An out-take from my novel project


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Post July 02, 2018, 04:13:12 AM

An out-take from my novel project

Here, folks, have some of what's in my head, haha!

Comment, question or critique as you like.
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Fourteen

The call came from the G'Kuhru not twenty minutes later; a tchak technician confirmed that it was Leeta on the video image. He politely offered to explain the image mapping process.

"Thank you, but right now we're still busy with the search. Please do put that in your report, though, and send it to the local office, with a copy to Mr. Griffin."

"Certainly, Captain McGuire. If you require further information, I am Researcher K'kit."

"My regards, Researcher, and thank you."

McGuire looked over his shoulder at the others. "The Collective's going to take the lead on finding Leeta's whereabouts, now; he's not on the docks. We need to cover everything that departed Oxo since the moment Dr. Kobler walked out of the Griffin office. I'll start on airlock activity logs. Janice, you take all other ship traffic. Shautcha--"

"Got comment, sir . . ."

"Yes?"

"Leeta went out on top of a payload box. Could this doctor maybe go out inside one?"

"Oh, good thinking. You called it; it's yours. Chief, you look at sub-orbital and ground transport."

"Aye, sir."

They scarcely got settled into their new tasks when the captain's 'pad gave a dissonant, raspy chirp. "Listen up," he said.

It was the Collective office reporting.

~~~~~

The face on McGuire's screen was identified by a caption as 'Collective Oxo Liaison Officer Bennet.' He was blinking too often and chewing his lip, but his voice was resolute, and he spoke without hesitation. "Captain, we're establishing contact with the ship we believe Leeta is on, and setting this up as a conference call with Goden, you, and Mr. Griffin. I will moderate. Stand by."

The screen split into four frames, three blank at first, then Goden appeared, her skin splotched red and brown over gray-green. Tom connected; the last one remained blank, but had a caption: 'Downwind, Hardesty Shipping Company; Ronald Hardesty, Proprietor, Captain.'

Downwind's screen frame sputtered with static and resolved with a grainy image of a woman in a dark tee-shirt and short gray-brown hair. The audio carried the steel-pipe distortion typical of null-space communications. "Hello--Goden--gentlemen--what can I do for you?"

Bennet said, "May we speak with Captain Ronald Hardesty?"

"No, he's two years deceased, and doesn't anyone maintain records? I sent that in. I'm Audra and it's my company now. What's this about?"

"Captain, we have reason to believe there's an off-worlder aboard your ship who shouldn't be there. Is your payload bay pressurized?"

"Yes; I'm hauling livestock. How'd we get a stowaway?"

"I'll be happy to explain, but he's a Collective protectorate, named Leeta, and we're concerned about his condition. We need very much for you to check on him, as quickly as possible. Please."

"Huh! Well, hold on, I'll have one of my boys take a look." Captain Hardesty reached up out of camera view, pulled down a headset and spoke into the mic, "Ben, drop whatever you're doing and get down back and check that last box that came aboard, y'hear?" There was no response. Hardesty glared at nothing and clenched her jaw for one whole second. "Ben! Acknowledge!"

"On the way, ma. What am I looking for?"

"A niss. Take your 'pad."

"Got it, ma; almost there . . . yeah, I see it."

"Send pictures first; don't touch him yet."

"Video up . . . it's not moving . . . Got a waist-pack on; cast on the right arm. Male, you say?"

"Yeah."

The screen on McGuire's pad split again to add another frame: a jerky, staticky image of Leeta sprawled on his side across a yellow plastic freight container. Hardesty's voice came across: "Ben, hold that camera steady. Can you see if he's breathing?"

"Uh . . . yeah . . . had a nosebleed; looks like it stopped . . . some blood on his head. Can't tell much else."

"Stay there; walk the camera around him. Ockey, you hearing this?"

A third voice entered the conversation. "Yeah, mom; what's going on?"

"Grab the main med kit and go help Ben."

"On the way."

"I'll join you in a minute. Tensu, come up and take the bridge, please." Hardesty turned to the camera. "My engineer." A female Shaktuuran walked into view and the captain stood up and switched her camera feed to her 'pad. The view became chaotic as she moved.

Tom Griffin interrupted. "I want to get Greg Stanton in on this; he was Leeta's caregiver."

Bennet said, "Uh, as an outside party, I don't think--"

Goden overruled him. "Have some compassion, Mr. Bennet. Leeta tried to contact Mr. Stanton earlier. Patch him in, please, and mind that we may have to make further exceptions to standard protocol."

Bennet dipped his head. "Yes, Goden." Another blank frame appeared on the 'pad.

Goden said, "Captain Hardesty, we're sending you Leeta's medical data, and I'm switching you to someone who can help you while I'm off-camera."

"Thank you."

~~~~~

Dreams didn't often make a lot of sense, but this one was odd in new ways, ways that felt different, and that Leeta had never experienced before. It had a little of the farm in it: there was Greg's voice, with unfamiliar ones. There was the smell of goats, but there were unfamiliar scents, instead of other farm smells. No light. And Greg's voice and some of the others didn't sound right, and the words weren't making sense.

And he hurt in weird ways and new places. Why did his face and his elbow and his hip hurt, and the skin on his chest? That humming noise in the background . . . did it have something to do with the prickly feeling in his muscles?

That noise . . . a ship--? Maybe they'd just jumped, and that's why everything felt so strange; they must be going to . . . where? He'd been to Mars . . . wait, there's light--not much--patchy, coming and going . . . a rushing noise, like wind in the trees . . .

The voices started making sense, a little. "Aireeizzz, eezz coming owwwtuvv it-t-t-t." It had to be a jump. It would be over soon. He blinked his eyes; it didn't seem to help much, but there was more light now, and maybe faces.

He tried to ask, "What happened?" but his mouth wasn't working and he heard, "Thhffftuhht," and felt drool running out.

There was a face, human, but parts of it kept blanking and coming back. They came back in the same places, at least. Then they began to stay. A stranger . . . worried eyes. A woman? Leaning over him on his left. His vision was working better now. Yes, and he was on his back, on a bed, in a small room, and there was bright light in his face, and two young males, one bigger, standing off to the right.

The prickly feeling turned into a nervous chill, and he started shaking, his breath coming quick and shallow. The woman narrowed her eyes at him, muttered, "Uh-oh," and reached to the side for something. She lifted his head with one hand and put something shiny beneath his muzzle just in time for him to throw up, and he was shivering violently now, nose and eyes running. His hands and feet were sweating heavily, and his stomach clenched again to launch its contents.

The woman watched him a while longer as he gasped and shook, then handed the oddly-shaped stainless-steel bowl to the smaller male, who left with it. She lowered Leeta's head and began wiping his face with a towel. "Ben, get him a blanket from the hot-box."

The taller male jerked a little, turned and pulled one from a cabinet and began awkwardly spreading it over Leeta; the woman helped. It was wonderfully warm. She propped his head up with a pillow and looked in his eyes again. "Thirsty?"

Leeta shivered once more and was able to relax. He didn't know if he could speak yet, so he nodded. She got a squeeze-bottle with a bent nozzle and squirted a tiny amount of flat-tasting water under his tongue. He swallowed it and she gave him some more.

The woman reached past Leeta's head and came back with a handheld scanner like the one Doc Mabrey had used on him; she moved it slowly over his head and spoke past him, "How now?"

A thin, ringy voice from behind and above him said, "Good. You did well, Captain. He should be up and about shortly. You have our gratitude."

"We'll revisit that topic, but I think we should relieve some anxieties among a few folks here." She reached over Leeta's head again and came back with a data-pad, turning it to face him.

He noticed that the images looked a little wrong, as though the focus was jittery. The screen was split into six frames. Three showed the faces of strangers--

"Greg!"

"Hey, guy. You gave us quite a scare. Sorry to see your new life getting off to such a rough start like it did. You all right?"

"I got hurt somehow . . . not much. But I don't remember what happened, and now I don't know where I'm at. On a ship?"

"Yeah." Greg grinned a little and shook his head. "Just not the one you're supposed to be on. You'll find out about all that, but we're slowing things down. I'm going to let the others here say hello, and then we'll let those folks get to work. We'll be in the background."

He moved out of view and Carlos took his place. "Hey, Leeta, good to see you're okay! We been missing you a lot, you know? Even the animals missed you. And then we heard you were lost, we all got scared--Jake burned the dinner--"

There was laughter in the background, and Jake stuck his head into the field of view. "Hey, that wasn't burned, it was blackened. People pay extra for that." He pressed his lips together and looked down for a moment, then back. "Yeah . . . I burned the dinner . . . and I was scared . . . shit. I'm just glad you're okay, is all, and--Leeta--I'm sorry that we--all of us--maybe didn't talk to you enough about what life is like off the farm, that not everybody can be trusted. Guess you know now, huh?"

"Uh--I--I don't remember what happened to me, Jake . . ."

The woman reached to the side and picked up a small item and handed it to Leeta. "They shot you with this; it's a shock-dart. It was stuck in the skin of your chest."

It was a bright orange plastic cylinder about the thickness of his thumb, with three barbed needles coming out one end of it. That accounted for one of his new, mysterious pains. "What else happened to me?"

The woman--thickly built, with short hair--said, "The dart knocked you unconscious. Then, from what I'm told, the person who shot you stole your ID tags and then just threw you onto a passing freight-hauler load. You wound up here. Bruised up a bit; lucky to be alive."

Leeta checked himself again, more carefully. His right arm was still in the cast . . . he touched his face with his left hand. His nose was tender and sore. He touched the top of his head and found that the rubbery bandage-stuff was gone.

Jake said, "They caught the guys who did that, and they'll be sorry, but not as sorry as they'd be if it was us here that caught 'em."

Walter showed up behind Jake and Carlos, looking angry. "Damn right," he rumbled. The anger on his face changed to worry. "I'm just glad you're okay, though." Walter looked to the side briefly. "Boss says it's time, but we'll talk more soon, huh? You take care."

~~~~~

Leeta kept quiet, taking sips from the mug of soup they'd given him, but mostly just watching and listening.

It had hurt, more than anything, when he'd found that his translator had been left behind, along with everything else. He'd panicked and cried until Janice and a katesh lady shipmate of hers had shown that they could just hold the translator in front of the camera and it worked as well as if he had it right with him. They'd all been so patient with him; he really kind of expected one of them to tell him to stop. And then he'd felt bad when they told him that Hubert was missing.

He was a little jittery still, but they'd gotten him up and helped him walk to a different room in the ship--the commons, they called it--and everybody sat at a table. They'd gotten water for themselves and given him the soup and turned on the big screen, and this talk was still going on about what to do for him.

Now the woman he'd seen first--Captain Hardesty--was on his left, and her two boys were on his right. Tom and Goden were onscreen, and some stranger from the Mars Collective office, a Mr. Bennet. Goden didn't look happy at all; she was the color of mud, streaked with gray.

And he hadn't lost everything; he still had his waist-pack, with his knife and his hairbrush and the little medallion that Carlos had given him. It still hurt that his mother's possessions were so far away, but at least he knew they were in trusted hands, and they'd be delivered to him sometime soon.

Captain Hardesty addressed the wall-screen. "We have a problem." She took a sip of water and put her cup on the table. She nodded sideways toward Leeta. "I don't abandon people in need, but we're faced with a strain on our resources here, and we're going to need some help."

Mr. Bennet, in the first frame, said, "I understand--"

"No, I don't think you do understand, Mr. Bennet. We're one person over our budget now, and we were all on a thin margin already. Providing him with food and water is going to shorten the rations for all of us here." She gestured along the table, to Leeta, and to Ockey and Ben.
"My engineer is Shaktuuran and brings a lot of her own food, but the rest of us will be a little hungry, and all of us will be a little short on water.

"On the rare occasions when we have an extra-profitable run, we'll have one or two special meals or some live entertainment, but we put the rest into ship maintenance, and we don't ever have the budget for surplus."

"If you could turn around and come back to Ares--"

"No. I can't. You could top off our tanks and stock our pantry and it wouldn't help us a bit, because we are under contract. Coming back to Mars would put us behind delivery schedule by a day and a half, and that's a twenty percent penalty, but worse--worse--we'd lose reputation. Lose reputation out here, you lose business; lose business and you start to get desperate; you begin to skimp on essentials . . . pretty soon you're taking risky jobs for sketchy characters, with a weak, demoralized crew in a dangerous craft. You want to guess how that ends?"

Bennet opened his mouth, but lowered his eyes and said nothing.

Mr. Griffin said, "Excuse me, but a lot of my employees work in the Fringe, and I've been there myself a few times. She's telling the truth; they have to go on. Captain, where will you be stopping for fuel?"

"Place called the Sunset Grill. You know of it?"

"Sunset . . . SG-59, is it? Red dwarf, protoplanetary disc?"

"That's it. You have something in mind?"

"Ahh . . . I can't guarantee anything, but I'll get in touch with the station master there and see if I can talk them into fronting you some provisions. Send me a wish list; make it generous, but not outrageous. If nothing else, you can at least get a case of ration bars."

Ben, two seats to the right of Leeta, said, "Eck," and Ockey stuck his tongue out.

The captain leaned forward and turned to glare at them. "Boys--unless you'd rather go hungry, the appropriate response is 'thank you.' Got it?"

Ben and Ockey shrank down in their chairs and mumbled thanks and apologies. Captain Hardesty straightened herself and addressed the screen. "Pardon the interruption. Please continue."

Goden said, "Captain, I'm prepared to forward a letter of credit to cover your needs . . ."

The captain shook her head. "I do appreciate that, Goden, but nobody would honor it out here." She smiled a little. "If you could magically make some hard currency appear on this table, that'd be a different story. Collective cash works fine out here; we just don't have any trustworthy banking to speak of."

Mr. Bennet said, "What about some kind of bearer bond?"

"Same problem," Tom said, "she'd still have to have it in hand."

Goden's eyes grew wider and a thin wave of tan crossed her body. "There are no electronic money transfers at all in the Fringe?"

Captain Hardesty slowly shook her head. "Just cash and barter."

The pale tan color spread. "I must learn more of the workings of everyday life in the Fringe territories."

The captain gave a hint of a smile. "Stay tuned to this channel." She glanced across at Leeta, then looked at the screen again. "By the way, what's the chain of responsibility for this guy?"

Tom looked surprised. "For Leeta--? Well, Goden is ultimate, for now at least . . . I took intermediate . . ."

Goden suddenly flushed a deep blue, scattered with tiny moving dots of white. The effect was as if she sparkled. She said, "Captain Hardesty, since you have physical custody of Leeta, the Collective must formally contract with you for your services in his behalf."

Tom grinned, and Captain Hardesty looked surprised now. "Oh--! All right, then . . . let's talk terms."

~~~~~

Leeta wasn't able to understand much of what followed, but Mr. Bennet said several times that "we can't do that," and Goden had to tell him to "be more flexible." He finally stopped talking altogether unless someone asked him a question.

It turned out that Captain Hardesty couldn't be sure of getting any of what she wanted until they got back to Mars, and that would be a while; she had to finish the job they were already on, and then a shorter one she'd already promised to do.

Some of the things she wanted in payment were surprising to most everyone except Tom. She didn't care much about money, but she needed work done on the ship, and she brought her engineer into the talk, a female Shaktuuran named Tensu, talking onscreen from the bridge.

Tensu said they needed a lot of new filters for the air and water, needed the water tank cleaned, needed new woven-cable tires for the landing gear, and new door gaskets for the airlocks. There were other "little things" like fresh medical supplies and new fire extinguishers. All these were agreed to without any argument.

Then she said, "This ship is structurally sound; she was built to take more than we ask, and she's been well handled. But . . . she's got a great many hours on her power core . . . the injectors were replaced lately and are still fair, but--I'm a little worried about the reactor vessels being embrittled by heat and radiation."

Everybody got real quiet for a moment, and Goden said, "What does that mean?"

Tom said, "What she's saying is that she wants a major overhaul. Basically a whole new power plant. That's about ten days in a shipyard, if we can have a replacement ready to install. Now, this sounds excessive, but I might argue her case. I need a little more information first. Captain, how long have you had this ship?"

"Eight years, give or take. On the same power core that was in it when we bought her. Got it slightly used from a little freight company that was liquidating in a hurry."

"You've flown her pretty much nonstop since then?"

"Yep. Cold shutdown for new injectors as needed, or when we could afford them, but other than that, we keep moving."

"Well, I see that's a Muromoto Heavy Five; they over-engineered the cooling and internal radiation shielding on those. Any other power plant would have been long dead, but even so, that one is beyond its life expectancy. 'Great many hours', indeed.

"Goden, this needs done; that's all there is to it."


Tensu said, "Mr. Griffin, I do feel confident that the ship will hold up safely until we can finish these jobs and get to Mars. She still recovers quickly from peak loads, and I have the sensor calibration checked at every injector change." She smiled slightly. "It's my life, too."

Mr. Bennet looked very upset. "Are we actually considering this request? How can you justify such an expense?"

Goden said, "Consider it an expression of gratitude, Mr. Bennet."

Tom said, "Thank you, Goden. That's the best possible reason, but the second best is the boost in positive public relations the Collective would get; very important now in light of what just happened on Earth. It would reinforce trust and demonstrate the Collective's commitment to moral behavior, even to people outside our market network."

Captain Hardesty grinned. "Not to argue to my own disadvantage--I do want this overhaul--but what do I say when everyone around me gets jealous about the special treatment?"

No one spoke for a few breaths, then Tom said, "Special case, in support of a protectorate. Besides, how much is this, really? Average cost at any shipyard in Collective space would be in the low six figures, middle sixes at custom yacht yards like Fells, but they all give you a flight certification, good anywhere. Same job in the Fringe, maybe half those numbers or less, but no cert, and you just have to take their word on the used parts they put in--and the skill and care of the installer.

"Now, how much does it cost to run the
G'Kuhru for a day? And how many of those envoy ships are there, now, over twenty? I'd ask Mr. Bennet to take a wider perspective on this arrangement. To make it less painful, though, I can do this whole job real cheap; I'll just make it a training project for my engineering students at the Institute yard on Mars. All labor free of charge; the Collective gets billed only for material, at my cost. And since I'd never put a used power plant in a ship, we'll make that up new from scratch as a one-off, and it'll meet or exceed factory specs.

"So, Captain, you can play it down while we're playing it up. People being what they are, though, you'll need some plausible excuse to play it down, something to complain about. First of all, how badly would it hurt your business if your ship's in the yard for, say, three weeks?"


"Oh--well--that's a long time to be out of the circuit--and I'll have another twenty days of unpaid travel time getting to Mars and then back afterwards . . . what happened to the ten days you mentioned?"

"That was figuring for the work being done in a commercial setting. It takes longer to teach someone how than it does to give the job to someone who already knows. And we can let you stay in touch with your customers. If you really need to have it done quicker, we can arrange that."

"Hm . . . getting a new power core for free, I'm not sure I could chafe too much about having to wait on it . . . what else have you got?"

"We could make you pay for some of this yourself. One is the flight cert; that's done by an independent inspector. It's mandatory for this level of work, and they're charging five thousand.

"And, or, the cost of your accommodations during the wait."


"And I suppose all the cheap slots will still be filled by that time, so we might be forced into a tourist hotel, right? I'm out of touch with those rates . . ." She looked upset and shook her head. "You know, the more I think about it, the less I like the idea of the longer wait . . . we can take the money from our repair fund, but I just don't know what we're going to do for that long! Ben's at the age where I'd be afraid to let him out of sight in port . . ."

Ockey snickered and Ben covered his face. "Ma--!"

"Prove me wrong, then. And shut up, Ockey; you're not far behind him." Audra turned back to the screen. "The other thing, too; I really am worried about being out of play for any length of time."

"Do you have an attachment to that part of the Fringe?"

She waved a hand. "Ah, Ron liked it--my late husband--and I know my way around there. Can't afford too much sentiment, though. We'll go where the work is."

"Well . . ." Tom got a faraway look for a moment. "Would you go to Jettison?"

Captain Hardesty's eyes widened and her mouth fell open a little, then she shook herself. "Sorry, you surprised me there. Uh--doing what?"

Tom grinned. "Flying freight, of course. This relocation has cost me more than a few crews, so I need to replenish my resources. Besides, Leeta's still going to need a ride out there from Mars. You're a known quantity, and we'll have just refurbished your ship ourselves."

" We're a 'known quantity'--?"

Tom shrugged. "I made some inquiries while you were getting Leeta back up to working condition. Hope you're not offended."

The captain shook her head. "I'd have thought less of you if you hadn't. So, this offer to fly for you, is it a different deal from us just getting Leeta to Mars--?"

"Yes. That contract will be between you and the Collective." Tom looked to the side. "Goden--?"

Goden looked more pleased now, mostly pale blue-green. "Captain, the offer I have on outline is worth two hundred eighty thousand Collective, and includes all the ship repairs you requested. I've calculated expenses for both of the power core replacement options Griffin mentioned, and I project that the cost difference between them is minimal to you. Assuming you pay your own personal expenses and the certification fee, you should realize about sixty-five thousand clear profit."

A new frame opened on the screen, showing a long list of figures. Captain Hardesty looked at it for a while, then turned to Goden's image on the screen. "Well. Normally, I'd try to better the deal just out of habit, but that's . . . a generous offer. I do have one question, though. On our trip back to Mars, is Leeta to be our only payload, or can we bring other goods?"

Goden turned a richer blue, and now had little patches of bright yellow moving across her body. "You may bring any legal cargo you wish, and we'll help you select items that should sell at a profit for you." Her color dulled noticeably. "We would ask that you arrange your purchases in advance; we'd like you to have Leeta back here as quickly as is practicable."

The captain let out a big breath and leaned back in her chair. "I'm sold. We just have to choose our option." She leaned forward and turned to face Ben and Ockey. "Boys? Short or long layover?"

Ben said, "I thought you wanted to get out sooner . . ."

"That was assuming we'd be headed back to our old stomping grounds. I'm leaning toward Griffin's offer now."

"We haven't heard what it is yet--"

"It'll be standard Collective, and we're off topic. Long or short layover?"

Ben sighed and looked at the tabletop. "I can't decide."

"Ockey?"

"I still want to take a sand-buggy tour."

"That takes an hour or two."

Ben said, "I don't want to be a tourist--"

Captain Hardesty said, "Ben--you're a spacer. You will never--ever be a tourist. But that doesn't mean we can't see the sights. Mars has a lot to see; we might as well enjoy it." She leaned back and let out another long breath. "And the fact that we're arguing like this makes me think we really do need some serious time off." She looked up at the screen. "Tensu?"

"I agree with you, Captain. We've been working very hard for a long time, and I think it would be refreshing to get away from it while we have this opportunity. I think we all need to see some other faces."

"Point well made." She turned again, but not to address the boys. "Leeta? You should have a voice in this, too."

"I'd like to see more of Mars . . ."

"You're sure? You just got mugged there, remember."

"Yeah--yes, but--I was enjoying it there. I saw some people playing music, and one of them came and made friends with me afterward. Maybe we could all do that together."

Goden went brown and red but then back to light green. "We will be sure to provide full-time security for all of you, at Collective expense. And though I've been extremely busy, I'd like to see Leeta again. Many here were disappointed that they weren't able to meet him in person when he visited with us before. I would be pleased to have you come visit the G'Kuhru; you could tour the ship and we could have a meal together."

Captain Hardesty bowed slightly. "We'd be most honored, Goden; I look forward to it. And as to the contract, I accept the offer, and we'll take the long layover."

Goden bowed, turning a deep velvet purple. "You have my deepest gratitude, Captain Hardesty. I'm sending the contract to you now."

The captain's 'pad beeped. She scrolled through the document, signed it, then had Tensu add her signature and hit 'Send.' "Thank you, Goden."

"You're most welcome, Captain. Now, I have many other things to attend to, so if you'll excuse me, I'll leave you to negotiate with Griffin. It was good meeting all of you. Fly safely."
Goden bowed again, and her screen-frame disappeared.

Mr. Bennet asked, "Am I still needed here?"

Tom said, "Stay with us a little longer, please; I always like to have a third party witness negotiations. Captain Hardesty, I'm sending you the details of two contract options. If you're open to moving out to Jettison, I'll give you a quick summary . . ."

"I don't know . . . that's an awfully long haul . . ."

"Oh, you'd be flying local; no more than a week each way. We have a trade route out there serving a handful of typical Fringe colonies and a few mining ships. It's . . . interesting."

" 'Interesting,' as in--what were those stories about? Supernatural goings-on?"

"Ha! Yes, the stories . . . and, truthfully, things did happen out there that no one has been able to explain yet, but whatever caused them has long since quit. Maybe I should have said 'entertaining;' that's still true.

"Now, two things. One, whether you take the job or not, I have to fill it. You're being offered right of first refusal, so if you turn it down I'll have to post it for public bidding.

"Two, since I'm a member of the Collective, Jettison will become a member territory; we'll get our own envoy ship, banking, policing for the shipping lanes, the works--and that will draw in the commercial shippers. If you're there first, you could claim a lane and hold it. Job security for as long as you want it.

"So, what do you think?"


The captain chuckled. "I think I'm a known quantity and you're trying to get me to lock in."

Tom grinned. "I am, but only to save myself the bother of filtering through a lot of sketchy characters flying unreliable ships."

"Well, let me see what the crew thinks. Tensu?"

"I approve, Captain. I think the opportunity is too good to pass up. Besides, there are Shaktuurans living on Jettison."

"I understand. Ben?"

"Ma, I thought you wanted to be free and not have to answer to bureaucrats . . ."

"I did, and that would still be nice, but freedom is expensive, and we can't afford it yet. And like it or not, as long as we're in space and not living in a cave, there's a bureaucrat of some kind between us and everything we use. Food. Fuel. Water. Air. Mr. Bennet, there, could tell you."

Mr. Bennet actually smiled. "It's a historical truth that civilization is miserable under a bad bureaucracy, but it's impossible with none at all. Most of us do try to be good at it. We're not well regarded, though; we're like gut bacteria: nobody wants to think about us until we quit working."

A few people snickered, and the captain nodded. "Grudging tip of the hat to you, sir. You seem overzealous about cost control, but that's important, too." Turning back to the boys, she said, "This would open new doors for us. You could get a formal education--respect. Regular meals. Ockey, I know you want to go to a real school." She looked back at Griffin's image on the screen. "I'm in. What are my options?"

Tom nodded, almost a bow. "Thank you, Captain. And, Ben--?"

Ben looked up from the tabletop. "Yes, sir?"

"Your mother is right. I'm free, and it costs me over a million a day." He drew a breath and let it out. "Now. Briefly, Captain, I have two options for you. The one I think you'll like better is a closed contract, minimum two year term, renewable, with a conditional renewal bonus. We assign the runs and pay on completion; pay schedule is based mostly on distance. Also on completion, we reimburse receipts for shipboard expenses like food, fuel, water, air, as well as for off-ship food, lodging, and entertainment.

"You run your ship and crew as you like, and as long as you don't cause an accident, nobody asks questions about crew certifications. We do strongly recommend that you keep the ship maintained to factory schedule, and if we do the work, you get a twenty-five percent discount. This contract also includes a small medical package; details are in the fine print.

"Okay so far?"


"Sure."

"Then, there's open contract. We put you on the list and notify you of jobs; you apply for whatever runs you like and can be available for, and you're paid on completion. The pay rate's higher because you're on your own for expenses, but you can still get the discount for maintenance.

"In either of these arrangements, your first job would, of course, be to bring Leeta from Mars to Jettison."


"Can I bring cargo on that run?"

"Yes, but on closed contract, you have to pay Company shipping charges on it. On open contract you can freelance at will."

"Understood. You were right; I like the closed contract. Give me a moment to look it over."
It didn't take long; she scrolled through it pretty quickly, only pausing now and then with a soft hm or huh. Then, "Sold," she said, put her name to it and told Tensu to sign and send it.

Tom said, "Congratulations, Captain, and welcome. The contract will take effect when you dock on Mars. I'm sending you the employee handbook; you and your crew should all go over that together."

Mr. Bennet also congratulated her, and added, "I'll be sending you some information as well, about Collective membership."

Captain Hardesty said, "Thank you both."

Tom and Mr. Bennet both wished them luck, and their screen frames vanished, leaving only Tensu. The captain said, "I'll be up shortly."


He held out his empty mug. "And thank you for the soup, and . . . is it all right if I lick this clean?"
She blew her breath out a little and smiled. "Sure. We might all be licking our plates for a while, but--just for a few more days."

Fifteen

After breakfast, Captain Audra called Leeta into her quarters. She sat at her desk and had him sit in the chair next to it as she opened a drawer.

She hesitated for a moment, looking upset, then reached in and came out with a data-pad: old-looking, scratched, with frayed edges on the shoulder strap. She held it in her lap for a breath, looking at it, then turned to him.

"Tom Griffin said I should treat you like a crewmember, so you're going to need this. It was Ron's . . . when he died, I just kept it. Think it's time it saw some use." She put it on her desk and connected the charging cable, not looking at him while she made a file on her screen and uploaded the 'pad's contents, then cleared its memory and checked the settings.

"Is that him?"

"What--?" She glanced across at him, then followed his gaze to the framed printed photo on the wall. "Oh--" It showed her next to a man, both smiling, standing in front of a ship, with younger versions of Ben and Ockey in front of them. "Yeah. That was us." She let a deep breath out and went back to work on the 'pad. "Commander Okeke sent me a copy of your 'pad's contents and added a couple addresses." She tapped a key and a progress counter started on the 'pad's screen. "When this loads, I want you to test it. Then I'll show you something they did for you."
The 'pad chirped once to confirm the completion of the download, then configured itself and chirped again. Audra unplugged it and handed it to him. "All right. Check everything and make sure it's working."

It took a little while because she had him find and try each and every file and feature he'd had on his other 'pad. The only one that didn't work right away was the Legal folder; he had to give this 'pad his retinal scan before he could open that.

At last, she showed him the things she'd added; they were both new entries on his Contacts list: one was Commander Okeke's; the other . . .

The other was listed as Translator.

"Try it," she said. He keyed the 'Call' button and waited while the screen displayed Connecting, then Connected.

What appeared next was an image of the translator's front panel, with all the same features. The display panel was dark; he pressed and held the power button until it lit, and it showed the file index with a blinking cursor. That's what it did after he'd shut it off in the middle of a recording, but now he couldn't remember what file he'd been listening to . . . it seemed so long ago that he'd used it . . .

He pressed the Play key and heard, . . . ayah nah petahkah, nah ahma su appah . . . ayah nah sayet . . .

He remembered now, yes, this was the recording he'd been listening to . . . he stopped the playback and turned to Audra. "How--how did they do this?"

She chuckled a little. "It's easy. They just plugged it in and gave it an address. Translators are made to be remote-accessible. You didn't know that?"

"No . . ."

"Well, every ship needs at least one translator because not all the species can speak Collective."

"Oh--I read about that--in the Collective language lessons."

"Uh-huh. Most ships have at least two; one permanently installed, and the others portable, to use when the crew leaves the ship. And speaking of lessons, you should be spending some time on yours. We have a time for that, right after lunch, in the commons. Ben and Ockey are there, and either Tensu or I will be there to keep an eye on things and help out. Three hours or more, and whatever else you can get in." She nodded at the cast on his arm. "That'll get you out of some shipboard duty, so you'll have more time for it.

"It won't get you out of everything, though. You ride the ship, you either pay for the ride or you work for the ship, understand?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Good. You know what chain of command is?"

"Uh, there's captain--commander--chief engineer . . ."

"No commander here now, but you're not doing too bad. It's me, then Tensu, then Ben, then Ockey. You're last, but that doesn't mean you're not important; you can still be helpful. The boys grew up here, so they know the ship, okay?"

"Okay--I mean, yes, Captain."

Audra grinned. "Very good." She pressed a button on her desk. "Ockey, come to my quarters."

"On the way."

"Now, we'll get you used to the ship and then find you something to do, but if you think you can't do a job without hurting yourself, you say so. Okay?"

"Yes, Captain." He looked at the 'pad again, ran his hands across it, and looked back up to her. "Thank you for letting me use this."

"You're welcome."

Ockey appeared in the doorway. "I'm here; what do you need?"

"Ockey, I'm giving you responsibility for Leeta; you're to turn him into a crewmember. Start with location drills; when he can pass a test, we'll move on. You remember the test for that?"

"Blindfolded--take him to someplace else aboard, take the blindfold off, and he has to tell where he is." Ockey grinned. "Spin him around and change the route a few times on the way."

Audra nodded. "Show him where to get the ship's floor plan on the 'pad; teach him safety rules and emergency procedures in parallel with that. Give some thought to a job for him, but don't start him yet. He'll join you after lunch for study.

"When he passes the test, I'll document you as a Beginning Trainer; ship's log and printed certificate. Questions?"

"No questions, but I have a comment. He's going to slow me down getting my regular jobs done."

"Well, until he learns enough to be safe on his own, he is your job, and don't worry about the schedule. Just keep the livestock fed and the rest of us will pick up the slack. We'll be all right.

"Leeta, your job is to pay attention and learn what Ockey shows you. Make sure you learn it. If you need him to explain or repeat something, say so. You'll be learning things that can keep us all alive. And when you pass, you'll also get a certificate. Questions?"

"Can I help with the goats?"

Audra sat back a tiny bit and narrowed her eyes. "How did you know we had goats onboard?"

"I smelled them."

"Hunh. Well, I don't know. Strange things upset them, and they don't know you yet. Besides, we really don't have to do too much with them anyway. We'll see. Anything else?"

"No, Captain."

"Very well; get at it."

~~~~~

Greg was grinning. "So, they're making a crewmember out of you, huh?"

"Yeah. They kinda have to, so I don't do anything dangerous. The ship isn't built for passengers."

"What have they got you doing?"

"Nothing, yet . . . they have goats aboard, but they won't let me in with them yet. Ockey's teaching me where everything is on the ship and how to know where I'm at. Oh! But when I pass a test, they're going to make a record of it for me that everybody signs!"

"That's great, Leeta! A ship's certificate at age five--you're off to an impressive start. You know, you're really lucky; on some ships, they'd have just locked you in a cabin for the whole trip. So, how are you getting along there?"

"Pretty good. I got to meet the engineer today at lunchtime; Tensu, she's Shaktuuran. I think she likes me; she offered to let me try some of her food."

"Did you?"

"Uh, a little. Some of it I couldn't get close to, but she had some kind of bread that I tried a little of, and it was okay."
--------------------------------------------------------------
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Post July 03, 2018, 09:28:45 AM

Re: An out-take from my novel project

As a cannibal, I was a bit disappointed you did not share some of your actual brain matter...

Nice to see Leeta again!

Of course for critique you already know what I have to say about italics... though, your style is starting to grow on me.

Thanks for sharing.
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Post July 03, 2018, 11:59:30 AM

Re: An out-take from my novel project

though, your style is starting to grow on me.

Does that include the mildew? If so, just scrape that off; it's of no use. But if you hold still in a humid place long enough, you can get a crop of mushrooms ... oh, wait--you meant my writing style, haha! Thanks!

This set of scenes is going bye-bye because of a change in the story line. I don't throw such stuff away, though; it goes in an out-takes file. Funny thing: when I went to paste this into my out-takes file, I found a slightly different version of it already there. The difference is that whatever I found bad about this chunk was even worse in the previous one! Nice to know I can improve, even at making rejects. :lol:
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Post July 03, 2018, 09:31:59 PM

Re: An out-take from my novel project

You bring up a good point Lester. Writers rejecting what they write.

In a lot of stories and even in television, there are stories showing where a writer is hunkered down in front of some antique typewriter surrounded by crumpled pages of a story they are working on only to get frustrated and throw the page away.

I think writers are their own worse critics, though some writers are also so caught up in themselves they think everything they write is gold. And of course, some writers are in both camps.

In the Marine Corps, while learning the correct way to shoot a rifle, I learned something that applies to just about every facet of life. When learning the proper way to shoot a rifle the main thing is to try and do everything correct... breath, relax, aim, slowly squeeze... surprise (brass) If a shooter does this, the target is hit.

So, in writing, write 'properly' (proper use of adjectives, nouns, verbs and such) write the story as inspired, and if the writer is surprised then for sure, the reader will also be surprised (for good or bad, it does not matter)

It is amazing how a writer feels what they write is just fantastic, only to read it later and almost gag. Or, read something on the spur of the moment and later say, 'wow' didn't mean it to come out that way, but, it works!

As for mildew, I enjoy cultivating it in my belly button. Sometimes mushrooms will grow alongside, though they are not of the edible variety.
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Post July 04, 2018, 03:06:01 AM

Re: An out-take from my novel project

Right. Those mushrooms are strictly ornamental.
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Post July 05, 2018, 04:16:36 AM

Re: An out-take from my novel project

Lester Curtis wrote:...

This set of scenes is going bye-bye because of a change in the story line. I don't throw such stuff away, though; it goes in an out-takes file. Funny thing: when I went to paste this into my out-takes file, I found a slightly different version of it already there. The difference is that whatever I found bad about this chunk was even worse in the previous one! Nice to know I can improve, even at making rejects. :lol:


"I'm not a bad writer - my rejects are improving!" \0/

Out-takes are useful!

I hope to poke more at Aphelion stuff again this month!
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Post July 05, 2018, 11:58:11 AM

Re: An out-take from my novel project

Yeah, I used to just delete the out-takes, but then I found myself thinking about something in one or another of them and wishing I'd kept it somewhere.
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