Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Nano-Fic: Reputation Repair Technician, 3rd Class

     Author's Note: This story takes place shortly after the event Chris talks about in the story "Wind Chimes", or about seven years prior to the Great Conjunction.

    “There you are!  Hand me that wrench, will you?”
    Christopher Gardner was at a loss.  He had just now, after being disoriented more than once due to the lack gravity, found the hub
machinery room that imparted spin onto the decommissioned TransChronian he had called home for the last four months.  He had not announced his presence, nor informed anyone he was coming.
    “Uh, I think you may have me confused with someone else.”
    “Likely.”  The speaker, an aging woman, still holding a gnarled hand out to the teenage boy, smiled crookedly. “But you’ll do.  The torquer is the one with the green stripes.”
    There were a myriad of tools - many of them optimized for freefall and therefore of unusual design to Chris’ Terran sensibilities.  He found what appeared to be a large power drill with a green stripe Velcroed to the bulkhead.  Stretching out from a handhold on the wall, he could just reach out far enough to hand off the tool.
“That wasn’t so hard, wasn’t it?”  Chris was rewarded with another smile.  He noticed the old woman had a tattoo of some sort on her chin.  It looked like a circuit diagram in vivid blue.
“Uh, sorry to bother you,” Chris adjusted his awkward orientation somewhat, “I just wanted to know how long until the gravity was back on.”
“That depends.”  
“On-” Chris was interrupted by the grating whine of the torquer. “On what?”
“On how much help you’re gonna be, considering you look like you’re gonna jettison your lunch any second.”
Unfortunately, the woman’s observation was fairly accurate.  Chris got motion sick on Earth, in smartcars.  Free fall around Saturn’s moon Titan was a whole other level of distressing.
“That’s why I was asking.  I’ve barely been able to eat in the last three days!”
    “The sooner we get the bearings replaced and re-insulate, the sooner you can console you poor tummy and watch your pee corkscrew again.”  The old lady laughed at her joke; Chris did not  The Coriolis effect did not amuse him.
    “Uh, you keep saying that…”
    “Saying what?”
    The old woman stopped her work and really looked at Chris for the first time.  She saw a lanky, dark-haired boy, whose shoes had hard soles and face lacked...something.
    “Just who are you exactly, young man?”
    “Chris Gardner, from B-26”
    “Just a moment,” the woman’s face showed disgust. “aren’t you that ballast that got caught with the earbuds?”
    Chris’s expression matched the old lady’s. “Does everyone know about that?”
    But the woman wasn’t listening.  She curled into a fetal ball and sighed melodramatically.  “Thirty families without gravity tonight, and who should show up to help a poor old woman? The future Darwin Award winner...”

Monday, February 8, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (13)

Once the Cutter was locked into its death spiral, Ruku left the cockpit and shot down the lift tube as fast as she could.  It was hard going, as the surplus NegMat that normally compensated for accelleration was pumped into the Launch.  Clamped to the belt harness of her space suit was a cable from the lift tube’s cargo winch.  As she climbed downward, the tension on the winch compensated somewhat for the pull of inertia.
Three decks downward, just under the level that accessed the ship’s Launch, Ruku found Sagkal wedged in the tube.  His bulk blocked the tube completely.  It took Ruku but a moment to realize that with her suit on, she could not reach down and secure the massive Sloak to the cable.
“Shit!”  Ruku became more frantic. What could she do?  She couldn’t reach her friend.  She couldn’t leave Sagkal, they would both plunge into the star -
-Wait!  With a mighty effort, Ruku climbed against the suit’s weight up a few rungs on the lift tube’s emergency ladder until she was level with the door to the deck above Sagkal.  She typed in the 515 passkey from memory and fell onto the deck once she got the hatch open.  Without pause, Ruku Mat struggled to the edge of the lift tube and lowered the cable down.  It took her three desperate tries before she managed to hook Sagkal’s shoulder harness.  She got to her knees and punched the winch control next to the hatch combing.  
Sagkal’s bulk resisted the cable for a few moments, then finally gave way with a lurch.  As he slowly rose, Ruku grabbed the harness loops on the front of the Sloak’s suit and pulled him onto the deck.  Once he was safe on the floor, Ruku stumbled and lurched toward the opposite end of the deck, where the Launch was waiting.  
Ruku, you’re in the corona!  Get out of there!”
Normally, such a stern admonishment, and from Master Vakh of all people, would freeze the diminutive woman in her tracks.  But Ruku ignored the voice in her ear and instead cycled the Launch’s airlock and grabbed its cargo winch.  She ran back through the deck, around the long corridor, and hooked Sagkal once again.
Ruku!  You have to launch now!”
She ran back to the Launch, vision almost gone from sweat beading in her lashes.  It took two tries to hit the winch control, and then Ruku was yet again careening down the passage, bouncing off of walls, until she reached the prone Sloak.  She grabbed hold of his harness so she could guide Sagkal through the turns in the corridor and into the airlock.  Seconds continued to pass.
“Gents, Mat:  Launching now!”
From the cockpit of the Gentleman Scoundrel, Kura, Vakh and Essuru watched their respective monitors for any sign that the Cutter’s Launch, now nearly a quarter of the way around the star’s circumference, has indeed made its escape.  Canto continued to key the comm trying to raise their fellows.
“Ruku, Gents:  Come in.  Come in Ruku Mat.”
Over and over again.  For minutes.
“Ruku, Gents:  Come in.  Come in Ruku Mat.”
Gents...Mat: ...I think I hurt myself….forgot to strap in…”

Ruku could hear cheers.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Nano-Fic: A Gentleman's Duty (12)

Apologies for the delay in a new installment.  I had a court appearance (SSI) last week and spent most of this week recovering.  I don't do well under stress - the reason for the hearing in the first place.  But things maybe improving now; we got a dog.  The change in my mood and outlook has apparently been dramatic.

Anyway, this should be the second-to-last installment.  Enjoy!

In the cockpit of the Gentleman Scoundrel, Medic Canto Kura was frantically trying to get feedback from the remote medical sensors on the missing crewman Sagkal.  The Ship’s Master, Aru Vakh, wasn’t about to let Kura work in peace, however.
“What in Hell happened, Kura?  How can the two of you lose an entire Sloak?”
The other person Vakh refered to was Navigator Ruku Mat, who was at that moment on the stricken Patrol Cutter with Sagkal, in a vac suit, desperately trying not to panic.
“Okay, okay, okay….breathe.  Just breathe.  I can do that...”  It was becoming a chore to breathe deeply for Ruku, as the urge to pant began to become irresistible.  She was sweating profusely - which was to be expected, the temperature this close to a star was in exess of sixty-five Celsius.  But for a Giru, such as Mat, sixty-five was about the noontime temperature of home in the summer.  She let her overhanging curls and bushy eyebrows soak up the moisture without thinking about it.
The important thing, Ruku knew, was not to panic.  She quickly typed in the commands needed to fuel the Patrol Cutter’s Launch.  NegMat flowed from the forward holding tanks into the tiny craft, making the gravity shift sightly in the Computer Room where Ruku Mat was working.  The forward tank was balanced against the after tanks and the mass of  the Cutter itself, keeping the spacecraft at rest reletive to its vector.  But this could not last.  The incredible amount of heat pouring into the Cutter was degrading the NegMat containment.  It would only last another hour or two before failing and turning the Cutter into a cloud of debris.  Sagkal, incommunicado, might not have an hour.  It was up to Ruku to prevent the debris, rescue Sagkal, and get out on the Launch.
It would take both Ruku and Sagkal to save the Cutter.  Unless the two released the forward and aft holding tanks simultaneously, the Cutter would streak off in the opposite direction of -
“ can’t be that easy, can it?”
“What’s that Ruku?” Canto asked, “What’s easy?”
In spite of her fear, Ruku laughed out loud. “I can get us out!  And execute the five-one-five!”
Vakh came on the circuit “What are you on about, Mat?”
“Put the Scoundrel in a higher orbit.  We’ll be their shortly”
In the cockpit of the Merchant ship, Vakh snapped at his Medic.  “She’s gone mad!”
“Could be,” said Canto Kura, “but buggered if I can think of what she could do differently.”
    Cockpit, Zag:” This was Zag Essuru, the Gentleman Scoundrel’s pilot, from the Quarterdeck.  “Cutter has come about Y-plus 26 degrees and increasing.  Confirm.”
    Aru Vakh found the appropriate radar scope and confirmed that the Cutter had indeed turned to its starboard and for an unknown reason.
    Cockpit, Ipa:” This from Engineering, where the frantic Ipa Sam said, “If the Cutter turns broadside, she’ll breakup from thermal shock!”
    Canto answered, “We know Ipa!  It’s not like we can stop her!”
    Aru Vakh pointed at the scope. Ruku Mat had scrammed the forward NegMat reservoir.  The energized fluid instantly converted to endlessly amplified light and radiation, and just as instantly decayed into oblivion.  The remains were a gamma ray burst, aimed not at the hapless cutter nor the dilapidated trader, but at the star itself.  It dissipated harmlessly as the Patrol Cutter shot forward at two gravities.
    “I’ll be damned,” Aru Vakh said. “She has indeed gone mad.  And it has given her courage.”
    “Her vector will take her into the sun, “ Said Kura.  “She’s scuttling the Cutter.”
“And the rest of the NegMat with it.  Where it will do not harm, while she gets Sagkal and escapes in the Launch.”  Vakh keyed the intercom.  “Sam, ready the drive.  Essuru, get up here; I need you at the helm to follow our mad Navigator.”
“Hell, yeah.”