Thursday, May 17, 2018

Miami Pete 4:

We finally reached our next hyper-jump point. Since nobody seemed to want to talk to me, I had been spending my time in my cabin or down in the bowels of the ship where nobody but me would likely go. I split my time between maintaining the ship (as per my "I don't want to die" policy), and studying our nav system.  Sure, I could already repair and test the nav system - it was one of the first systems I mastered when I came aboard - but things like reading the nav data, plotting a course, or calculating a hyper-jump were all things that Pete had always done. I hadn't learned about those things. When I started digging in, it occurred to me that it wasn't so smart of me to rely solely on Pete for all these thing. If something were to happen to him, I would have been screwed.

My other reason for learning the operator side of the nav system was slightly more nefarious. Pete had told me we were heading to the edge and beyond, heading for the 'rus home world. I didn't know where that was, but it didn't sound very safe. The edge is there because nobody goes past that line. It's the edge of "known space". If nobody goes there, there has to be a reason right? The location of the 'rus home world was not in our nav data, which didn't surprise me since Pete had said it was "beyond the edge".  What did surprise me is that the hyper-jump point we were at was also not in our nav data. At that point, we were still well within the known universe so every system, planet, moon, asteroid, and hyper-jump point should have been there.  While we were at the last station, I had made sure to download the latest updates to the nav database. I consider that to be part of basic maintenance. Before I came along, this was yet another of the many things that Pete had been lazy about. I have no idea how he survived without me.

I added data about the jump point to an encrypted file and stuck it in my file storage. It didn't seem right to not add it to the nav system, but I could tell that Pete had entered the coordinates to this place manually. If he had wanted the hyper-jump point added to our nav data, he would have done so. If I did it now, it would be obvious and I would have to answer some uncomfortable questions. I was being nefarious remember? Getting caught sneaking would have been embarrassing. We had long established that Pete really hates sneaking, and he's been extra grumpy lately.

One sneaky thing I did do was to add a bit of code to the nav system to dump info into an encrypted log in a way that shouldn't be found by anyone who didn't know to look for it. If we were going somewhere, I wanted to be able to read that log later and figure out where we had been. Don't get me wrong, I trusted Pete, but I wasn't liking the idea of flying off into the beyond without at least having an idea of where I was or where I was going.

The comm signaled that the ship would hyper-jump in 30 seconds.  I rushed to get to my station, noticing the distinct lack of monks on the bridge. Good, I won't have to clean up any puke this time.

"The board is all green again Capitan!" I nearly shouted. This was two times in a row. It's exciting enough to see that happen one time, I had certainly never seen it happen before. Just like hyper-jump is hard on human brains, it is also hard on equipment. It's so common for ship systems to go down during a hyper-jump, that having to effect repairs upon reaching the end is considered "normal". 

A peek at the nav system made me think the all-green of the engineering panel was false. When a ship does a hyper-jump, the nav system has to re-calculate the ship's position so that the ship can safely navigate.  This is usually helped along by the nav database having end-jump coordinates that get plugged in so the re-calculation has a starting point.  The nav system then fine-tunes the ships position.  In this case, Pete only put the coordinates of the starting hyper-jump point and left the end-jump coordinates blank, so the nav system has to calculate the ship's position starting at zero. I know this sounds like a big deal, but usually it isn't. The nav computer is pretty efficient, so it can usually establish a position fairly quickly. This time, however, it did not.

"Sir, there is something wrong with nav!"

"Don't worry about it kid, it's saying exactly what I expected it to say." Pete replied.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Miami Pete 3:

The next few days were surreal. The monks acted like I didn't exist. Rather literally. They pretended not to hear me when I spoke, and not to see me even when I was right in front of their face. What’s worse, Pete started to do the same thing whenever either monk was around. Eventually I cornered him in the galley on the evening of the third day.

"What gives Pete?" I asked, "You are usually grumpy and quiet, but I can at least get orders out of you. Since the monks came aboard, whenever they are around, which is like almost always, you seem to forget I exist!" I admit, that last part came out a little louder than I intended. The whole thing was freaking me out and I hate being freaked out.

Pete looked around, I'm sure to make sure there were no monks present, and replied "These aren't Monks, they are Priests of the 'rus, and we are taking them out past the rim. They need to make contact with the 'rus home world." Then, seeing my terrified and confused face "They are paying a LOT of money." The way Pete said the word "LOT" spoke volumes, and also told me the subject was closed. There is no point to trying to talk to Pete when he's made up his mind, he had decided we were going to do this haul, so that was the end of it. All I could do was hang in there and do my best to make sure Hauley was up to the job of bringing us back home.

The 'rus were a bit of a boogey-man. Mankind first encountered their ships not long after hyper-jump technology was discovered. They were among the first alien species that humankind encountered and even now very little is known about them. It is believed that they are mainly a theocracy, but so little is understood about them that that might amount to so much conjecture. There have been rumors of some humans converting over to the 'rus religion but I had always assumed that they were just rumors, or scams. People will believe anything after all.

The name we called them "The 'rus" is a throwback to the first days of contact. The 'rus use audible communication similar to the way Humans do. However, their physiology is very different from ours. The 'rus have exoskeletons and have been described as looking like bugs. The name "'rus" came from the words the 'rus used during first contact to refer to themselves. The first part was unintelligible clicks, beeps and pops, but the very last bit ended with a very human sounding "rus". Think double o's like in the word Loose. That became the working name that the first contact team used for these new creatures, and lacking anything better the rest of humanity followed suit.

There are all sorts of rumors that the 'rus are monsters. When ships disappear, it is often blamed on the 'rus. It doesn't help that 'rus ships often seem to follow human ships when they encounter them in space, often for days or weeks at a time. We once had a 'rus ship follow the Haul-o-caster for close to ten days, then it just flew away. Let me tell you, a dark alien ship following you around, not answering your hails and I was about to believe any terrible thing about the 'rus. Gave me the willies. Unsurprisingly, there have been some incidents where 'rus ships are "known" to have fired upon and destroy human ships. In every instance the 'rus have claimed that it was the human ship that fired first, and they have never been proven wrong as far as I know. If a ship Captain couldn't take the creepy stalking anymore and started shooting, I certainly wouldn't blame him.

The incident with the 'rus following the Haul-o-caster happened not long after Pete rescued me from Deltos. I had vaguely heard of the 'rus before then, but they never seemed real to me. When Pete pointed the ship out on the scanner, and then brought it up on one of the view screens, I was terrified. Aliens, real life aliens, were right there. Then the 'rus ship turned and matched our course. The 'rus ship stayed with us, practically as if we were in formation, for almost ten full days. 'Rus ships are about the strangest looking ships I had ever seen.  Human ships are generally constructed of modular pieces, geometric shapes stuck together. The 'rus ship, in comparison was one flowing shape. Where Human ships had long cylindrical engines tacked on the outside for easier maintenance and to keep dangerous radiation away from the crew, the 'rus ship's engine, or engines, were tucked inside somehow with a single nozzle out the back for propulsion.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Miami Pete 2:

"Get the Haul-o-caster prepped for passengers, we've got two coming with us for the flight out. And get the engines started warming, we'll leave as soon as we're aboard.  We are on our way, ETA thirty minutes" came Pete's staticy voice over my comm earpiece.  Comm signals don't reach inside the engines very easily, so the static wasn't surprising. What was surprising was the rush. If Pete had found us a load, surely it would take some time to deliver, then load into Hauley's cargo bay. Usually it takes a few hours before we are ready for liftoff. While we do host passengers sometimes, usually it's when we get a job hauling cargo to somewhere. While we are waiting for delivery and are loading up, Pete puts a notice out on whatever kind of advert net the spaceport we are at has and if someone wants to go where we are delivering cargo, they contact us for our passenger rates.  I don't like hosting passengers. People who can afford to travel like that are usually self-absorbed and demanding. I'm the ship's mechanic, not "the help", and certainly NOT the entertainment neither vertical NOR horizontal.

"Roger roger" I reply. No sense in trying to argue. Pete's the boss.

I secured the panel I had opened, then double and triple checked it. You'll see no sloppy work from me! Then I ran... well scrambled anyway since there is no way to stand up enough to actually run inside the engine, and climb down the ladder.  I had been inside the port engine's conversion chamber checking out the containment grid. All shiny new, it was pretty. At the bottom of the ladder I hit the collapse button collapsing it down to its folded size for storage and headed in the airlock.

The power up went better than it ever had in my experience. The engines came on line smoothly and much more quietly than usual. I'm struck again with how good the work from the station crew was. Real pro's them, wish I could buy that crew a round of drinks, they certain deserve them, but it wasn't to be since we were leaving.  Oh well, perhaps next time around. We get back to this station... Well, I don't really know where we were but surely we'd be back... eventually? While the engines were warming up I hit the showers real quick since we were still on station water.  We would detach from station utilities when we left, and showers would be fewer and further between while we were out there in the blackness between stations. Gotta take advantage when you can is what I always say. Normally having been inside an engine like that a shower wouldn't have been optional. As it was, my jumpsuit was barely soiled. I got out a fresh one anyway. For better or worse, we were going to have guests. Must look my bestest.

"It's pillow fluffing time!" I say to myself... Don't ask...  Just    Don't...

With that, and an "ear on" the engines which I could still barely hear, I did a quick once-over of the passenger quarters. I did both the VIP quarters, and a couple racks in the "economy" quarters since Pete hadn't specified which kind of passengers we were getting.  It was quick since I always kept everything clean and ready to go. A far cry from how Pete kept everything before I came aboard. I can tell Pete likes how I keep Hauley looking nice, even if it took him a while to get used to.

Good to his word, thirty minutes later Pete arrives, a pair of robed figures in tow. They looked like some kind of monks, or priests, or something. I looked for any holy symbol or marking that would tell me who they were but found nothing.  VIPs, definitely. No way I'm going to put a preacher-man in anything but VIP. Besides, I have the hatches on the VIP suites secretly rigged so that I can lock them down from the outside just in case. I'm not sayin these monks are bad guys or anything, but where I grew up a kid that was taken by the priests was never seen again. Kinda does some structural damage to one's ability to trust the clergy if you know what I'm sayin.

My paranoia aside, the engines had been ready ten minutes after I started them, a record I was sure, and spent the rest of the time on standby. Pete got on the horn and requested detach procedures while I was getting the... whatever they are... buckled in and manned my station. I'd never seen Pete in such a hurry to leave a place that had a pub.

"Are you going to declare a flight plan Mr. Miami?" came the raspy, oddly accented question from what had mentally named "boss monk". I don't know anything about monks, but I assumed one would be the boss while the other one was... not?  Who knew, religion is weird. Boss monk seemed to be in charge because the "other monk" seemed to be deferring to him. Didn't mean I was going to turn my back on either of them.

"No, no need. A flight plan isn't a legal requirement, it's more of a safety thing. Where we're going I don't think you want to be part of the permanent record." Pete replied.

That got me worried. Where could we possibly be going? I couldn't decipher that from what I'd heard so far, and Pete doesn't take well to questions so I held my tongue. It did tell me that boss monk wasn't very familiar with space travel. Flight Plan... that's a funny one. Nobody files a flight plan anymore. Well, maybe colonists. Colonists are weird.

I could see Pete working on calculating a hyper-jump. So far, these new engines were running incredibly well. We'd soon see how they would handle hyper-jump. If what I’d seen so far was any indication, we were in for a treat.

As soon as we were far enough away from the spaceport, Pete started the countdown "Hyper-jump calculations set, jumping in three... two... one..."

Hyper-jump is like nothing you could possibly imagine until you have experienced it firsthand. All the euphemisms and descriptions fall short. It's like all of that, only more so. Some people describe it as being lightly tickled until your entire body turns inside out... in the most pleasant way possible. Have you ever had your scalp fall asleep? You know, like your foot does if you sit on it too long? Only it's your scalp... and your... um girl or boy parts (whichever you may have) also falling asleep. All while sitting in a soothing warm bath, getting punched in the stomach from the inside, and hitting some REALLY good relaxer drugs so your whole body goes limp?  Yea, like that... all of it... only more.

I'm pretty sure boss monk wet himself, or worse. Then other monk threw up. Sigh... what's one more mess to clean up?  Then we were there... wherever "there" was.

I did a quick look-over of the engineering board and surprisingly, for the first time ever, we were all green lights. huh... I would have sworn that was impossible. "All green boss" I told Pete, then went to get the mop bucket. Stupid monks.

When I returned with the mop, the monks were gone. "They've gone to lie down." Pete said when he saw me looking for them.  "We've got a couple weeks of real-space before we reach a valid hyper-jump spot for where we are heading. It's a good thing that the station has a jump-point for here so close. We wouldn't have gotten away otherwise."

That brought me up short. Gotten away from what? Pete seemed to be in a talkative mood - for him anyway - so I kept quiet hoping he would say more.

"Good work on keeping the ship up and running kid. Maybe the new engines have a little to do with it, but she's running like a top, and that's not all just engines."

Now I was scared. Pete was never the complementary type.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Miami Pete:

Just a little free-writing.  Hope you like it!

"The world is my oyster. My bowl of cherries runneth over and there are no pits!"

The drunken exultation was shouted over the hum of the rundown spaceport pub, annoying everyone around my friend and Capitan, Pete. Pete wasn't a bad sort really, he was just celebrating.  A little too much if you ask me but even I had to admit, he had good reason. The payoff on his latest run netted him enough profit after bribes, fuel, more bribes, crew pay, fees (basically bribes), as well as a sundry of other expenses to make some much-needed repairs to the Haul-o-caster.  Yea... Haul-o-caster.  Cheesy name, but Pete's a cheesy guy.

Crew pay, of course, is basically just me and compared to "real" spacers I work pretty cheap. Pete picked me up on Deltos IV, rescued me really, Deltos IV is, was, and always will be the worst hole in the universe, and he has never asked for anything in return. At the time I thought he was going to demand all kinds of perverse payment, and to get off Deltos I have to admit I would have done anything. But he never has.  That was ten years ago now.  I've been with Pete ever since.  Well, not BEEN WITH Pete... He still hasn't asked for THAT, but I've been working for him ever since.  He took a skinny, beaten and bruised pre-teen girl and taught her how to be crew on a freighter.  He gave me a job.  He saved my life.  If he wants to celebrate, who am I to argue?  Just wish I didn't have to carry him home.  Ah well, I may be small, but the grav on this particular spaceport is relatively low, so he shouldn't be TOO heavy.

The next morning was predictable. Me working quietly while Pete groaned a lot while holding his head. I didn't mind, I did preventive maintenance on the life support, an overhaul of the nav system, and cleared out a problem in the waste disposal.  After having lived on Deltos IV, even that last job wasn't bad.  Hell, just HAVING waste disposal was a luxury after living on Deltos.  Normally I would be doing maintenance on the engine systems too, but Pete hired one of the station crews to do a major overhaul on the engines thanks to our big haul. It amazes me just how much I've learned to do over the last ten years. When Pete found me on Deltos, I couldn't even read. If I was lucky, I might have found a spot working at one of the manufacturing sweat shops, but who am I kidding?  I probably would have eventually gotten caught by one of the flesh merchants and forced into making a living on my back. You don't have to be able to read to do that. Believe it or not, even then I was one of the lucky ones. Some of my friends had been SOLD to the flesh merchants by their own parents at a much younger age. Deltos IV is known for that sort of thing. Pete finding me and taking me off Deltos was like winning the lottery.

An easy day of maintenance for me, and a hard day of hangover for Pete later, and the next day Pete was on the lookout for our next load.  Would it be medical supplies to a desperate colony? Machine parts to an orbital factory? Envoys to another planet's government? Weapons to soldiers on a remote world fighting for freedom? The anticipation always gets to me. Pete can usually find us a load anywhere. Not always one that pays for much more than fuel/maintenance costs, but often enough that we do OK. The load that brought us here was much needed starship parts for the local militia ships. It seems they are having problems with Pirates in this sector, so they needed the ships to be in top condition. To do that, you need parts, and they wanted them quick. The Haul-o-caster sure has a funny name, but she's got some legs. Hauley (my pet name for the ship) is fast! This haul, we made the delivery in time to get a nice fat early delivery bonus, and likely some word-of-mouth advertising. The militia was impressed.

Pete's main method for finding new hauls was simple. Find a likely pub with a likely table and then lean back and sit there until a load comes to him. It's surprisingly effective, although perhaps not all that surprising since haulers like ours aren't common this far out. Most freighters ply the safer routes closer to civilization. I asked Pete about it one time, and he said that he didn't like all the rules closer in.

A few days pass and still no load. I was reduced to puttering around Hauley while Pete was out "looking for a haul" (aka, getting drunk). The maintenance was all done and the ship was in top shape if I do say so myself. My pride in the ship comes from the fact that I do nearly all the maintenance now days. At first I couldn't do any of it, but over the years that I've been flying with Pete I've learned just about every system on the ship. Before I came along, Pete was always a lazy engineer, just doing enough to get by. Not me man! I don't want to die in space because something failed for lack of maintenance! The only thing that Pete wouldn't budge on was the ship's exterior.  The outer shell of Hauley is made up of a miss-matched, sometimes primed, sometimes painted, no-two-pieces-the-same-color, menagerie of scavenged parts and whatnot. Sure it's air tight. Sure it's serviceable. We have atmospheric capabilities after all and if your heat shield isn't up to snuff you die as a fiery streak across the sky instead of making a nice calm landing that you can walk away from. So you can be dang certain it's solid. I wouldn't have it any other way. But according to Pete, pretty ships attract pirates. Guess you can't argue with that.

So the day found me INSIDE the engine. I know, I know, Pete just had the pros do a complete overhaul and let me tell you those guys know their stuff. Hauley is an odd combination of a chassis from a military cargo vessel, mated to the engines from a much larger long-haul freighter that was designed to ferry supplies out to distant colonies. The resulting ship may not carry as much as one of the larger freighters, but it can fly circles around one. The rest of the ship's systems are likewise miss-matched, but they've all been carefully integrated into the ship and work very well together. No bailing wire nor bubblegum allowed!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

So, I've decided to brush this thing off and start using for my writing.  Those of you who may have seen it before will note that I've axed a lot of the old articles.  Mostly because they WEREN'T about my writing or other current interests.  LOOK MA!  I'm RECYCLING!

More laters.