with some drawings.

The first drawing I threw out right off.  It was basically a Morganite uniform, with a whole lot of frills and ruffles, and even a rope thingie around one shoulder.

"But, that's the standard Captain's uniform."  Cmdr. Barona said when I expressed displeasure at all the frockery.

"No thanks!  You said I wouldn't have to wear a Morganite uniform since I'm not a Morganite, and THAT mess would make me feel ridiculous." I replied.

I hoped I didn't hurt her feelings since I highly suspected that Cmdr. Barona was hoping to one day wear one of those Captains uniforms herself.

The next drawing was perfect.  Blue, not too dark, but dark enough to not show every little smudge.  The main part was basically a ship suit, but it had a jacket that made it look professional.  On the jacket was the name "Haul-o-caster" above a pretty good likeness of Hauley, looking down on the ship from above, and a Morganite Captain's rank insignia on the collar.

It was perfect.

"You can blame Tine for that one." Cmdr. Barona said with disgust. "I told him to do a blue version of the Morganite maroon.  Maybe if I get someone to add some decoration to it.  That might work.  Maybe some glowing orange wings on the back.  You have to look like you're in charge after all."

It took me a moment to realize that she was kidding me.

"HAHA!  Captain, the look on your face!"  exclaimed the smiling Barona.  "I knew you would like the blue one as soon as I saw it.  For a hard looking man, that Lieutenant Tine sure is an artist.  If you like it, I can get you set up with everything you need.  Tine was nice enough to include specs for everything, and the Task Force has priority right now.  I almost wish we had time enough for Tine to design up matching uniforms for the whole crew."

"How does that work?  I thought you were all Morgan Fleet, so you had to wear Morganite uniforms."

"There is lee-way Captain." Cmdr. Barona replied.  "It's common for Morganites who are working Outside to take on the uniform of the ship that they are crewing."

"Well, how much work does our talented Lieutenant Tine have?  Is there way to abduct some help for him from somewhere?  And how much priority do we have?  Enough?"  I asked.

Cmdr. Barona looked thoughtful for a moment, then said "I'll get right on it!"

We ended up receiving the shipment of a full ship's complement of uniforms, along with all the accouterments that anyone could dream of, and enough spares to cover any likely contingencies, mere minutes before we had to lift off to take our place in Task Force formation.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Miami Pete 19:

A few days later I was cleaning in cargo bay 3, and the communicator beeped.

"Captain Petra, I have some people that I would like you to meet.  Are you available?" Said Admiral Thomas when I answered.

I found it a little odd that I was both cleaning cargo bays, and answering comms.  Both Al and Grace had been making themselves scarce for the last few days.  I think when they found out I was taking the job with the Morganite task force, and taking on a few Morganites for crew (and pointedly wasn't taking them on as crew), they worried that I might get it in my head to dump them out an airlock.  I'm not sure what gave them that idea.  Perhaps it was when Al started assuming the ship Executive Officer position, and demanded the access to the ship's computer and ship systems that normally went with that position.  I kind-of lost it a little.  You understand right?  I was surprised, and felt a little threatened when he started yelling, and the words "I'll space you before I give you any position on this ship you slimy bastard!" MAY have passed my lips.

Grace didn't even try.

Which makes me a little sad, since in spite of what she'd done to me at the behest of her previous Captain, I actually liked Grace a little.  Sure, I wondered if it was really me, or if it was her manipulating me so that instead of spacing her, maybe I would put her down somewhere nice.  You know... with air and stuff.  But I didn't think so, it didn't feel like that.  I didn't think I would ever be able to completely trust her, but I so wished that we could become friends of a sort.

Admiral Thomas had is twin Storm Trooper shadow as always, but also had a small platoon of people with him, all but a couple of them wearing smart Morganite uniforms.  The couple without uniforms wore ship suits.  Ship suits are like overalls, only they seal tight enough to seal out space, or more precisely, seal IN atmosphere so that the wearer has air to breath.  They won't keep you alive more than a few minutes if you are sucked out into space, but that's often enough time to get rescued.  Or at least one might hope.  They also have hookups so that external air tanks or a hose hooked up to ship life support, can be plugged in.

The Admiral indicated the woman at the head of the formation "Captain Petra, I would like to introduce you to Commander Barona. I'm recommending her to you to fill the Exec position."

I looked at her.  She was tall, and strong, and athletic, an beautiful.  Everything I would never be.  Next to her I felt like a toad.  Just as I was all set to dislike this woman, "Hello Captain Petra,  I believe we've had a number of conversations over the years.  I am overjoyed to finally meet you."

It was that voice.  That calm, in control, content voice that I forever looked forward to on those occasions when Pete and I had a haul that took us into Morganite space.  Pete had told me on more than one occasion that I probably would never meet this person and I believed him.  Now here she was, standing right in front of me.

I'm afraid I stood there like an idiot with my mouth agape until I was jerked back to reality by Commander Barona asking "Are you okay Captain, do you need some water?"  I recovered with a start.  Did I need some water?  No, I needed whiskey... LOTS of whiskey.  Huh? Where did that thought come from?

"No, I was just...  I just never thought I would meet you in person Commander Barona.  So I was startled."  I replied.  Smooth move Petra, way to show them you can handle yourself.

"If she is not satisfactory." the Admiral asked, looking concerned. "I can find you someone else..."

"No!"  I interrupted, "Commander Barona is very much satisfactory."

"Good, I'll leave it to her to introduce the rest.  I have some tactical meetings I must attend."  The Admiral excused himself.

Once all the saluting and military deportment and all that finished, I would have to get used to all that now I suppose, and the Admiral was safely away,  Commander Barona started introducing me to everyone.

"First, we have Lieutenant Commander Dorn, who the Admiral and I believe will make an exceptional weapons and security officer. I've heard very good things about him and the Admiral has worked with him for years."

Dorn was terrifying.  Tall, with muscles piled upon muscles, and that look of quiet, confident, restrained violence that I had grown to recognize from when Pete and I would dock at a station and I had need to walk around.  Pete pointed out this kind of man on a number of occasions.  Dorn was the kind of man that even the most hardened criminals would go out of their way to avoid.  I instantly liked him, and was terrified of him, all at once.

"Next we have our bridge crews, Ensigns Barns and Shelly for helm, and Lieutenant Tine for astrogation."  To my surprise, Barns and Shelly were both fresh-faced girls, neither of them looked old enough to be out of school, let alone in the military, yet they both wore the Morganite uniform like they were born to it.  Barns was short, thin, and sharp, with dark hair and dark eyes.  Shelly was her exact opposite being tall and curvy in that way that only very athletic women who have won the genetic "knock out figure" lottery can be.  She had bright blue eyes and blonde hair, and reminded me of a girl from an advertisement.  Lieutenant Tine on the other hand was a past middle aged, gaunt, man with a pock-marked face, and a shocking number of unattractive tattoos.  He was the first Morganite that I had ever seen with tattoos.  He saw me looking at them.

"Ma'am, I spent a number of years in maximum security prison, and was just recently exonerated.  I beg you please Captain to give me a chance.  I know astrogation like the back of my hand, and I need to go outside.  Morganites can be wonderful, forgiving people, but when they see my prison tattoos, they assume the worst."  Lt. Tine said.

I looked at Cmdr. Barona, and she nodded.  So I said "Very well Lt. Tine, Welcome aboard."  The look of relief on his face only made me like him even more.  In a world full of Baronas and Shellys, us homely people have to stick together.

As we approached the next person, one of the ones in a ship suit rather than a uniform, Commander Barona didn't have a chance to get out an introduction.

"X0142basil! It is so nice to see how well you are doing." he paused obviously expecting something, then finally continuing "No, I guess you probably don't remember me.  I'm Doctor Farn.  I'm the Doctor that patched you back together when that scoundrel Miami Pete dragged you in!  How is Mr. Pete?"

I wasn't sure I liked the idea of anyone calling Pete a scoundrel.  This man was definitely rubbing me the wrong way already.

"Dead." I said.

The poor man visibly deflated. "I'm sorry, I didn't know.  I've been working so hard lately...  I didn't know..."  Dr. Farn was a short, chubby, balding man a little past what one might call middle aged.  And he looked like he was about to fall over.

"Someone get the good Doctor something to sit on."  Commander Barona commanded.  It wasn't quite a "bark" like some officers, it was more of a statement of what would happen, at a slightly elevated volume so that everyone could hear.  But it carried with it such a force of command that even I started looking for a chair.  Within seconds, a cargo crate appeared behind the Doctor just in time for him to sit.

"I didn't know. Are you sure?  Pete was so..." the Doctor was in shock.

"I was there, Miami Pete is gone."  I said carefully.  The Doctor was taking the news of Pete's death a lot harder than I expected anyone to.  I knew Pete had friends in Morgain Space.  Pete made friends everywhere he went, but I never expected anyone would take his death this hard.

Doctor Farn shook his head and snapped out of it. "Oh child, here I am carrying on like this without even considering how you must feel.  I am sorry for your loss, Pete and I were close friends and shared some adventures together once upon a time."

Adventures?   I would have to have a conversation with Dr. Farn at some point.

I thanked the Doctor, and smiled and moved on whispering to Cmdr Barona "Do you think Dr. Farn is physically well enough for this mission?"

"I believe so." She answered.  "Dr. Farn is one of the top scientists specializing in cybernetics in Morgain Space, and may very well mean the difference between success or failure in our endeavor.  I also believe that the Admiral intends to keep Haul-o-caster as far away from harm as possible.  So having Dr. Farn on board the Haul-o-caster is probably the best place for him."

The next two were obvious because they were wearing a "getting my hands dirty" version of the Morgnaite uniform.  Cmdr. Barona introduced Chief Williamson, and Petty Officer Smart.  My new Engineering crew.  I admit, I bristled a bit at the very idea that of someone other than me doing any work on Hauley.  Other than the rare re-fitting work that required special equipment, I had turned every bolt, overhauled every component, and preformed every single bit of maintenance that had gotten done for years.  For that matter, on those rare occasions, I always found time to personally inspect every bit of the work.

It was Chief Williamson who put me at ease, "I see that look Captain, and I completely understand.  I assure you that I am intimately familiar with the Haul-o-caster's chassis design, early in my career, I worked on the very assault ship model that was used to build her.  I've also worked on the engines used on our deep space patrol ships.  I believe the Haul-o-caster herself was part of the inspiration for those ships.  I believe in performing preventative maintenance before it's due, and keeping on top of even little problems so they don't become big problems.  Every repair is an opportunity to discover why the repair was necessary, and look into ways of making the ship more reliable.  But I promise, before we consider making any change, you will be consulted and kept in the loop."

The final person was also in a ship suit rather than a Morganite uniform.  She was an older woman, who looked almost motherly.  Cmdr. Barona smiled at her and introduced her.  "Captain, for our final member, this is Mother Ahmisa.  She is to be our Morale officer.  Each Morganite ship has a Morale officer, with some of the largest ships having a whole Morale section."

"Do we really need a Morale officer?  What does she do?"  I didn't know what I was expecting, but nothing good.

"Captain, I cook meals, including ethnic foods from all the Morganite ethnicities.  I act as a councilor to the crew members, to give them someone outside their chain of command that they can confide in.  I provide religious services if members of the crew require it.  I serve as an intermediary between crew members from differing sects, to smooth the way for crew members with very different beliefs to work together.  In a pinch, if we find ourselves attacked I join the damage control team if need be, or I can help repel boarders."  answered Mother Ahmisa, ignoring that I had asked the question of Commander Barona. 

I found myself a little taken aback.  I never knew there were more than one kind of Morganite.  Outside of Morganite space, little is really known of what happens inside Morgan space.  Apparently it's more than anyone imagined.

"Very well Mother Ahmisa, welcome aboard."  I was getting more than a little over-loaded.  How was I going to deal with this many people?  Where was I going to put them all?  Other than the rare passenger or two, then the two Monks, Pete and I were usually the only two people aboard the Haul-o-caster.  Now we were going to have, what, a dozen people?

"Captain, if you don't mind, Mother Ahmisa and I will go aboard and start getting everyone settled into their births.  I haven't heard anything official, but back channels are sounding like the Admiral will be wanting to leave in a day or so."  said Cmdr. Barona.

"That would be fine."  I sighed.  I didn't know how to interface with these people.  "If there nothing further you need from me, I'll finish sweeping up in Cargo Bay 3."

"Chief Williamson, the Captain would like Cargo Bay 3 swept out."  Cmdr. Barona said in that way she had.

"PO Smart?"  the Chief said.

"On it Chief." came the reply from PO Smart, who was already moving.

"Commander Barona, Cargo Bay 3 will be ship shape in short order!"  Cheif Williamson told Cmdr. Barona.

I just stood there, agog.  Mother Ahmisa quietly slid up beside me. "I see you aren't used to all this Captain.  Don't worry, they are just trying to make a good first impression.  I personally know a number of these crew members, and know quite a bit about most of the others, they are all exemplary.  The one I don't know about is Lieutenant Tine."

"Don't worry about Tine.  You may know Morganites, but I know a thing or two about the rougher side of life.  Tine isn't going to be a problem."  I'd been nearly everywhere with Pete, and my gut feeling about Lt. Tine was that he was solid.

"Yes Captain, it is as you say."  Mother Ahmisa replied.  Then Barona, Ahmisa, and the rest of the crew picked up their bags and boarded the Haul-o-caster.  As I watched them board, I realized that life as I knew it was at an end.

It didn't take long for trouble to start.  I had... well, I guess you could only say hidden, in Pete's office.  Or perhaps I should say my office, since it was now mine.  When Al busted in.

"What's the meaning of this?  That Shrew says she's taking my quarters, and she had the damn gall to have that giant assault me!  They're trying to say that I have to sleep in the crew bay from now on!"

"Well, Al.  You were in the VIP quarters, but now I have need of them.  Since you aren't a paying passenger, and you don't really do anything around here, you should be happy you aren't being put in a cargo bay."  I had enough of him already.

"Oh yea?  What about Grace then?  Why is she still in VIP.  She's useless.  Give me her quarters!"

Just then, I heard Cargo Bay 2, then Cargo Bay 3, start to open so I held up a hand for quiet and listened.  Or tried to anyway.  Al was still complaining, and when he realized I wasn't listening to him, he just complained louder.

"Do I have to get Dorn in here to stick a sock in your gob?  Someone is loading cargo onto my ship, without my permission!"

"See? SEE?  That's what you get.  I bet you don't even make it out of the docking bay before they replace you like they replaced me as XO!"

"You where never XO Al.  Get out of my office and either make yourself useful, or go sit in your quarters somewhere out of the way!"  and I attempted to push him out of my office.  That was when  Ensign Shelly, and Mother Ahmisa arrived carrying boxes full of my things from my quarters.  Well, my old quarters anyway.

"Captain,"  Ahmisa explained, "I hope you don't mind, I've taken the liberty to help you move into your new quarters. I know this is probably hard on you, but we need your old quarters for crew members."  She looked at Al, and he looked back with the usual smug disdain that he used for... well... everyone, then she looked at me and smiled.  Al wasn't exactly a large man, but he was still easily twice my size.  Then she turned  "Ensign Shelly, would you remind this man where he belongs, and impress it upon him that he is to stay there?"

"Yes Mother." and with a turn towards me, "By your leave Captain."  Shelly set the things she was carrying down and all-but picked Al up by his collar and walked him out of my office and down towards the crew quarters.  I decided that I had to forgive her for being so beautiful and admit that in spite of it, I really liked her. 

Mother Ahmisa smiled at me.  "I hope you don't mind Captain, but I get the worst feelings from that guy."

"Me too." I replied.

And, business as usual, Mother Ahmisa continued with her mission "Captain, I saw that your things hadn't been moved into these quarters yet.  It's important for morale for the crew to see you as the Captain.  Which means they need to see you living in, and accepting the Captain's quarters of the ship.  I don't mean to be pushy, but this is important."  Then she smiled a motherly smile.  I was still overwhelmed by all this, and I was still a bit confused by what Mother Ahmisa's roll was to be on my ship, but I couldn't argue her logic.  I knew she was right.

"I understand.  We can move me in here.  That's fine.  I'm sure Pete would be wondering why I hadn't done that yet."  I told her as I looked towards the door.

"Is something else bothering you Captain?"  Ahmisa asked.  Boy is she observant.

"Just... I can hear cargo being loaded, and I didn't know about it, wasn't informed, and I'm not there to supervise."

"Yes, Captain.  Just like sweeping the cargo bay isn't your job anymore, neither is cargo handling.  You have a meeting with the XO scheduled for dinner time this evening where she will bring you up to speed on what's going on.  I was hoping to talk to you about that.  Some Captains have taken to inviting a different crew member each evening.  It's a good way for you to get acquainted with the crew, and stay connected to them.  Especially on long voyages.  Not all ship Captains have adopted the practice, but I was hoping that you would.  I, of course, will be cooking the meal.  Do you have any food allergies I should know about?  Usually I would be able to look into your file for such things, but your file with the fleet is rather confusing to say the least, full of Dr. Farn's notes on your recovery years ago, but little other information.  And I'm afraid I can't get into the ship's files yet."

"I don't know about ship's files.  I'll have to think about that."

"And the crew member at dinner?  I spoke to Commander Barona, and she likes the idea."

"Yes, I like the idea also.  I wonder how to schedule that."

"Captain, that is my job.  Don't worry about anything, I'll handle it."

Sure enough, that evening, the comm in my quarters beeped and I was informed that the dinner was ready at my convenience.  When I walked into the galley, Cmdr. Barona was not there.  I was confused for a moment, but Ensign Shelly pointed me towards the "Captain's dining room". 

Holy Quazar!  There is this room on the Haul-o-caster that has a doorway directly from the Captain's quarters on one side, and to the galley on the other.  Pete always used it to store ration bars and various other things, so I always thought that was what it was for.  Now, all that had been cleared out and a table, complete with a table cloth, decorative center piece, and beautiful place settings complete with tasteful silver filigree with "Haul-o-caster" in silver around the rim on top, and a date around the rim on bottom.  I recognized it as the date that Hauley's maintenance logs started, so probably the date the ship was commissioned.  It was the fanciest table I had ever seen.  Frankly, I was intimidated.

Sitting at the table was Cmdr. Barona, and Petty Officer Smart.  Both in what had to be their dress uniforms.  I looked down and almost cried.  I was still wearing the ratty old stained ship suit that I had been wearing while sweeping Cargo Bay 3 that morning.

"Oh!" Commander Barona exclaimed when she saw me. "How rude of me Captain!  I didn't even think to wonder if you had uniforms.  Since you aren't officially part of the Fleet, you wouldn't.  Oh, I'm so sorry."

PO Smart looked terrified as if he was going to be executed or something.

I couldn't help myself.  The stress of the last few days finally got to me.  The look of horror on Barona's face.  The look of terror on Smart's face.  And I couldn't help myself.  I started laughing.  And laughing.  At one point, I think I actually couldn't stand anymore and sat right down on the deck, laughing, holding my side because it started to hurt.

Finally, I managed to get something out that probably sounded like "Gasp... pant... ha ha ha ha... Gasp... HAHAHAHAHA... GASP!!!"  Tears rolling down my face.  After a few minutes, I managed to just start getting it under control.  Then I made the mistake of looking at the two of them again, and the whole thing started all over.

Luckily for me.  About that time Mother Ahmisa arrived with a cart that held dinner and saw what was going on.  She started laughing with me, and must have motioned for the others to start laughing also, because I heard the beginnings of a forced laugh from Cmdr. Barona, along with a tiny little laugh from a, probably still terrified, Smart.  But nobody can resist laughter and soon we were all laughing at least at some level.

I wish I could say I did all that on purpose, but no.  The ridiculousness of the whole thing just got to me and I couldn't help it.  Once I was able to control myself, and drag myself back to my feet, I begged Cmdr. Barona, PO Smart, and Mother Ahmisa's pardon and told them I would be right back.  Then I ducked back into Pete's... I mean... My quarters and after a short search found my very best ship suit.  Looking in the mirror, I realized that there wasn't much to recommend it other than the fact it was clean and... mostly... unstained.  Ship suits were practically all I had to wear. 

When I returned to dinner, I apologized for not having anything better, and asked Cmdr. Barona if she thought we would be able to help remedy that problem, as soon as it was convenient.

"Of course" she replied.

Since the ice was well and thoroughly broken, I sat down in my place and marveled at the spread.  I had never seen such food.  I usually just grabbed a ration bar whenever I got hungry, and ate it while continuing whatever I had been doing.  When I said as much, Cmdr. Barona cautioned me to take it easy with the "real food" for a while until my stomach got used to it.  Advice that I found was as sound as it was impossible to follow.

The food was amazing.  I couldn't identify most of what was there, so I asked PO Smart to fill me in on.  It worked wonders to get him to relax and open up.  Soon we were chatting like three old friends.  Apparently, at Captain's dinners, rank structure was traditionally... well... not forgotten, but eased.  I loved it, because it gave me a chance to actually talk to PO Smart and hear his opinions and ideas rather than just "Yes Ma'am" and "No Ma'am". I also learned that I really liked potatoes.  I wonder what they are made of, but was too embarrassed to ask.

Over desert, which I could only take a couple bites of because I found it incredibly sweet.  Cmdr. Barona started talking about the preparations that we were making for departure.  Stocking the cargo holds with food stuffs, adding a extra water tank in case we were out longer than predicted along with a whole list of other things.  These Morganites didn't sit on their hands, they got to work fast.  We still didn't have a hard date yet, but "back channels", Cmdr. Barona assured me, said we would know any day now.

Once I was up to speed with Cmdr. Barona, which was handled with amazing efficiency, the Cmdr. asked PO Smart if there was anything that Engineering was doing that might interest the Captain.  After a halting report, mostly consisting of all the things that he and Chief Williamson checked only to find was already taken care of (I had to smile at that).  PO Smart asked if I wouldn't mind some questions.

"Sure" I replied.

After that came a flood of very technical questions about the engines and the tweaks and modifications that had been made over the years.  When I started working on Hauley's engines before, I basically had to reverse engineer the changes.  Nobody had kept any kind of notes.  I hadn't either for that matter, but I had all that info up there in my head.  I could tell that PO Smart was amazed at my being able to tell him not only vague descriptions, but details on everything.  He tried to copy it all down.  Poor guy, I can talk pretty fast when I get all spun up talking about Hauley.  Of course, I had an advantage, I had it all stored in the memory banks of my cyber device.  Which got me to thinking.  Could I copy some of that information and transfer it to engineering?  I would have to ask Dr. Farn.  If anyone would know, it would be him. 

I was impressed by the questions that PO Smart asked.  The guy really knows his engines, and seems to have a passion for his work, and put me a little more at ease with having other people work on my ship.

The dinner finally ended with me promising PO Smart that I would work on getting some tech specifications to him.  I decided that if Dr. Farn wasn't able to provide me with a means to copy the information out of my head, I would sit at a console and create the documentation by hand.  Hauley, and our engineering staff deserved at least that.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Miami Pete 18:

The visit with Admiral Thomas was cut short when one of his Stormtroopers stepped forward. "Sir, we are receiving the message that a large number of 'rus ships are coming out of transit.  Everyone is being recalled to battle stations."

"Very well," the Admiral replied, "We'll have to cut our visit short."  Then to me, "Captain Petra. We have to request that you move your ship out of the line of fire, I'll have a flight path and coordinates sent to you as soon as I'm back aboard the Vanguard.  There may be more instructions if this gets nasty, I would ask you to please follow them."

I agreed.  I didn't really have much of a choice in the matter, it wasn't like I could have escaped the Morgainite fleet if I wanted to, and I was still hoping for a few more answers if I could get them out of Admiral Thomas once the current problem was taken care of.  And who was I kidding, if the 'rus were going around destroying any ship or station they came across, there wasn't going to be any place that was safe except for, maybe, here in Morganite space.  I was happy to be allowed to hide here till it was all over if they would let me.

I soon received instructions to dock at a small repair facility well beyond the Morganite fleet.  The Morgainite fleet was impressive to say the least, and appeared incredibly disciplined as the ships shook down into a line of battle.  The 'rus ships that had translated in were out-numbered by a wide margin, and had apparently chosen to stop and form up into a line of their own instead of attacking.  Smart that I guess, but I was still a little confused as to why the Morganites didn't just start shooting.  The Morgainites, as a people, aren't know for their patience, and the Morganite fleet is reputed to personify and amplify that national identity.

To my surprise, when I contacted the repair facility I was given the choice of docking at an airlock, or putting down in one of their repair bays.  Al immediately stuck his nose in and demanded I request an airlock.

"It's more secure" he whined, "With an airlock, they only have one direction to come at us from, and we can tear away if we need to!"

Needless to say, I wasn't exactly inclined to listen to anything Al said.  Still, he had a point, or would have had a point if we hadn't have had to "tear away" from Otford, doing damage to our break-away collar.  I wasn't sure if we could dock with an airlock.  Not normally anyway.  Besides, on top of needing to inspect and repair the docking interface, I still needed to check on Hauley's superstructure after our panicked escape.  Hauley also still had a few red lights on the board that I needed to clear.  A bay probably wouldn't be required for clearing the lights, they were pretty minor, but any time you are doing repairs, using an enclosed repair bay or landing on a planet with a reasonable atmosphere was always preferable to the blankness of space.

I requested a bay.

A few minutes later, a familiar voice came across the comm. "Haul-o-caster, you are cleared for bay 2, you should be receiving a flight plan now.  Please do not deviate."  It was the voice I had been missing ever since we translated in.  The voice I had always looked forward to hearing every time we translated into Morgain's.  Once again, I wished to meet that nice sounding woman who was the voice of Morganite comms.  "And welcome back to Morgain's.  Hope your stay is pleasant."

"Thank you Morgain Control.  It's nice to hear you again."  I didn't know why I said that, or why I said it that way. "Haul-o-caster out."

Landing in the repair bay went simple and smoothly.  We received an agreement to sign and return that granted us use of the bay indefinitely, under the authority of Morgainite Fleet task force Bravo, attention Admiral Thomas.  That was something that I very much wasn't expecting, and to tell the truth was a little worried about.  Free rides rarely are, and the indefinite part worried me even more.  Just how long was the Admiral expecting me to need to stay?

Along with the agreement, we received a list of rules.  Don't leave the repair bay.  Don't socialize with Morganite citizens.  If at any time you are asked to smuggle Morganite citizens or materials in or out of Morganite space, contact Morganite fleet emediately or face punishment as a collaborator.

Included was a long list of items that it was illegal to import into Morgainite space, and a long list of items that it was illegal to export from Morganite space.  All complete with penalty codes that told you the fines, prison terms, or execution methods to expect if caught.  Some of the things on the list surprised me.  Importing alcohol or any of the various, dangerous, drugs would garner various fines, anything from a few credits for a bottle of whiskey, to a few thousand credits for some of the harder drugs.  Attempting to import Non-Morganite religious texts, on the other hand, was punishable by instant flaming hot DEATH!

Another surprise was a note at the bottom that there was a bounty for anything pertaining to the 'rus cult, IF you declared it upon arrival and turned it over to the fleet immediately.  The note didn't say how much the bounty was, but it made it sound like it was a lot.

I did a good, solid search of everything the 'rus priests left behind.  Hey, don't judge, money is money and those bastards had taken too much from me already.  They could at least pay a little back.  Sadly, other than spare robes, there wasn't much of anything there.  I sent a coded message to Admiral Thomas listing what I had anyway.  Just in case.  If the Morganites didn't want any of this stuff, I was intent on dumping it all into the recycler.  When tidying up the mess I had made searching, I noticed a lapel pin on one of the robes.  I hadn't noticed it before because Other Monk always was a bit of a pig and left his clothes elsewhere.  I thought of just tossing it in the recycler and having done, but a piece of me decided to be more thorough, so I sent an addenda to Admiral Thomas.

To my surprise, I got an almost immediate response asking for images of the pin.  When I sent the requested images, another quick response demanded that I secure the pin in a safe place and await for Admiral Thomas to arrive.  He would be there shortly.

Admiral Thomas arrived a lot faster than I expected, with his requisite twin Stormtroopers in tow.  When I pulled the lapel pin out of my pocket to hand it to him, he looked like I was trying to hand him a deadly poisonous insect.

"You just kept it in your pocket?"  He asked.

"Sure, what did you expect me to do with it? Lock it in the hold or something?"  I replied.  Poor guy looked a little stressed about it, so I found him a box to put his "treasure" in.

"What's this thing anyway?"

"It's probably nothing, but being the only solid thing on your list, I thought I would check it out.  I probably just spent too much time in the spy game, but I've seen things like this used to house hidden data storage and just wanted to take a look." That was an awful lot of information for a government military type.  I wondered if I should be worried.  But the Admiral just thanked me and went on his marry way.

I made short work out of the repairs.  Flipping a few relays here and there got the board back to all green lights.  Have I ever told you how much I enjoy seeing the board with all green lights?  It's down right wondrous.  I started making plans to monitor those recalcitrant relays in case they were getting weak.  Perhaps replacing a few relatively inexpensive parts a little sooner than the manual suggested might keep Hauley in better shape.  After all, Hauley is far from a standard ship.  Maybe it's just a little harder on those particular parts.

The break-away docking collar was a lot more difficult, or would have been.  I was all set to just remove what was left of the old break away and accept that I would have to dock using the actual docking interface without a break-away, when the big cargo hatch in the bay that leads to the rest of the station opened and in came four Morganites.  One man, one woman, and two cyborgs (both male), all wearing engineering overhauls.  With them they guided an anti-grav sled that held what appeared to be a new break-away for the docking interface.

"We're here to help with your repairs Captain Petra." said the female engineer, "I am Engineer Pushka, and this is Engineer Gratt.  You will have to excuse us, we mean no disrespect, but the two cybers no longer have names, just designations.  If it makes you uncomfortable, we can send them away, or give them temporary names for while we are here."

Before I could think, I asked "Why would I be uncomfortable?"

Engineer Pushka looked a little flustered and looked around obviously trying to think of an answer.  Finally her hands indicated something on her head... and when she didn't think that helped finally said "These two are full cyborgs Captain. They make some people uncomfortable because of their lack of emotions or humanity... and you are... well..."  Again with her hands up indicating her head.

"OH!  THAT!"  I said.  "No, it's fine.  I've been around full Cyborgs before.  They don't bother me."

Engineer Pushka looked relieved.

Once the docking interface was all installed and the mess cleaned up, Hauley was starting to look back to it's old self.  A thorough inspection of the hull showed no sighns of stress from our quick escape.  Everything looked ship-shape, and the Morganite engineer team left with a smile and a wave.  Engineer Gratt spoke about as much as as the Cyborgs, meaning never.  I asked Puska if he was OK, and she just said that he was from a Morganite Sect that frowned upon unmarried men talking to unmarried women that they weren't courting, and he didn't mean any disrespect.  Morganites have Sects?  Who knew?

"You better have a look over their work and a look over the hull for trackers or listening devices." Came Al's voice from behind me.  "I didn't like the looks of those so-called engineers.  I bet they are part of the security branch."

I glowered at him to show my contempt for him and his paranoid ideas.  Then did the search as soon as he left.  I didn't feel good about it, and I would never tell Al that he was right to worry, but the unavoidable truth is that he was right.  We didn't know these people and it would be dumb to trust them so completely.  I was relieved when the search didn't turn up anything.

Over the next week, we received sporadic updates "from the front", all basically saying that the 'rus hadn't moved yet, and Morganite task force Bravo was keeping an eye on them for the time being.  The one time I did get to talk to the Admiral, he explained.  "Morganite law states that we do not fire upon 'rus ships unless we are fired upon first, or they get within a certain distance of Morgan Prime.  With them just sitting there, we don't have legal cause to fire on them.  You know how we Morganites are with our laws.  Everything's got to be just right."

Oh well, and I was hoping for some payback for Otford Station.  Not that I had any friends there, I never had any friends except Pete, and he was gone.

So I did what I always did when I was upset or sad.  You guessed it, Maintenence!  Before long, Hauley was sparkling like new.  Well... If they made new ships with so many miss-matched colors and stuff, but you get the idea.  I overhauled everything that could be overhauled, then went and figured out how to overhaul things that didn't usually ever get overhauled because they almost never broke.  When I asked for a price list for supplies, the Morganites offered to get me whatever I needed, and not to worry about cost because Morganite Fleet Ops was picking up the tab.  So I re-fitted the ship with everything a ship of Hauley's size and class was supposed to have but we never did because we could never afford it.  I even replaced a few mattresses that were going flat and needed replacing.  Just as I ran out of anything else to do, and was considering repainting the outer hull, I finally got a call back from the Admiral.

"Captain Petra, our security services division finally cracked the encryption on that lapel pin you gave me.  I think you'll be interested in what we found."

"Oh?  So it was a data storage devise?"  I was truly surprised.  Well, that and relieved because my initial panic when the comms chimed and I saw the incoming signal was from the Admiral was that he was calling to bawl me out for wasting so much money refitting the Haul-o-caster.

"May I come over and share the results with you?"

"Sure."

The Admiral arrived within the hour, Stormtroopers in tow.  "Captain Petra, the Monks you told me about weren't the Priests of 'rus that they claimed to be."  Big surprise that one.  "In fact, they were from a splinter group that was all about starting a war between the 'rus and humanity.  It's been tried before, but short of building up a fleet and hunting the 'rus down one at a time, attempts to start a war has always failed.  It's like they don't care.  It's rare to see more than one or two at a time, and often as not, when you do see two and attack one of them, the other one either runs away or acts like nothing happened.  Not to mention they are exceedingly tough, so even if the second 'rus ship ignores you, attacking one of them isn't likely to get you anywhere."

"So, I have a job for you." Admiral Thomas added.

"A job for me?"

"Yes.  You said that Pete and the Monks took you and the Haul-o-caster to what you were convinced was 'rus Prime.  I would like you to guide a task force back to that planet.  They'll land a team to research the 'rus base you found, and if you don't mind, retrieve Pete's body so we can give him a proper burial.  You won't have to land on the planet if you don't want, I know going back to that place would be hard.  Just point the task force towards the right place, and they'll take care of the rest."

"Sure, it's the least I could do after all the help getting the Haul-o-caster back up to snuff.  I hope I didn't over-do it on supplies though."  I cringed, expecting the worst.

The Admiral just laughed.  "Are you kidding me?  That was cheap compared to what some of our officers demand.  Just the reward for the pin more than covers it.  In fact, we're going to have to negotiate a contract for payment of that, and the payment for services for guiding the task force.  I'll have my people do some calculations and send over the paperwork.  Working for the Morganites pays well.

"On another subject" the Admiral continued, "There are some crew level regulations that we need to figure out.  Even if you put those two sort-of passengers of yours on your crew manifest, and I don't suggest it I wouldn't trust those two, you need a few more crew members to make up a minimum crew levels by Morganite law.  We always let Pete slip by because he didn't spend much time in Morganite space, he never went to Morgan Prime and he never took part in a task force.  But you will be part of a task force so we can't look the other way on this one.  I have a few ideas, if you'll trust me, I know some people that are rated for outside work that I think you'll like that we can lend to you."

"Outside work?"  I asked.

"Yes, an Outside Work rating in the Morganite Fleet means they have training and credentials to work on non-fleet vessels, with non-Morganite crews. A lot of non-Morganites think it's because we try to control our people in order to keep them here in Morgan space.  The reality is, we have to pay bonuses to get people to apply for the rating.  Most Morganite Fleet officers don't want to do Outside work, and we don't keep anyone here against their will.  If a Morganite wants to leave, they are free to come and go as they please.  Most Morganites don't want to ever leave Morgan Space.  They have everything they want or need here."

"What about that paperwork I got about not smuggling Morganites out of Morgan Space?"  I asked.  I probably shouldn't have, it was rude, but I was curious.

The Admiral laughed "If a spy wanted to ex-filtrate, do you think he would tell you he's a spy and could you please help him escape?  No, he would pose as a Morgaite who wants to get out.  Most Outsiders don't even question that.  You would be surprised how many spies we catch that way.  On the rare occasion that we catch an actual Morganite trying to leave that way, we give them what they need to survive Outside and wish them well."

"Really?" I asked.

"Have you ever met a destitute Morganite outside of Morgan space?" he replied.

"Come to think of it, I haven't.  But I've met a few Captains who were Morganite expats."

"Most likely, some of those were expats, and some of those were Morganite operatives.  We like keeping track of what is happening out there, and it works as a safety valve.  When we identify a Morganite that doesn't fit in, or is unhappy here, we often offer them training and a job, outfit them with a ship, and let them go.  They drop in from time to time to file a report and pick up their pay, and maybe a cargo of exports if they want, and off they go.  If they ever want to come back and retire, they are allowed.  In fact, that is what this facility is for, to provide services to the Morganite ship Captains who work Outside.  A few of the upper echelon wanted to charge you for services, but a quick study showed it would cost us more to lay in the groundwork in order to charge you, than it cost just giving you the stuff.  I've also put some things in motion to offer you a permanent job as an Outside Captain, just like the Morganite Captains.  You and Pete sure have earned it with all the jobs you've done for us over the years."

"I wasn't aware.  Pete never told me.  I knew we ran some cargo for Morganites from time to time, but other than that what have we done?"  I asked.

"When you were doing the cargo runs, Pete also stopped in and sold information.  Lots of information.  And because you and Pete went places with the Haul-o-caster that the usual Morganite Outside Captains wouldn't or couldn't go, a lot of that information was unique and valuable to us.  It's how we knew that something was stirring up with the 'rus and knew to station a fleet task force here.  Usually we have three cruisers stationed here.  Those 'rus ships would have eaten three cruisers for breakfast."

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Miami Pete 17:

In the time I'd been aboard the Haul-o-caster, we had been boarded a number of times with varying levels of intrusion from outright fascist, boots on our necks, weapons pointed at the back of our heads, to on Vale Thee a bored inspector with a couple vaguely coherent guards taking a quick peek at our cargo to make sure... well, I'm not sure what they were looking for.  I could have smuggled practically anything onto Vale three with that lackadaisical oversight. Pete, however, had one overriding rule.  Anything that might get us into any real trouble either stayed well hidden, or it simply wasn’t allowed on board.  I think it was because the Haul-o-caster had been a known smuggler ship way back before my time and we often attracted more than our fair share of scrutiny.

What I didn't expect was grandfatherly plump bald man in what I guessed was a Morganite uniform of some kind, flanked by a couple of very intense, heavily armed and armored Stormtroopers, carrying a bottle of whisky and a couple of glasses.  I recognized the whiskey bottle.  It was one of Pete's favorite whiskeys.  Not being interested, I had never bothered to ask where he got it from.  Pete always kept a stash of it, well protected in a stout shipping container, in a corner of the cargo bay.  I guess now I knew.

"Who's in charge of the ship?"  He asked.  He had a loud, commanding voice, but I didn't get the impression he was demanding answers.  More like he was used to command and didn't dial-down very easy.

"That would be me sir."  I replied.  I couldn't help but notice Al in my periphery move like he was about to claim it was him, but I beat him to it.  I would have to have a talk with him.  It looked like our visitor also noticed.

"I am Admiral Thomas, acting commander of MSS Vanguard, and fleet commander of Morganite task force Bravo." He said.

"I'm Captain... um... Petra, of the free trader Haul-o-caster."  I replied.   I hadn't decided whether to use the name that Gregorious had given me or not, and I was all set to declare myself Captain Kid, but it just seemed so cheesy.  "Captain Kid!!! Into the INFINITE VOID!!!" my imagination poked at me from the imaginary vid advertisement.

"Ok, Captain, um, Petra." He seemed amused.  "Can you tell me about your crew?  I like to know who I'm talking to." He pointedly looked towards Al, then scanned towards Grace.  When his eyes reached Grace, both eyebrows raised and he looked a little disconcerted.  "And if that is what I think it is, please have her confined to her quarters for the moment. Because of our unique relationship with Miami Pete, the Haul-o-caster has always enjoyed some lee-way here in Morgan's, but bringing one of those here is pushing it a little far, don't you think?"

"Admiral Thomas, these aren't my crew.  I merely rescued the pair of them from the station before it was destroyed."  I answered.  "This is Al and Grace, both formerly of the trader Pride of Rome.  They were knocking on my hatch with a message from Captain Gregorious when the attack happened. The concourse was hit and started to depressurize, so I offered them shelter.  A few minutes later, we saw the Pride of Roam destroyed.  Since I came strait here, I haven't had a chance to drop them anywhere.  Yet.  And as far as I'm concerned, both of them can go sit in their cabins."

"but..."  Al tried to complain, but I cut him off.

"Now!" I said strongly. "This is ship's business, and you aren't part of the ship.  You aren't even paying passengers!  Go!"

Grace saved us all some more strife by grasping Al by the arm and all but towing him down the corridor towards their cabins.

"I have half a mind to order those two shot." came a quiet statement from the Admiral, almost as if he was talking to himself rather than to me. Admiral Thomas looked at me apologetically. "But, this is your ship Captain and I'm not here to interfere.  You must know, however, that those two won't be allowed to leave your ship while you are in Morgan's.  Is that clear?"

"Yes sir."  I couldn't help but notice that I was calling this man "sir" a lot, which isn't very much like me.  I rarely even called Pete sir, and usually then it was to emphasize that I thought he was being an idiot.

"Now for why I wanted to come aboard.  I'll be mother!"  The Admiral opened the bottle of whiskey he had been carrying, and poured a good bit of whiskey into two cups.  Handing me one of the cups he toasted, "To Miami Pete!"

We drank, I wasn’t about to refuse a toast to Pete.  I sputtered and coughed as usual.  The Admiral patted my back till I could get a good breath.

"Smooth, huh?"  He said with a smile.

"Yea, something like that."  I croaked.  Whiskey really wasn't my thing.

"Now you must tell me, what happened to my friend Pete?  Last I heard he was tracking down a lead on something that was stirring up the 'rus cult."

I didn't know how much I could trust the Admiral, but I knew I was out of my depth and needed help and the man did seem to actually have known Pete.  I got the impression by how he spoke to me that he was also at least familiar with me, probably through Pete, So I told him the story.  I didn't cry like a baby this time, so that's an improvement I suppose.

Once I was done, he spoke softly "So, you've come to realize what you are.  That is good.  I always told Pete that he should tell you and get it over with.  Cyborgs are used extensively for certain jobs in Morgan's territory.  Pete brought you here for repair shortly after he... ah... Acquired you.  Your probably don’t remember that, you had been shot in the head when Pete found you.  We felt like we owed him that much since we were the ones who sent the crew of the Haul-o-caster to Deltos to retrieve Dr. Basil, the cyberneticist that created you.  We were aware of her work and wanted her for our criminal corrections division.  Unfortunately, the corporation somehow found out they were coming.”

"You use the cyber devices as punishment?"  I was sick to my stomach.  "That seems cruel."  I knew, on a level, that was what happened to me, although my memories from before were hazy and disjointed.  I couldn't imagine a society that did that to people and considered it normal.

The Admiral seemed to understand, "It's not something we like to do, and it is fairly rare." he explained. "In most places, the people who go into our cyber re-habilitation program would be executed.  Murderers, rapists, killers.  With our program, they get to make a contribution to society and perhaps make up for the wrong they have done.  We've even been working on ways to make a cyber device that is reversible, for cases that are later found out to be mistaken rare though they are.  We haven't succeeded yet, but we've been recruiting non-conventional cyberneticists in hopes that someone will make it work."

“Were you the one that sent Pete to make contact with those ‘rus monks?” I asked.  I had to know.

“No.  Pete has done a number of jobs for us over the years, and I admit that I was aware of what he was investigating and was ready to pay for whatever information he uncovered - I like to stay informed - but he wasn’t investigating at my request.”  He replied.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Miami Pete 16:


Space around the station was in chaos.  Usually space is so large, that the chances of accidentally colliding with another ship was next to zero, but with three, maybe four ‘rus ships firing both missiles and particle beam weapons at everything in sight any ship that could was detaching from the station and scrambling for safety.  Some were flying away from the station, some were trying to dive beneath the station in an effort to put the station between them and the attacking ‘rus ships.  A few brave souls were powering up weapons and trying to defend themselves.  Those, of course, died first.

Gracie gasped, “The Pride is gone!”  She was sitting at the sensor station, watching as the attack unfolded.
 
“What?  They’ve left us?”  Al asked, obviously stressed.

“No!”  Gracie screamed, “She’s GONE!  She was there one minute, and then was hit by a missile and destroyed.  Everyone is dead!”

Al, who had been jumping from console to console, trying to help in any way he could collapsed into the seat at one of the stations.  He appeared to be in shock.  No help from that side any more I guess.
Just then I saw an opening and punched it.

Hauley isn’t all that big for a freighter, but she has some BIG engines.  So when I “punched it”, I mean we went from relatively nothing, to some serious hauling of the proverbial ass.  I didn’t know what kind of performance the ‘rus ships had, but I was hoping it would be enough to get us out of there.

Since we didn’t all die a dramatic, explosive death.  I guess it worked.

“Punching it” isn’t something I usually do with Hauley.  In fact, this may have been the first time that the Hauley had ever gone to absolute full power.   Yea yea… I panicked a little.  Hauley’s chassis is from a military cargo vessel that would have once been used to transport troops and equipment, and land them planet-side.  The engines, however, are from a large long-haul freighter.  So they have some serious thump to them.  Even Pete refused to push them much past seventy percent because he feared much more than that might damage either the structure that mounted the engines to the hull, or worse yet, tear the whole thing free, which would probably kill us all.  I would have to dock Hauley somewhere so that I could look to make sure everything was alright, but so far everything seemed to be ok.

Normally, just taking huge engines designed for a large vessel and putting them on a much smaller vessel wouldn’t work out so well.  What you would end up with is a lot more power (of course), but it would only translate to a tiny increase in speed.  Unfortunately, the engines would also use a huge amount of fuel, all with little benefit.   However, over the years various engineers have been tweaking Hauley’s engines and making adjustments to overcome the issue and allow us to turn all that extra power into speed without bleeding our fuel tanks dry.  I was just the latest in that long line of engineers.  Apparently, we had done something right, because OH THE SPEED!!!!

Needless to say, we escaped.

Now to deal with a crying Grace, and a zombie Al.  Oh bother.

A few hours later, and we were a surprising distance away from the station.  Sitting on the bridge, I heard a soft voice behind me.

“Where are we heading?” a still bewildered Al asked.  I had put them in the VIP cabins, separately.  Initially I tried to put them in the same cabin, but was informed by a rather disturbed Grace that she and Al were NOT together.  I don’t know if I imagined it or not, but I could have sworn that I saw Al flinch when she said that.  Perhaps there is some drama?  I didn’t know, and didn’t want to.
I pulled up the nav chart and pointed out our course. 

“We’re heading for this jump point here.” I answered.

“I’m not familiar with that one, where does it lead?” he asked.

“Morgan’s world.” Was my reply.

“Are you out of your MIND!” Al shouted.  “Morgan’s?  They shoot first and then shoot again.  They don’t even bother asking questions!”  He really goes from nothing to shouty in nothing flat.

“What’s going on?”  Came the soft female voice of Gracie as she entered. “I heard shouting.”

“Our automated friend here has blown some of her circuits!  She’s taking us to Morgan’s!” Al spat.

“Oh my!” came the shocked reply.

“Relax everyone!”  I felt like I needed to explain myself quickly, but that made me mad.  “This is MY ship.  I decide where it goes.  THERE is the airlock if you want to get out and walk!”

I got two blank stares.

“She’s angry.”  Grace pointed out to Al.

“No, she LOOKS angry.  It’s just a programmed in response.  Probably brought out because I yelled.”  Al replied.  “Cyborgs don’t have real emotions; those get preceded by the cyber device.”
“Al, you idiot.”  Grace replied.  “I’m an empath.  I know the difference between anger and programming.  She’s angry….  And getting angrier!”

“SHUT UP!  I’m right here!  Just SHUT UP!”  I didn’t know what to say.  They were talking about me like I was a thing.

“Al, for star’s sake, I keep telling you; she is not a cyborg….  Well she is, but somehow she’s still a person.”  Grace told Al, then to me. “I’m sorry dear.  That was very rude of us, especially after you saved us and let us onto your ship.  Please accept my apology.”

She seemed to mean it.  Then she hit Al.

Al jumped. “Yes, we’re very sorry.”  He said as he rubbed his chest where Grace had hit him.  “So very uncivilized of us.”

“Now, what is this about taking us to Morgan’s?”  Grace asked.

“Pete and I run hauls for Morgan’s from time to time, so they know the Haul-o-caster there.  They shouldn’t fire on us unless we do something stupid.  If there was anyone who could do something about the ‘rus, if there is anywhere that would be safe, it’ll be Morgan’s.”  I explained.  “After that, I don’t know.”

“No way, you are not putting us off the ship on Morgan’s.  They… they… I’ve heard things!” Al said.
It was clear that Al had heard all the rumors that everyone hears about what goes on on Morgan’s World.  None of which were likely to be true.  I didn’t know.  Yes, Pete and I had run hauls for Morgan’s.  We had even set Hauley down on Morgan’s World a few times, but I had no idea what went on there.  We were always directed to either a station, or a landing strip in the middle of the forest.  We were always warned, politely but sternly, that we were not to leave our ship.  We weren’t even allowed into our cargo hold while Morganites loaded and unloaded the cargo.  Most of what I knew was that Morgan’s traffic control had one particularly nice, young sounding woman, with a nice voice that was often on duty when we would arrive, and she and I would chat while she was directing us to wherever we needed to go.  I always wanted to meet her in person, but Pete said it would never happen. Nobody is ever allowed to mingle with the Morganites.  Pete warned me in no uncertain terms not to mention it or ask any stupid questions.

I made it clear to Al that we were going where I said we were going, period, and I wasn’t going to put up with static from him over it.  Grace, who seemed to have switched sides and was agreeing with me, for the moment anyway, gave him a stern look and he went back to his cabin without saying another word.

After that, the trip to the jump point was relatively quiet.  I pulled the engines back down to seventy percent as soon as I was sure we were in the clear.  I didn’t know if we got away because the ‘rus didn’t want to bother chasing us down, or couldn’t keep up.  When I looked at the logs and noted the speed we had obtained, I was floored.  I wasn’t sure if even purpose-built currier ships went much faster.  It was something I needed to think about.

The jump to Morgan’s was relatively uneventful, although we finally broke our streak of there being all green lights after a jump.  Thankfully, it was nothing serious though.  I would have to track them down and get them fixed soon, but none of it was life, or ship, threatening.

Right on cue, the comm bleeped an incoming message.

“Haul-o-caster, this is MSS Vanguard.  You are not currently authorized to jump into Morgan space, please advise.”

 “Vanguard, this is Haul-o-caster Actual.  We are looking for a port in a storm, and to pass on important news from Otford Station.”  I said, not sure how much to say, or how soon.

“Haul-o-caster Actual, please stand by.” Came the reply.

“Haul-o-caster Actual, this is Vanguard Actual.” Came a strong voice a moment later.  “I happen to know the Captain of the Haul-o-caster, and you sure don’t sound like him.  Either turn tail and jump out, or start explaining.  You have tree fingers.”

“Three fingers” is a Morganite expression that refers to the hands on a clock.  Pete told me about it one of the times we were on Morgan’s World.  It isn’t exact, but three fingers usually means somewhere around fifteen minutes, which seemed to me to be pretty generous in these circumstances.

“Vanguard Actual, this is Haul-o-caster Actual.  To my sorrow, I must inform you that Miami Pete is dead.”  I sent.

“Prepare to heave to and be boarded.” Came the reply.

Oh crap.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Miami Pete 15:

Much to my surprise, other than an occasional message, everyone seemed to be leaving me alone.  Looking at the external cameras, I didn't see any more of the orange and yellow uniforms that would indicate station guard, and I wasn't receiving any visitors.

Since I had it, I took some time to do a once-over on the ship to make sure everything was in top condition.  Maintenence helps me think.  I overhauled a couple of spare-spare components that I had in my project drawer - two is one, one is none after all - since our last visit to what Pete referred to as "that damn junk place", but I liked to think of as Nirvana.  It's basically the flea market just outside the space port on Activa 9.  Well, more like a moon of Activa 9, but the domed city on the moon calls itself Activa 9 also.  The actual Activa 9 is a gas giant that provides more than enough energy and reaction mass to make the city a going concern.  Add to that Activa 9 was also once a military shipyard and major manufacturing facility, and you have something special.  When whatever war it was built for was over, at least a hundred year ago, it was abandoned and sat empty until some enterprising people claimed it and turned it into what it is today.

It was nice to get back into my little workshop and do something constructive.  Something I could control.  Ever since Pete picked up those monks, everything had been a mess.  Well, not Hauley.  Hauley had been in the best condition it had ever been.  It was strange to think about, but the main difference between before and now was that engine overhaul.  I know the old engines put out a few harmonics, some of which may have been induced into Hauley's power distribution.  Interesting.  Just as I started to think about tests that could be done to either prove or disprove the theory - and mostly coming up empty - the buzzer on the hatch buzzed.

Since I wasn't expecting visitors - none that I wanted to talk to anyway - instead of heading for the hatch, I headed for the bridge where I could use the camera to see who was out there.

To my surprise, when I looked I saw of the very last people I wanted to see.  It was Gracie, the psyco-whatever.  In the background, I could see Al standing guard trying to see if he could wear out his neck joint by looking in every direction at once.  He seemed nervous, like he was expecting an attack at any minute.

"Hello?  What do you want?"  I sent over the ship comm to the hatch.

"It's me, Gracie.  Can you let me in?  I really need to talk to you." 

Well, of course it was Gracie, I could see that plain as day on the monitor.  What did she want though? 

"I'm not inclined to let you be anywhere near me.  Why would I let you in.  You can say what you want to say from there and leave."  I replied. 

"Please.  It's dangerous for me to be out here like this. Someone might recognise what I am."  She said.

"You got old Al there to protect you, you should be fine."

"Please, I really need to talk to you.  I can't go back!"  She actually sounded upset.  It almost sounded and looked like she was trying to escape from something, but what?

Then all hell broke loose on the concorse.  Alarms sounding, explosions, the works.  Then the sound that every spacer dreads.  The hissing of air, and the announcement that the station had been breached. 

I looked outside, there were 'rus ships attacking the station.  Then back at the monitor, Gracie and Al had nowhere to go.  Without thinking about it, I double checked that the inner airlock door was sealed, and opened the outer hatch.  As soon as they were in, I closed the outer hatch and equalized the pressure in the airlock.  It was a little frightening how much air it took.  They made it just in time.

"Power up the drives and get us out of here!"  came Al's voice over ship's comm from the airlock.

Traffic control was a mess.  I wasn't able to get through to anyone.  Usually, before you power up a ship, you have to call traffic control to let them know you were leaving and to coordinate such things as disengaging docking clamps and such.  There was no way to get through to them.

To my surprise, Al and Gracie bardged onto the bridge.  "Get us out of here!"  he ordered.

"I can't raise station traffic control!"  I replied.

"Of course not, they have probably evacuated."  Al replied.  "We need to get out of here before whoever's attacking the station start targeting us." 

I jumped to the helm station and started the power up sequence.  The quick one, not the slow one that I usually used that saved wear and tear on the drives.  It was a risk, but sometimes risks had to be taken. 

"Nothing for it, you'll have to tear the ship free from the moorings." Al advised.  Little did he know that Hauley was equiped with tear-away hatch facings.  I couldn't blame him.  It isn't very common to see those outside of certain... ahem... illegal circles, but Hauley had them as long as I've been aboard.  Basically, what a tear-away hatch facing is, it's an extra layer between the ship's docking interface and the station's docking interface.  When they are installed, care is taken to blend them into the ship so they aren't noticable unless you know what you are looking for.  Their function is, if there is a situation where you need to leave in a hurry, but the station you are docked to refuses to release the moorings, a quick button push and wha-la, the tear-away splits and you are free to go.  The nice feature is that there is no damage to your ship.  The ship side part of the tear-away can easily be removed later.  The REAL nice feature, although it doesn't apply so much this time, is that the side that stays attached to the station doesn't cause any damange.  If I didn't have the tear-away, I would have had to literally rip the ship free of the morrings, which would usually cause a hull breach on the station.  Of course, they are already having a hull breach, so it wasn't as wonderful this time, but the lack of damage to Hauley was definitely worth every penny Pete, or whatever predecessor to Pete that had them installed paid for them.




Thursday, July 19, 2018

Miami Pete 14:

I sat on the bridge, thinking of what my next move could possibly be.  While there, I started to check on the fueling I had ordered upon arrival at the station.  It was complete, so Hauley's reactor fuel tanks were nice and full.  The water tanks were likewise full.  As with most stations, part of the docking procedure included a hookup to the station water supply.  A station has a lot more room for water filtration and reclamation than a star ship.  Sure, Hauley has a water reclamation system, it just isn't as advanced as one designed for a station.  On a long haul when there are no stops, ship water can get a bit funky.  It's still safe to use, it's just not pleasant.  Before I came aboard, the water tanks were pretty much ignored.  They would dock with a station and just top the water tanks off, putting fresh water on top of what was there.  Not me man, as soon as I had a chance, I completely dumped the entire water system and gave it a good scrubbing inside and out.  Then refilled with fresh water.  After that, when we docked with a station, our system was set to dump everything into the station's waste water system, rinse, and refill from empty.  It costs a little bit more that way, but the alternative is funky water.  Pete complained about the cost at first, but after a couple hauls, he came around.

I could tell, by the way that I was checking on preparations, that my subconscious was leaning towards leaving.  I just hadn't admitted to myself yet. But where would I go?  The first thing that popped into my head was 'rus One, but that was ridiculous.  It was also going backwards rather than moving ahead. Where else?  Deltos?  What was Deltos to me?  I could go back and see if my parents still lived, if I had any idea what my name or their names were.  I did have some memories of Deltos, but none of them were specific.  Like I remember having friends, but I don't remember any of them specifically.  No, Deltos was also going backwards.

The Comm chimed, letting me know there was another incoming message.  "Thanks a lot kid.  Gregorious managed to spring me from lockup by doing his lawyer bit in case you care.  Glad you made it to your ship."  It was from Chance.  Why did I find myself smiling?  Chance was not a nice man, just ask him, he'll tell you.  I do NOT like Chance.  NO!

I'm such an idiot...