By eight o’clock
in the morning, only two hours in to the shift, Algie found himself
the Technical Maintenance Control Centre.
It was a very rare occurrence, possibly even unique in
only half his
twelve-man team were out on maintenance jobs, the rest would be running
maintenance checks and diagnostics from the consoles here at the centre.
Today though, the
orbital habitat Astropolis was having a bad day. On a space station this
size, there were
always maintenance issues, especially on the day shift when endless
would send in maintenance reqs for creaking doors and faulty view
were more serious today; there were elevator
malfunctions, air supply failures and power interruptions to go with
routine issues that kept them busy from day to day.
On top of all that there had been a collision of a small
one of the docking stations that had caused structural damage to a
section. Even the
tech mechs were out
in force carrying out the limited routine tasks they had been
Eyes aching from
staring at on-screen reports for too long, Algie took a slow walk round
control room and flexed his shoulders, trying to decide which of the
petty tasks could be put off the longest.
The problem was, the people who put in the requests via
the Service Desk
never thought their problem was petty. Annoyingly, they were
often right. With
the endless sections that had been added on to the station
over its two century lifetime, a small problem in one section could
became much worse if not addressed quickly, especially for those
the outer edge of the station whose systems were not insulated by
returned to the work
assignment screen and scratched his head thoughtfully.
Another three reqs had arrived on the page
just during his brief break and now sat at the head of the queue
Algie sighed and
returned his full concentration to keeping Astropolis
in one piece.
# # #
iron grip held Mary's vest as she dangled from the mass of pipes below
primary heat exchanger for the Old Centre. She hung there in her yellow
maintenance coverall, ten meters up in the air, and thought about how
hated Thursday mornings and tour groups.
gonna miss my show again! Bobbi Munson, Deep Space Explorer. Best damn
broadcast on the net!"
storage cube was nearly full, so it wouldn't have the space to store
sensory experience. She'd have to watch it like it was TV, instead of
experiencing everything Bobbi did, and that hunky Fleet Captain Daniel
maybe going to pop the question this episode. She wondered if Mike, her
co-worker, could record it for her.
she thought, he'd just
make fun of me for watching a soap.
her, she watched a couple walk though the grey junction, arm in arm.
sighed. Somehow her mousy brown hair and green eyes didn't combine into
that all the men wanted to kiss. Her job kept her small frame fit
she feared the smell from the maintenance ducts wasn't helping her
what she named her artificial limb, transferred some vibrations from
down its double-jointed titanium frame and into its flat, square end
hooked through the mesh of her metal vest. It was attached to the
middle of her
back, but with a single thought from her, its thousands of tiny hooks
detach and move to a different part of the vest. Her own arms worked
she knew there were times in her job when you just needed an extra hand.
on, Armin," she told it, "they're launching!"
huge Alferi cruise liner blasted away like it always did, which meant
close to the station. Astropolis had too much mass to be pushed aside
but since the purple banking ward had relocated to the other side of
station, that left only the orange sewer and oxygen reclamation ward to
take the force from the exhaust. The Old Centre absorbed the worst of
every time, rupturing orange-tagged waste pipes left and right.
pipe burst a meter to her left and the metal arm swung her wearily to
Her feet and human arms grabbed, holding her in place upside-down while
flipped its elbow around her side and slowly flopped its flat end
chest. Once there, its hooks gripped her jacket vest. The arm snapped
locked a steely grip on a pipe.
seemed sluggish to her. When she was done, she'd have to see about a
arms and legs let go, and she pulled a long pipe wrench from a pocket
pants leg. Using every ounce of strength, she isolated the shutoff and
the jet. Immediately, the flow switched to a new pipe, which burst just
going to be a long morning, Armin."
# # #
Bill's shovel was
happy, giggling people who made food all day long, filling the air with
tantalizing aromas, he was starving. He would have killed for a pile of
with cheese and sauerkraut on top.
Bill was an
exterminator, like every third person in the Green Ward.
the clean blade," Cravitz said. "Number 347, in Ricardo's Bistro.
Walt isn't cutting it. As Health Inspector, I can force his contract
Ricardo's is a nice place to sell to. Upscale food."
Bill eyed him.
"And what would I have to do to get it?"
sister, of course." Cravitz
out laughing. "Oh, c'mon. It's a joke. Smile already."
Bill was surly.
"What do I have to do?"
I said." Cravitz grinned. "Everybody in jaga smiles. If anybody sees
you smacking the little green blighters with your angry scowl instead
happy smile, they'd start thinking. Thinking about whether or not it's
or whether or not the stuff we scrape off the walls should be turned
food. You'd make
problems for us
and a Smile' has
been the motto of the restaurants here
for twenty years, and it works. People expect it."
Bill crossed his
arms in front of him. "That's stupid, and I'm not doin' it."
Cravitz said with a smile. "Then you're not doing it."
# # #
indeed a terrible battle, all those hundreds of years ago, Zalmana
the information, complete with rather horrific actual footage, danced
The story of
that battle, the one that generations later still remembered as so
only one to experience war, many more of her species had to endure the
fate, and if they could do it, so could she.
two ways about it.
notion was just about to take better hold, perhaps even pushing away
previously indomitable fear, when the recounting of Verdun went blank
usual view of her room returned.
There was an
acrid smell of cordite in Zalmana's sensory center, lingering from the
presentation, but it too was soon replaced with the flat, nearly absent
pervading the entire station.
in the morning, and she knew exactly what had happened.
feed's down again, those mother-leavers", she said to the wall, which
hummed with a thin holoposter advertising the Heechee Cafe on Level 24.
at her chrono-implant, the one she made sure they put between her thumb
finger, since it was the location most humans looked down on.
naturals have the time everywhere except where it made sense."
and a minute, and she looked at the poster again. It fizzled and
made her think of what Resistance weapons must sound like.
projectiles, only energy", she recalled her trainer say back on base.
avoid the fear again, and frustrated that the server still didn't come
after more than a minute of silence, she decided to leave her room and
out the Heechee for some extra-thick Europeano with maybe a burger on
wallet and keys, stopping to think that the fear she was feeling as a
officer surely must be nothing compared to what she would experience as
Walking Proud lunging at scores of natural horders on the battlefields
Proud didn't feel anything and she was a human working with the Planned
Government. This never won Zalmana any credits with people on the
which, although this sector had scant sympathy for the Resistance, was
predominantly human and apolitical at that.
couldn't just sit at the Heechee by herself for more than twenty
without going cerebral, so she also picked up a hardcopy
litero-tube, the one about her favorite century, and opened the door.
# # #
Only to bump
right into the technicians that had showed up to work the re-router
units ever get this blinging connection right? I was in the middle of
and it will most likely now also give me a headache later on!"
that?", she asked.
management decided to withhold services from this sector", answered the
tech machine. "Those were the air boosters shutting down. You residents
will now have roughly three days to evacuate."
that's entirely logical! Where's the compassion?"
can't evacuate will be accommodated in Astropolis
most logical place of them all! Do they have blinging furniture now at
just recall bare walls from when I arrived."
machine looked at her with blank arrays. It didn't care for Zalmana at
pleasant interval and do not try to reconnect to the server, the
been terminated until your sector starts paying again", it said and
down the hall with its identical companion.
the entire episode curious. How can a complete sector on Astropolis
stop paying their bills?
# # #
Luckily, it only
took two hours to finish work on the heat exchanger, so Mary stopped at
shop. They were out of her cerebral link chip, but let her have the
up at the same price, and threw in a brand new beta software patch for
trouble. They said it would be twice as responsive. All Mary knew was
she'd have to work double shifts all week just to afford it.
She stopped for a
protein smoothie from the vending booth down the hall and bumped into
sat down across from her. The knees of his oversized frame almost
table off the deck.
coveralls were splattered with grease that ran all the way to his neck.
that a crooked, yet genuine, smile hung below blue eyes and a thick
"Most of the
pipes in the Old Centre," she said. "One of these days it won't be
CO2, and I'm not cleaning up that mess."
Just then she
spied a dreamy Corps lieutenant walking down the hall toward them, and
leaned her head on her hand and watched him walk. It surprised her when
out it was Armin holding her head up and not her own hand.
I guess they
were right, she thought
to herself. Armin is a lot more
She sat up and
watched the chiselled jaw and broad shoulders of the military man
them. She sighed. "I wish a guy like that would talk to me."
Mike looked at
man stopped in front of her. "Do I know you?"
something unintelligible, and smiled nervously.
regarded her like there was something truly wrong with her, and then he
offended. He turned on his heel and stomped away.
his problem?" Mary asked.
bewildered. "Your extra arm waved at that guy until he came over, then
flipped him the bird when he looked at you like that."
She looked at
Armin, which gave an apologetic gesture. "I just got an upgrade today.
didn't know it could do that."
"Don't worry about it. That guy was no Fleet Captain Dan Rock
watch that show?"
he said. "I plug into the Dan synapse every week. Didn't see it this
morning, but I think he was going to ask Bobbi to marry him."
She grinned at
# # #
stomach reminded Algie that it was approaching noon.
With nobody but him in the control room all morning there
been no opportunity to wander off and have a snack.
The dregs of a cup of coffee sat on his desk, but food was
definitely now on the agenda.
Unfortunately all of his technicians were still spread out
over the station,
up to half a kilometre away, and all were still busy.
Each time one of them finished a job there was already
waiting for them.
As if there
weren’t enough malfunctions to deal with, the central
the computer that tied all of the various and mismatched technologies
habitat together, was now giving him communications errors. A few had already blinked
up on the console
display and he had managed to clear them, but now they were
other rarely seen messages such as buffer limit warnings and data
losses. It was
obviously having a hard
time keeping up with all the data it was capturing from numerous
and translating into a common format for the maintenance centre. Algie began sifting
through the error logs,
acknowledging and resetting all the alarms he could find to free up
processing space. His
jaw was beginning
to ache from gritting his teeth in exasperation.
You really needed more than one person to man the control
After a few
moments work another alarm flashed up on the screen, and this one even
to herald its arrival.
Section 16 had
already experienced several communications failures, and now the
seemed to have given up and assumed the module had been isolated. Now there was no way to
tell what the
original maintenance problem had been.
Algie shook his head slowly, then whisked his chair along
the desk to
the master plot display. Section
on the outer edge of the station, but the plot just showed a blank
it should be. The
computer now seemed
to think it didn’t exist.
He moved back
along to the work assignment screen to check who was nearby, then
comm and sent a technician to investigate.
# # #
Cornelius Grump, Professor of Obscure Literature, wandered around
his humble domain feeling depressed. His sections of Station AstroPolis
paid for his lifetime (for small values of lifetime) by the combined
from the adjunct colleges he had taught at over the years. Freed from
economic scrabblings, he could devote his time to his studies and
engagements. (Thus, he was depressed, for reasons described below, and
panicking over rent.)
section had a few clever Tech gadgets, but his living standard was
behind most of the other inhabitants who had gleaming new quarters paid
through their rapacious development of asteroids, Bio/Nano discoveries,
murky connections with Corporations. The Professor's grants provided
and a low grade meal ticket usable at some of the station restaurants,
large parts of the rest were designated for Research Only, to comply
various tax exemption codes. Cornelius' few non-professional luxuries
robots, AquaSmart appliances, and the like) had been acquired by shrewd
on the LitBoards with other collectors.
was depressed, because he was at one of those late-middle ages in
life, just old enough to feel put in place by the younger generations,
feeble enough to ditch it all and drink Gentian Root Tea in the common
(Why drink that variety of tea? His research on the early days of Soda
earned him a lifetime beverage supply (for large values of lifetime)
Monarch Company which had somehow escaped economic obliteration.)
he contributed many factoids to the LitBoards.
The fees received were enough to handle the
Small Necessities, and Cornelius was humble enough to live within his
The good news was, his love for his vocation sustained him. The only
hated was counting down the minutes until the inbound cargo freighters
collected books - REAL ones. Some of them were personal copies
printed from his private OnDemand Binder-Printer, but that required a
actually have been scanned. Recall, he was Professor of Obscure
This usually meant no one had bothered to scan texts they had never
(The clairvoyant mediums were too busy hustling tourists.) And so it
pass that the Professor traded favors, and sneaked a few volumes on
shipment. The transport officials wedged them between other, more
imports, and deducted what few fees they couldn't hide from the
winnings in the weekly Spaceport Bet.
the inbound merchant vessel had arrived. Doc Grumpy (As he was
known to his students) left his room unlocked, trusting in the natural
resistant properties of the towering piles of tomes. (Woe to the drunk
freeloader who collided with the Pronunciation Guide to Ancient Egypt
from its place on at the top of seven years worth of Egyptian
magazine.) He ambled his way towards the central area of the station.
under one arm was one of the cheap reproducible copies of Isis
2., packaged in a destruction resistant LoTanium metal travel case. The Professor was eager to
NewYork-1888 text with what had been advertised as an unauthorized
recompilation by a student from an Alpha Centauri university. It had
stashed on the newly arriving import ship, behind the flight
personal liquor supply. (Who would miss another bottle of cheap Chinese
the weight logs?) Upon arriving at the cargo bay, he was met by Andahar
Chemise-Rouge, the Assistant Chief of Security.
there's been a problem. We'll get you your document later.
But maybe your unique brand of insight could shed light on our
Andy!? In my old age I like to humor myself that I was
lucky to hear about a copy of Dune backported to Sanskrit, but then I
living finding such things. What can you tell me so far?"
part of it. We're not exactly sure what the problem is.
There's been a series of odd events, all suddenly occurring far too
themselves you could write off two or three of them to the fickle will
universe. But not all of them."
What sort of events?"
seemed harmless at first. But the 'effect' - we're calling it
that around the Security Office - seems to be growing in strength."
four hours ago an unknown craft applied for docking
permissions, and was granted. The pilot then crashed into the station,
completely trashing three parking slots worth of docking equipment."
Undead! Was anyone hurt?"
that's the beginning of the problem. We don't know."
does that mean?"
fidgeted and wiped some unruly blond hair out of his eyes.
"It was a single passenger ship. Captain Granger applied for permission
dock, and was granted clearance. After the botched landing, we helped
passenger inside. Finishing a brief stay at the medical areas, Rutger
Clendenning Jr. announced he was feeling fine."
'RC', the singer? ", asked the Professor.
He is currently giving a concert in Lounge 4."
thought RC was attending a convention over at Sigma Irridium
wouldn't have known that, but I doubt that lead will really
solve our problem. Did you miss the bigger problem here?"
ground his teeth sideways in thought. "So did this
Captain fellow remotely conduct clearance on behalf of his client?"
nodded grimly. "You're a smart guy, Doc. No such luck. We
had a nice, boring Video feed of Captain Granger asking for access to
One Person craft. When the doors opened, galactic entertainer R. C.
is that possible?!", asked the Professor.
don't know. Since I caught up with you by accident, I thought
you might have an idea where to begin. This whole situation is so ... creepy.
And since then, the events kept rolling in."
Security Chief looked unhappy, as if he had seen a ghost. "I
wish I were a comedian. Some of this stuff would make great material.
effect, I'll deliver it deadpan. Mrs. Wu paid her rent this morning,
her famous turquoise sweater."
mimicked the comedian sharing a secret with his audience. In a
strangled voice cast away from the professor, he intoned, "Wait for
professor was immensely well read, but it sometimes took him several
moments to drag up some facts into complete awareness. Right on cue,
seconds later, he added: "Wait a minute. Mrs. Wu? Samantha Wu is off
station, and I didn't think she owed any fees during her hiatus."
wanting someone to endure a little of what he had been
through for the past four hours, Andahar plunged on, "And Samantha is
engaged, not married ... Mrs Wu.
am sure you are tired, Chief. It took me a minute to place the
reference. Dear Wu Li passed away last year. Please do not insult her
blond chief grinned viciously. "Her memory is better than
yours, Professor. She knows who she is far better than you do, and she
her rent on time. Yours is late."
Yes. Well. I'll pay that next week. But since you are
clearly enjoying this, how do you have a rent check from a dead former
is down in the lounge listening to R.C. See where this is
going? The tenant who died last year is down in our lounge buying Saki
money that shouldn't exist listening to a singer who couldn't have been
ship that was crashed by the pilot who cannot be found. There's some
stuff, but those are the doozies so far."
can see how that kind of mess could be very upsetting."
me, Doc. But R.C. is relaxing to listen to. And Mrs. Wu has
offered to pay for the station repairs, 'because she is so pleased we
a visit by her favourite singer just for her.' "
Maybe you are right, Andy. Something I read once does vaguely
fit this situation, but it's eluding me. Shall we go resume this
down in the lounge? I'd like some Saki myself. It goes well with
incorrigible, Prof. G. By the way, some of the doors have
jammed from electrical overload during the crash. Take one of these
bars in case you get stuck."
Dr. Cornelius Grump looked sideways at the security chief
as they headed to the lounge, tapping the metal bar he had been handed
floor in a parody of an old man with a cane. "Did that One-Man ship
an Adams Drive by chance?"
What's the full name? 'Heisenberg Uncertainty
Compression-Accelerator Drive' I think it was?"
I think so. Why? And what is an Adams Drive?"
minor earth writer named Douglas Adams wrote what at the time
was meant as a set of humor-fiction novels. In them, he described
called an "Infinite Improbability Drive", which gets its power from
the 'sheer impossibility of your turning into the Linux Penguin mascot'
It was the purest of jokes at the time. But later, when the HUCA Drive
appeared, the Engineering boards heard how it manipulated micro-events. There was some speculation
about what would
happen if such a drive's effect were somehow magnified by a factor of
Dead tenants listening to singers who aren't here is the type of thing
used to joke about."
shrugged as they tramped through the corridor in the center of
the station. "Beats me. I just work here."
# # #
The garlic smell in
Ricardo's was extra strong, and the jaga there were sold with Italian
stomach growled at
every diner in the place.
friendly-looking fellow stood at 347 in a work coverall, calmly bashing
the top third of his section of wall with the flat of his shovel. The
was jagged at the end of the blade, and the handle had been taped
least a dozen times. The top third of the wall was thick with jaga, the
with green & brown splotches, and the bottom third was rough
almost clean. The center of the wall was a quarter meter of shiny,
The man smiled as
Bill approached. "Why so glum, chum?"
swinging away at the marble-sized balls.
believe in mincing words. "Inspector Cravitz told me you couldn't cut
anymore, and that I should take away your business."
now?" Walt chuckled. "I'm not so easy to get rid of.
Besides, I married his sister. "
right," Bill said. "I learned better when I was a kid, dirtside. So,
maybe you'd like a subcontractor instead."
Walt gave Bill a
once over. "What are your terms?"
I'd work for food, and not smilin'."
smile." Walt paused. "What did you do on Earth?"
ran a hot dog cart in Central Park, and we had it down. Mama cooked up
Gramps got the dogs, and Pops worked the cart. Me, I kept it fixed and
in the kitchen. It was gonna be my job to push the cart, but Pops was
by this rich drunk. The guy's lawyers got him off, and we had
the cart. So, I got a job in a metal fabricatin' shop. I 'm good at it,
can make anything. That's what brought me to Astropolis
- a shop at the
other end. But I got tired of that, so I thought I'd try this."
The grin on
Walt's face was wide. "You've got to be born to do this. There's an art
mean?" Bill sighed.
scrape over there, in that darker brown patch. Show me what you got."
Walt shook his
head at Bill's work. "That's no good. You've got to get all the way
to the metal. Twist the blade to get through the layers. They're
they look. Try giving those greenies a slap over there."
sending green splatters across the wall.
terrible form." Walt scrubbed off the stainless steel in the center.
"You have to break them without spraying all over. If you knock it onto
somebody else's wall, then they get to scrape your
jaga. And never,
never put any into the center square."
Walt looked at
him with patience. "Tellurium-the
makes this place smell like garlic. When this Ward was
steel was all the rage. People wanted it everywhere, and volume made it
The contractor who sold the steel mixed too much tellurium in, and jaga
it. They moved in and turned this place into the restaurant district.
center clean to keep the smell strong and Jaga go crazy making spores,
reproduce on the smash. Everybody knows that."
Bill shook his
head. "If it's that simple, then why doesn't somebody start this up
the metal and jaga, which aren't easy to get, because the restaurants
not us. We contract to exterminate and sell the scrape back. Closed
Bill's shoulder. "Sorry, Kid. You just don't have what it takes. Keep
stuff on your blade. That's fair scrape. It'll feed you for a couple
Bill looked over
the smash on the back of the shovel. Gingerly, he stuck a finger in a
clump of green near the handle and tasted it.
The sour look on
his face made Walt laugh hard. "Damn, Kid. It's got to age! Do yourself
big favor when you get to the quarantine check, just sell your shovel
scrape and go back to that metal shop."
# # #
an entire sector on Astropolis just stop paying their bills?" Zalmana
asked the person across from her.
the main contributors to the tax base here, and we don't pay them
because they have decided to accept a Resistance consignment starting
across from Zalmana was a random individual she met going into the
was wearing a black suit and full-cover mask to conceal his face, if he
one. She knew he
was a Planned
Government assessor and therefore definitely not human.
However, assessors were always built to fit
in with the majority of the population in the system they worked at,
this one looked like a bipedal hominid.
matter, since the conversation took on a most engaging turn while
insisted on chatting up this character, who she considered a colleague
knew a lot about Terran history and seemed to be highly instructed in
favorite century. He
also offered to
pay for her drink and burger, which was even carboner than just talk. She therefore ordered Dark
Ireland ales like
there was no tomorrow, and munched on the huge burger they served her.
had a Europeano.
the Heechee came on and off several times while she was becoming
dented, but even so, it occurred to her there was something amiss with
cutting the energy too?", queried Zalmana.
will give us three days, just like the air. The other tenants here are
individuals or corporates, so they will do as we say. And we are not
But shouldn't you worry more about your journey to the front?"
for reminding me."
duty to be compassionate to fellow Planned Government associates, even
are so very local as yourself. What is it that you're reading, Miss?"
litero-tube about my favorite century. Say, what do you know about the
And as the
world spun reassuringly around her due to the high-content ales,
noticed Anika, Undisputed Queen of Level 24 and her ex, leaving the
It was 11:48.
she shouted after Anika, handing the litero-tube to the assessor. It
loud popping sound and she snatched it back quickly.
sorry, forgot you're electrified."
She ran into
the main traverseway outside and followed the very attractive Anika to
Core. It was still boring there but she just wanted to talk to Anika
what the bling was up.
onto a quiet passage when Zalmana made her move.
you carbonated prefab, it's me!"
The other woman
turned to look before disappearing round the next corner.
# # #
reported over the
need to reboot the interface.”
should be in the first
maintenance compartment along the main corridor.”
“I don’t mean
just the systems are isolated,” the
technician replied, “the whole section
is isolated. The
have come down across the corridor.
can’t get in there.”
There was a pause
while Algie absorbed this news, then Carla continued: “There
are people both
side of the door. They’re
thought. As long as
they knew it was just a glitch, he could cope with
unhappiness. It was
if people started
thinking there really was a decompression problem that panic could
in and things would quickly get out of hand.
The horrible memory of the section 62 incident of twelve
sprang readily to mind. It
had been a
busy trading day in what was known as the Merchant’s Module
when a faulty
pressure sensor had caused an erroneous depressurisation alarm. The doors had slid down
and sealed the
section off, trapping hundreds of people inside.
It took the maintenance crews three hours to trace the
get the doors unsealed, and during those three hours blind panic had
people were crushed
to death, and another three died from injuries sustained during
more were injured. Almost
every shop was looted and the damage
to the infrastructure was so severe that the section had to be closed
weeks while repairs were effected.
vividly remembered the chaotic mess that he had been sent to clean up
repair; and the bloodstains that he had tried desperately to avoid as
worked. He did not
want his team to go
through the same thing again.
said eventually. “I’ll
get someone there to help you.”
He called the
Service Desk and asked them to send someone from security just in case
crowd got fractious, then turned to his work assignment screen. The next nearest
technician was in section
11, known colloquially as the Green Ward.
He put a call through.
no reply. He
glanced at the master plot. The
Green Ward had apparently vanished
too. If it had also
isolated then things were not looking good.
error messages flashed up on the integrator console.
Algie cursed silently and put a call through to Station
didn’t like to get them involved in
maintenance issues, but things could quit easily start getting out of
# # #
floating in mid-air, a blanket draped across her.
This was becoming an annoyingly regular occurrence. She cursed the
station’s grav generators as
she blearily looked around for something to grab onto.
It might be possible to swim in zero g, but
leverage is a wonderful thing.
Eventually she resorted to balling the blanket up and
throwing it at the
further bulkhead, relying on good old Isaac’s laws to push
her towards the
nearer one. The
absence of the blanket
highlighted the fact that she was naked.
This would not normally have been a problem, but as she
towards full consciousness she was becoming uncomfortably aware of two
not her quarters
were nowhere in sight.
Her left hand
latched onto a handhold on the cabin wall, and she rubbed her forehead
right as she attempted to recall where she had been last night and how
to be here, wherever here was. Any
clues as to the whereabouts of her garments and whether or not she was
have to mumble apologies to someone whose name she couldn’t
quite recall would
be useful also, she thought. OK,
had started out to have a few drinks after shift with the boys from the
Space Astronomy lab. Say
what you liked
about those geeks, they could most assuredly consume ethanol in heroic
quantities. She had
run into Jean-Marc
and Luc in the Hubble’s Arms, and they
had gone onto dine at the Admiral
Heinlein, before going to dance at Asimov’s
near the Hub. After
that, things were a bit of a blur…
The gravity came
on without warning, and her backside came into contact with cold metal
resounding thump. Megan cursed loudly in Greek, then switched to
because it was so much more satisfying.
A peal of laughter brought her attention to the hatch. Jean Marc managed to
lounge in the doorway
in a nonchalant manner, despite the fact that he, too, must have been
in zero g
only seconds before. Megan
she hated him, from his curly dark hair to the blue eyes currently
with mirth to the eminently kissable lips, to his cute backside, she
him. The only
person whom she hated
more, she decided, was Luc, for the capital crime of being
sleepyhead,” said Jean Marc.
little sorry for ourselves are we?”
Megan’s reply was
in dockhand Russian, and explained Jean-Marc’s ancestry, his
and his likelihood of ever being granted a license to procreate. He laughed again, and
waved the cloth bundle
in his hands.
“Tut, tut!” he
said, “such language! Keep
that up, and
I’ll let you make your way back to your quarters without the
these! What would
the comms staff think
if their Chief were seen parading nekkid around the corridors,
herself to her feet and grabbed the clothes from Jean-Marc’s
hands. It was the
uniform she’d had on yesterday,
freshly laundered by the look of it.
She started stepping into her decidedly non-regulation
fixed Jean-Marc with a glare.
“How did I get
here?” she asked, her green eyes spitting laser bolts at him,
“And why was I
not wearing any clothes?”
his hands defensively. “Sweetie,”
said, “when you threw up all over yourself at
Clarke’s just because the grav
went out, Luc and I could hardly let you wander the station on your own. And your tunic was a
bit…” his lips wrinkled
with distaste “… ripe.
We brought you
here and Luc ran you through the shower while I sent your clothes out
cleaning. We were
perfect gentlemen, I
grinned “Although it was
interesting you find out you were a genuine redhead, after all. You cost me fifty credits
there.” He raised
an eyebrow archly.
sealing the front of her tunic and swung a not-too-serious roundhouse
him. He swayed out
of the way
easily. He pointed
to the hatch in the
far bulkhead. “The
there if you want a comb and mirror,” he said.
Megan, and ducked through into the cramped facility.
She’d known the boys lived in one of the older
sections of the
station, but the fittings were positively primitive! Almost
century! She ran a
comb through her
hair and stared into the mirror: hair in a utilitarian bob cut, check,
too badly bloodshot, no sign of the wrinkles she’d been sure
could almost believe
she was still twenty-nine, not… her mind shied away from the
almost human, she went back out, to
find Jean-Mark hadn’t moved from the doorway.
“What time is
it?” she asked, looking around for a chrono.
“About a quarter
to twelve,” he grinned, waiting for the expected explosion.
let me sleep how
long? I have to be
on duty in fifteen
She dashed for
the door and barrelled past Jean-Marc, who ducked out of the way like a
toreador, waving an imaginary cloak as she passed.
She skidded to a halt, turned, and kissed him on the cheek.
“Thank you,” she
thank Luc for me, as well,”
she called over her shoulder as she dashed through the cramped living
the main hatch of the boys’ quarters and let herself out.
right and left as she emerged from the hatch, both to see who might see
coming out and to try and orient herself.
The nearest cross-corridor markings told her she was in
about 500m rimward of the operations centre and, of course, about as
around the circumference of the station from her duty station in
as she could be and not meet herself coming back the other way. There was nothing for it:
she was going to
have to cut through the old station and out the other side, and hope
from station command was running late to catch her.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly through
lips, Megan started toward the Hub.
# # #
Training Center called Gyron never sleeps. The agents merely trade
Training Center concept was jointly created by several governments
in loose collaboration to produce elite agents with extremely unusual
Conventional agents have their place: take semi-ordinary men and women
teach them the skill set of the day. If acting training is included,
serve well under cover, or simply blend into populations to elude
However, the very normality that enables such blending places raw caps
theoretical abilities in certain departments. By trading subtlety for
efficiency, the governments experimented with creating whole new
classes of agents.
straw-man qualms of armchair moralists were squashed by broadcasting
the plight of the desperately poor nations. A glittering display of
amounts of money turned up the volume on the message. "So much for
rule here. Look at the faces of the citizens. Do ANY of them look happy
you?" Several of
governments folded their land and populace to the arms of certain
Following principles honed by a century of modern business theory,
corporations set out to prove their point by creating a life of value
and every citizen*. Once the conceptual precedent was set, it was open
on creative Potential Development.
was simply another such Training Center. This time, the theme was
to build Strength. Supported by recreational citizens pursuing their
agendas, the Training Program here set out to build the strongest men
guided by at least modest intelligence. The infants entered the world
enough. Through age five they had to deal with the typical problems of
childhood - gaining the barest command of their personal functions.
certain extreme theories, these years simply cannot be rushed. Basic
selection was exercised at this point: there was no real point to
expensive facilities on the weakest half of the children. These
simply traded to the other Training Centers. For similar reasons,
intelligent youths were traded as well, so they could spend more time
exercising their mind.
next five years comprised a period of general exercise spread over a
wide variety of activities, buttressed by a new conceptual program. All aggressive instincts
were rooted out,
and philosophies of honorable personal conduct were stressed heavily. Upon graduating from the
they entered Gyron proper. This was set on a segment of Station
which used rotational forces to simulate increased gravity. Terra may
sport a 1.0 G-force naturally, but Gryon maintained an artificial 1.6
(Special experiments went higher, but pure biological failure began
after that point.) The young trainees matriculated through the gradient
sections at a G-force rate of their age divided by 10. Building on
exercise programs from before, they now learned intuitive biology and
concepts. The important point was that every activity they had known
when the G-forces began increasing.
the most basic level, raw physical exhaustion always occurred
surprisingly early. If a trainee "used to run a kilometer last year",
they would discover they were wiped out after less than half that
Precision sports involving balls proved enormously disorienting,
basic techniques had to be recalibrated every year. The field strength
off at 1.6 Gravities at the conclusion of the 16th year. The remaining
years allowed time to consolidate skills in two common gravities: Gyron
starting the seventeenth year, formal weight training began. Since
professional employment is far more utilitarian than mere sports,
enhancing diets were a key part of the regimen. Top level research had
the sloppiest detrimental effects, and as a whole, there seemed little
to be concerned. Throughout the program, the worst misfits were
"time, chance, and circumstance" always produced accidents. However,
the program reliably turned out about fifteen agents per twenty five
children who made it to Gyron.
as they were called, were capable of Next-Generation
feats of strength and endurance. Some of the former trainees who had to
in their last couple of years developed entertainment circuits of the
side-show variety. Others developed brand new sports completely
Terran mortals. It is one such sport which occurred throughout the
Station Astropolis one Thursday Morning. Of course, it was against
regulations, but the station staff was ferociously overworked, so as
long as no
one got badly hurt, they had better things to do than enforce petty
was one of the late discharges from the Gyron program. During an
official exercise, he had slipped and fell from some five meters in the
The famous Gyron gravity proved harsher on mistakes as well, and he had
his left arm. His personal conduct was otherwise perfect, and he earned
Honorable Medical discharge from the official program, along with a
suport him until he could discover some other use for his talents. (Now
years later, his arm had healed, but once broken, it was too vulnerable
was a quiet, thoughtful man. He was understandably upset to see
a life's vision dissipate before his mind's eye, and his first year as
civilian was fairly turbulent. However, a chance visit to some
productions had alerted him to the soothing powers of mythology. The
Greeks had refined the art of dealing with unprocessable events by
them in archetypical stories. Of course the literal details were not
"true". What mattered was the conceptual framework and what it meant
in the grander schema of life.
discovered the story of the Strong Man Returned to Earth.
(Officially, becoming discharged from Gyron Training meant your legal
citizenship was transferred to an Earth city of your choice.) Although
technically on a space station, he felt the loss of his former destiny.
a Strong Man on Earth, he was nearly invincible. His verbal language
always been solid, so now he settled down to studying the art of
writing at one
of the many Station remote-branches of Terran universities.
the off hours between his studies, Antaeus formed a golf club on the
station. After being reprimanded when his excessive physique caused the
Terran ball to shatter station windows, he altered the sport to suit
Gyros. Tyre-Golf was born.
had discovered that the tyre off the cargo transport rolled
beautifully down the halls of the station. If placed correctly, it
way around the 45-degree angles in some of the older corridors, and
rolling on its merry way. Property damage and living casualties were
astonishingly small, so the sport earned the Official Ignore status
administrators. Plus, it proved hysterically funny to see a random tyre
gleefully rolling past you when least expected. The sports eco-system
developed around it also had its uses.
so, on a non-descript Thursday at noon, Antaeus was playing a round
of Tyre-Golf in the semi-deserted older central corridors of the
# # #
The rest of the
morning couldn't pass quickly enough for Mary, and when the noon gong
she was already heading towards the long junction that led to the green
ward. She beamed with happiness. When Mike met her for lunch, it was
be her first date in almost a year.
pretty pleased about it too. It gave every person they passed a
# # #
As the noon gong
echoed through the dull, gray halls of the Old Centre, Bill knew the
living ball of snot hidden from the quarantine check under his tongue
to be his ticket to a better life--running the only self-sustaining,
steel jaga-dog cart on the whole station.
It was enough to
make him grin like a maniac.
# # #
were getting out of hand. Almost
quicker than he could acknowledge them a series of error messages and
filled up his console screen, until there was a whole page of
errors and isolation notices. On
master plot section after section of the station vanished as its
cut off and the integrator lost contact with them.
As the last of the alarms bleeped it was joined by the
the noon gong.
Algie sat frozen
for a moment, unable to decide where to start.
His hand shifted to the communicator and back several
times as he tried
to decide who to contact. By
he had formulated a coherent thought and opened a channel, there was
communicate with. The
communications net had gone down.
Now there would
definitely be trouble. The
of restricted movement around the station and no communications would
people worrying. With
all of his
technicians stranded all over the station there was nobody else to work
console gave a double beep.
The screen went
The habits of a
computer-dependent administrator momentarily froze Algie in panic,
practical engineer within took over.
It might even reset all the other errors. He stood resolutely. If I bring each section
back on line
individually, it won’t overload the system.
He strode to the back of the room and the
reinforced hatch that led
through to the mainframe unit. Yes
that will do it. He
happened. The red
light did not turn to
green. The hatch
was locked down.
There was a
tapping from behind him. Algie
see a figure peering through the entrance from the corridor. Hopefully one of the techs
had made it back.
He rushed over
and pulled back the manual catch.
harshly after ages without use.
lubricate that. Algie
absently as he slid the door open.
Outside though, was not one of his techs, but five people
expressions ranging from worry to irritation.
A sixth man, standing slightly behind the rest wore
stained overalls and
a dreamy smile on his face; it was a bit of a lop-sided smile, as
were sucking a toffee.
An attractive, if
stern-looking, woman dressed all in black pushed forward and flashed a
government ID at him, revealing her name to be Zalmana.
She put it away too quickly for him to catch
her second name.
“I need these
doors open.” She
said, gesturing down
the hall at the decompression doors that had sealed their section of
at either end. “I
business to attend to.”
“As do I.”
Added a middle aged man of scholarly
I’m a personal friend
of the assistant security chief. In
fact I was with him a few moments ago until he was called away to some
“And I’ve lost my
a third man, rather
cryptically Algie thought, as the man was carrying a golf club.
“I’m dealing with
it as quickly as I can.”
and turned to do just that. The
moved to follow him into the control centre.
“You’ll have to stay
He said. “This
is a restricted
As it happened
there was not much he could do against the inertia of the group,
with the door only working manually.
they spread out into the room he realised that the group included a
recognised, wearing the same forest-green uniform as himself. In her case the colour
complemented her lustrous auburn hair, cut in a cute bob. The new comms chief; he
remember her name.
He ventured at last.
Her smile confirmed he had it right.
“The comm net seems to have gone down.” Her smile vanished. “Do you want to
use one of my consoles and
take a look?”
“Doesn’t look like I’m going
to make it to the comms centre.”
She strode over to the indicated console and
settled onto the chair. The
started talking and complaining, questioning and fretting.
Algie decided he
had better things to do with his time than argue and instead headed
to the mainframe room, calling out a warning not to touch anything over
attempted to open the door
to the mainframe several more times in the vain hope that it was just a
temporary glitch, while his visitors ranged themselves in a rough
“What is the
asked. Algie was
not sure exactly what job she did
for the government, but thought it best to be obliging.
integrator has shut down.”
briskly as he lowered himself to the floor to look at the maintenance
need to reboot it, but the
room is sealed.” The
panel was secured
with four bolts and held firmly in place as he gave it an experimental
have to override the lock in
this panel.” He
tried turning the bolts
with his fingers, but they were securely fastened.
“Don’t you have
any tools?” Someone
asked helpfully, a
young woman in yellow mechanic’s overalls.
Algie merely grunted.
mechanical and technical departments treated each other with a certain
of professional disdain, both equally convinced that it was their
that kept Astropolis running while the other loafed
nothing. All the
technicians in Algie’s
team had their personal toolkits, but you weren’t supposed to
need tools to
work in the control centre.
He replied after another moment’s struggling
with the panel.
“Will this be of
round to see a large crowbar being proffered.
“Thanks…” He said in surprise.
man informed him. “I
was informed that several doors were
jammed and was quite looking forward to utilising this device at some
said, and quickly put
the tool to good use. The
four satisfying snaps as the bolts tore loose.
to the floor with a
rattle and Algie pushed it to one side, turning his attention to the
boards and conduits within the hatch.
his concentration. Algie
in irritation, and his eyes fixed on Zalmana’s foot that was
pointing at the
panel. On the back
of the panel, now
visible, was a paragraph of text and above it two yellow warning
containing an exclamation mark and one with an electric spark. Algie was a competent
confident he knew what he was doing, but electricity was not to be
and any warning notices were usually important.
He pulled the panel back towards him and turned it round. He couldn’t read
wasn’t even an alphabet he could attempt
to pronounce. He
rested his jaw on one
hand and stared at it thoughtfully.
might not be important, but then again it could be vital. He was conscious that
thinking was using up
“I can’t read
said, to Zalmana’s foot.
“What do you
mean, you can’t read it?”
demanded. She was
obviously used to
getting answers, whatever her job was.
The question attracted Megan’s attention, who
stepped over from her
“It’s Russian.” She announced.
“Can you read
craned his neck up
stooped down and picked
it up. She muttered
under her breath in
Russian for a moment then looked up and switched to English.
“It says this
panel should only be worked on by a qualified electrician and all
electrical safety procedures should be followed.”
himself breath a sigh of relief. It
nothing he didn’t know after all.
Without being sure though, he could have agonised for ages
“I’ll get on with it.” He turned
his attention back to the innards of the panel and began tracing the
circuits. It was
fairly straight forward to create a
diversion and isolation, then just a bypass was needed.
“Anyone got any
electrical cable?” He
looked at him
need to create a bypass.”
Everyone still looked blank.
“Does it have to
be cable?” The
conductive, I guess.” Algie
ten centimetres is all I need.”
Everyone still looked blank.
Then Zalmana fished inside her pocket and
pulled out a thin black rod, roughly the right length.
asked, handing him the
held it up in front of
the circuit board.
said. He offered it
up to the two connectors. Yes,
it would definitely fit. There
was no way to connect it though, it
would just fall off. “I
to attach it with. Electrical
could never tell. Everyone
began checking their pockets under
his gaze. “Glue? Sticky tape? Gum?”
anything sticky. It
looked like his
luck was out.
“I believe this
gentleman is chewing gum.”
Grump indicated the smiling man in the overalls.
His smile froze and he shook his head slowly.
said, obviously talking around
something in his mouth.
“You patently are
Zalmana said in a
very official sounding voice. “And
needed to carry out this repair. You
must hand it over at once.”
out her hand, thought better of it and gestured at Algie instead. The name
‘Bill’ embroidered on the man’s
overalls was barely visible through a green smear wiped across his
said in his most
reasonable voice, “I’ll buy you some more gum.
I really need to get this computer
repeated, looking around now
with an expression of mild panic.
“It’s, it’s medical. I need it or
backed up a step, “or I’ll
“I’ll get you
straight to the infirmary for more.”
Algie assured him. “But
can’t get the system rebooted the whole station will close
down. We could be
looking at hundreds of deaths.”
“Hand it over now.” Zalmana commanded.
tortuously, Bill took out a lump of green gum from his mouth, and with
of mortification handed it over to Algie.
By the look on his face he could just as well have been
tearing out his
Said Algie, taking the squishy lump and
pulling it in two. He
turned back to
the panel, stuck a lump of gum to each end of the conductive tube and
it into place within the circuitry.
With the flip of a jumper the power was diverted from the
electromagnetic locks. There
click and Algie looked up at the door control panel to see the LED
red to green.
“It worked.” He said, standing up to
murmurs of approval
from the onlookers. A
faint smell of
burned garlic wafted up from the access panel.
Bill had completely lost his smile and now looked as
miserable as anyone
Algie had ever seen.
The door didn’t
A chorus of whys
assailed him from behind.
the lock,” He
explained, “but the
opening mechanism isn’t activated.”
“Can you override
“Possibly, but I
won’t be able to keep the lock bypass in place.” He thought for a moment.
“I may not need to though.” He
eyed the hand grip situated centrally at the base of the door. “It should pull
stooped down and grasped the handle in
both hands, straining to lift the door.
It barely budged. “It’s
if he could lift it off
the ground, he would never be able to slide it up into the ceiling and
there. He stood
wearily and leaned
against the frame. The
handle, and the
doorway itself, was too narrow to allow more than one person to grasp
it. The six other
people present couldn’t get
close enough to be of any help.
“This is my
kind of job.” Said
the man with the
golf club, moving forward to the door.
He didn’t look especially
strong, but Algie was never going to
manage it himself so he stepped back to make room.
The man handed over his club ceremoniously.
“Antaeus, at your
gave a small smile and a
slight bow, then flexed his arms and wiped his hands on his thighs. In one swift move he then
the handle and heaved. Slowly
slid up into the ceiling, until the man was standing upright holding
at waist height.
handed the golf club on to Zalmana, who took it with disdain, and
all fours to crawl under the door.
something on the handle.”
The gum! Algie
thought, throwing himself forward on to the
floor desperately as the handle slipped from Antaeus’ grasp. Algie cringed in
anticipation of the
crushing weight landing on his legs.
happen. He pulled
his legs through and
rolled to the side, then turned to see what had
had caught the door with their
hand, propped on their elbow against the ground.
Why their arm wasn’t snapped in a dozen places
Algie didn’t know. Then
he realised the arm wasn’t actually
attached to anyone. A
figure lay on the floor the other side of the door and grinned at him.
“I don’t take my
tools to lunch,” she said, “but I never go anywhere
without my arm.”
their fancy prosthetics! Algie thought disdainfully
stood up slowly and
rather shakily and stepped over to the control panel for the mainframe
After the trouble
he’d had actually getting to the computer, the job of
resetting it was fairly
straight forward. He
rebooted the whole
unit, cancelled and reset the data links and then began reconnecting to
subsystem one at a time. Usually
could all be brought on line quite rapidly, but Algie allowed a few
each connection to complete and stabilise before moving on to the next.
A constant stream
of queries came under the door as he worked and he ignored them
only a few moments the
integrator was back up to speed and all connections had been resumed. He dropped back to the
floor and rolled
under the door.
said, brushing everyone
aside as he strode over to the master control console.
There he acknowledged and reset all of the
numerous alarms that had been logged.
He was relieved to see all critical alarms disappear from
the screen. Over on
the master plot display the isolated
sections of Astropolis blinked back into existence. A few seconds later the
comm system burst to
voice. Algie could
barely make out all
of the other messages flooding in from his team of techs, among
Station Control, the Service Desk and the babbling from the crowd
After a moment he
turned to look at the mismatched group.
you all for your help.”
The relief in his voice was palpable.
“I couldn’t have done it without
He paused, stunned at the realisation, “without all
of you.” He
stopped and thought through what had
crowbar, Zalmana’s litero tube and Bill’s gum he
couldn’t have unlocked the
door. If Megan
hadn’t translated the
Russian notice he could have wasted lots more time, and without
he glanced over at the mechanic. Mary,
her badge read. Without
Mary he couldn’t have accessed the integrator.
He said at last into the silence as everyone
else came to the same conclusions.
“What are the chances of that?”