Wednesday, November 25

Shop Talk 3- The Vomiting Lunchbox

            Mark’s Station was an ideal location as a stop over for long distance travelers passing through the Alliance- a loose federation comprised of fifteen races from six planets in four solar systems. Supply stores, hotels, ship ports and maintenance shops, filled the needs of folks on their way to other worlds. It was always busy.
            Between the three dealerships, Montana Design got a lot of business. We repaired, refitted or suped up just about everything.
            My job was to design and install ship interiors. Most transports come out of the factory or from the sales lot as a basic shell then modified to accommodate the owner’s physiology and one gee.
            The Cassarins were “fat fucks” as Stan called them, alien white trash with blobby physiques and pasty skin. A nouveau riche race from the DeBalzac System that had no class or taste but were always happy with whatever we gave them.
            The Jova, on the other hand, had excellent taste. They were tall, elegant and extraordinarily handsome. They were also our main ally with the Alliance. The females were the dominant gender so the males deferred to me in a worshipful way that made me glad I left Earth every time I dealt with them. Likewise, the male Jova were happy being treated as equals by Terrans.
            We didn’t get any business from the Pohls, as they had their own production in place, which was too bad, as you can tell a lot about a race by the configuration of their ships.
            I stopped by accounting on my way to work one day and as I walked down the hall, I happened to glance through a partially open office door to see what looked like a large bowl of slimy, white rice noodles on top of a rumpled blue tablecloth lying in a leather chair.
            A few minutes later, while chatting with Geta about my paycheck I noticed Imbler  pass by, adjusting his wig the color of cornsilk and wearing his standard blue coveralls. It took a few seconds for my distracted brain to make the connection and my eyes widen in small horror. Eww, Temple was right, some things some things should be left out of one’s imagination.
            It took me awhile to recover from the shock. When I got to the shop, the crew was standing around a large worktable examining the schematic for a commuter used for  public transportation. George’s tall frame was bent over as he propped an elbow on the table; his chin in hand. His other upper hand tapped a pencil on the table while his lower arms dangled, almost touching the floor. He looked bored with the discussion.            “What’s up gang?” I asked blithely as I walked in on the proceedings.
            Apparently they had a ‘muter that was making everyone sick and couldn't figure out why even after going through the list of potential culprits. Leaking chemicals, poor air circulation, a faulty gyro, nothing seemed to be wrong. What was making people dizzy, light headed, slightly nauseous and giving them headaches?
            “Sounds like being car sick,” I suggested half joking.
            “How do you get motion sickness on a ship with a ride as smooth as glass?” Temple asked, her expression shaded with doubt.
            “What is car sick?” Imbler asked in his reedy, metallic voice.  When I explained it to him, Stan suddenly stood upright.
            My favorite kind of joke is the “the grenade” where the punch line is like pulling the pin and waiting for the recipient to get it. That’s what happened when the answer came to the three of us humans simultaneously.
            “The Lunchbox,” Stan said.
            The Lunchbox is an affectionate term for the Gravity Force Generator that is standard on virtually every ship. It’s size varies from a standard lunchbox to a large suitcase depending on the power needed to create one gee. Don’t ask me how it works, Temple tried to explain it once and it went right over my head but it’s ancient technology to extraterrestrials.
            Everyone made a beeline to the ship’s open engine hatch. Amid the tubes, wires and components was an inconspicuous gray metal box. A few swift turns of a socket wrench later, Temple had the cover removed and a diagnostic machine was attached. Sure enough, it was determined that the machine was malfunctioning, causing intermittent mini episodes of zero gravity. Motion sickness.
            “Pretty good, little one,” George nudged me with an elbow as we all returned to our regular work. I gave him a reluctant smile. He was the only one who could get away with calling me that.
            I worked with George a lot and we enjoyed each other’s company.             His four arms were a constant source of wonder to me. He crossed his upper arms when he was pondering. When he parked his lower hands on his hips, he was annoyed. When he did both-you don’t want to be around him.
            Stan hired him as a grunt because of his extraordinary strength. Once when I was helping him with a Collier, three of his arms were busy holding the engine's cowling.
            “Will you hand me that drill please?” He asked with his usual politeness, pointing with his free hand to a large pneumatic tool lying on a nearby table. I went to pick it up and promptly dropped it on the floor, it was so damn heavy.
            “You need help with that?” he asked.
            “No, I got it.” I groaned, straining under the weight. He watched patiently as I dragged it along until I was close enough, then picked it up with ease. Pride is a terrible vice.
            I was glad for his friendship as I still felt like an outsider at the shop. My work was considered cosmetic and often the last part of the detailing process so the mechanics had no interest in it. I spent a lot of time alone crawling around under control counters and jammed into small spaces installing wiring or components.
            “Hey little one, come join us for a beer,” George called to me as I sat exhausted after spending two hours in a Cassarin space yacht putting in the ugliest carpet.           
            He gave me an inviting look with his large childlike eyes, knowing how important it was for me to be included with the gang. I tended to keep to myself out of shyness or feeling out classed. I valued the freedom of Mark’s Station but had moments of regret as loneliness gripped me while sitting in my tiny apartment feeling a bit homesick.
             “Sure,” I said, smiling at the offer.

Sunday, October 11

New and Improved!!!

I promised a better version of "Shop Talk" as the first attempt was kind of shitty. Here are the new and improved 2 chapters. Enjoy.

Shop Talk 1


            “ George, this is Alisa, our new interior detailer. You’ll be working with her a lot.” Stan Mussel introduced me to a creature that looked like a large blue, hairless ape. Stan was owner of Montana Design, a space ship repair and customizing shop.
             George was over two meters tall with four arms protruding from a massive torso. He wiped his lower hands on a rag and stuffed it in the pocket of his black overalls.
            “Nice to meet you,” he said in perfect American English as he extended his lower right hand.
            “Uh, nice to meet you too,” I managed as we shook, his grip was firm with just the right amount of pressure. I had never seen a Chiron up close so this was a new experience for me.
            “Boss, that new gee-gaw for the Swanson is finally here, where do you want it?” George asked Stan.
            “Leave it in the holding bay until I got room for it. Would you finish the tour of the shop while I find out what new crisis Gaga is having,” He was referring to a large black women waving at him frantically through the window of the front office.  He took off before either of us responded.
            George and I exchanged shrugs and we proceeded to the main floor.
            It was an ordinary looking repair shop except it was the size of a airplane hanger. It had a grungy, dirt and oil stained odor to it I found comfortable and familiar. Powerful lights two stories above cast a strong glare on the three bays, several work stations and a huge metal cage off to one side. The place was noisy from the drone of tested engines, pneumatic tools and the industrial strength heating and air circulation systems.
            “You’re not stunned by me like other Terrans working off world,” George mentioned lightly, noticing my nonchalant reaction.
            I smiled at a private joke. Ah yes, my dear, fellow humans completely freaked, to put it mildly, when the aliens of a nearby solar system presented themselves to us at “The Awakening” as it was called. I found the whole thing highly amusing as our species collective ego exploded at the realization that we really aren’t the center of the universe. A lot of religious folks didn’t take it well.
            “After traveling Beyond Light Speed, not much fazes me anymore,” I admitted and he understood. Until recently, Beyond Light Speed, was an intense experience for humans due to the twisting of space-time.
            I stopped to stare at a ship the size of a train engine sitting in the far bay.
            “What?” George noticed my reaction.
            “That’s a class one space tug with twin Boller  V-5 engines used for docking transport barges. What’s wrong with it?” I asked, trying to sound causal yet knowledgeable. I was grateful for the late night cram session memorizing the different types of spacecraft plying the interstellar trade routes.
            “The tractor beam keeps shorting out,” He explained.            
            Ouch. You don’t want the beam to go out on one of these monsters while pushing a 10,000k transport into dock. That’s a messy crash.
            “What do you know about McKinley’s?” he asked and I gave him the same  honest answer I gave Stan during the job interview.
            “Not a damn thing,”
            The McKinley Ion Drive was the top of the line propulsion system favored for their power, efficiency and design. It was the Rolls Royce of long range engines and propitiatory technology. This was only authorized repair shop for them which was a big deal as nobody outside the company knew exactly how they worked. You might as well know how the Klingon cloaking device worked.
            He seemed pleased with my response and I was warming to George. Despite his intimidating size he struck me as gentle and genuinely curious about everything.
            A few minutes later Stan caught up with us and George ambled back to work, giving me a fan like wave with all four of his hands.
            “ George isn’t his real name right?” I asked Stan.
            “Yeah, he has one of those long unpronounceable names like the Indians. We call him that for short. ” he said with a small chuckle.
            “Just a head’s up, we got two Pohl’s working here,” he said causally as we finished the tour.
             The Pohls were natives of the nearby planet. There was a fashion of naming the planets of the newly discovered system after famous science fiction writers. Hence the planets Asimov, Heinlein, LeGuin , Prachett and Pohl, for Fredrick Pohl. The inhabitants didn’t care, they probably did the same sort of thing to us.
            Stan told me to be at the shop tomorrow at 1500 hours at the start of the second shift. I nodded, eager and ready, glad that my part time work was finally paying off.  I liked Stan, he was a fellow Terran with an honest reputation, although one could never be sure out here on the frontier, it was a wild place.
There was a momentary pause as we entered in the cluttered front office/reception area.
            “How did you end up here?” Stan inquired. This is the single, most frequently asked question of everyone.          
             I intended to tell him I was bored as a graphic artist and after arriving, found ship detailing more interesting as it combined my love of machine tinkering with interior design. I never saw furniture, a room layout or gadget that I couldn’t resist redesigning in my head.
            What he really was asking was how I ended up on Mark’s Station. I’m a short, single woman with no special training or experience with space travel and no connection to any of the corporations present on the moon colonized by Terrans. Friends and family were baffled by my preference for an off world life but I loved every single, amazing, utterly different thing about it. It gave me a reason to get up every morning and explore.
            “It seemed like a natural place to be, I have autism so I’m practically alien already.” I said proudly.
            Ain’t that the truth.

"Shop Talk" 2

  Meet the Crew
            I was lucky to get a job, an apartment and internet in one day. Like everything else, the shop was in walking distance. I got plenty of exercise, given the difference in gravity, it was like an uphill hike in high altitude.
            The biggest issue interacting with aliens was dealing with everyone’s One Gee: one’s native gravity, atmosphere and sunlight frequency Since Mark’s station was  smaller than Earth the one gee adjusted to somewhere between Earth and Pohl, which was bigger and heavier.
            At 1500 hours sharp I arrived at the shop in jeans, a long sleeve shirt, comfortable shoes, and an extra coat.
            As Gaga, the office secretary, handed me my passkey and ID a loud alarm sounded and a gust of cold air swept in. We reflexively held our noses and blew to pop our ears as the pressure dropped. Even inside the enclosed office you could feel the effect of the Bailey Safety door opening to let in a ship into the rear bay.
            Mark’s Station is an airless moon with an artificially controlled environment. Bringing a ship into the shop requires the use of airlocks and elevators as this city is mostly below ground. Protocols and alarms are strictly enforced to protect everyone from rapid decompression, freezing temperatures and local radiation. Ah, the many dangers of living on a space colony.
            “Don’t forget to wear a hardhat in the red zone,” Gaga reminded me as I headed out to the shop. That was an area marked off with red line painted on the floor where the overhead crane operated. I bypassed it as I stashed my gear in a locker and got to work.
            Aside from Stan and Gaga the other Terran in the shop was Temple, the chief mechanic, a lithe woman with cafĂ© au lait complexion and an intense personality. She does not suffer fools easily as the “three amigos”, Chuck Berry, Johnny B’Goode and Elvis found out.
             Their phony names gave them away as Rogues, immigrants of mixed races from various worlds. They are usually ex cons, mine workers or adventures running from the law. These ones weren’t very bright and I figured they wouldn’t last long. Chuck made the mistake of being an asshole- not uncommon with Rogues.
            “What is your problem?” Temple snapped at Chuck, who was constantly ogling her. He seemed pleased that she finally noticed him.
            “Nothing, my toolbox can’t fix” he leered over the work table.
            “I’d shove you out of an airlock first.” She gave him a withering look. His comrades laughed and continued to rib him as he sulked in rejection.            
            Chuck continued to harass Temple until Stan noticed and fired him. The boss, with his entrenched navy habits, would not tolerate conflict within the unit. The other two took the hint and kept their heads down, although Johnny didn’t keep his low enough.
            When the McKinley engines are tested, they generate an intense magnetic field, too intense if you ask me. We had been warned about leaving steel tools anywhere near the testing cage- a large section of the shop separated by a cyclone fence of aluminum. Sometimes a carelessly laid tool was sent flying and miss someone before crashing against the cage. Sure enough, Johnny was hit in the head by an airborne wrench and knocked out cold. We never saw him again. After that, Elvis always wore a hardhat and was super friendly to everyone.
             The shift crew was reduced to me, Temple, Elvis, George and the two Pohlian, who seemed to never sleep. The Chiron joined us for lunch in the lounge, settling his large frame on a bench, the wood aching under his weight. George scared the shit out of Elvis, I don’t know why, he was the sweetest being I ever met. He gave us a cheerful nod and a smile in greeting as he put his lunch on the table, a keg sized mug of root beer and a sub sandwich from a local deli big enough to feed everyone.
            “Say boss, what’s this gee gaw?” George asked holding up a green vegetable he fished out of the sandwich.
            “It’s a jalapeno pepper, very spicy,” Temple told him. He gobbled the pepper with delight.
            While he chatted amiably with Temple I watched the two Pohlians sit at another table across the room. Imbler and Fet spoke little and communicated with each other in a silent fashion I never deciphered.
            I was intrigued as they sat quietly eating small, jello like squares and drinking a foul smelling liquid from tall glasses. Their movements were slow and graceful but pointedly as artificial as their neat wigs and weirdly colored contact lens. Occasionally their movements would blur momentarily like a film fast forwarded then returned to normal.
            “Man, I just can’t get used to that,” Elvis said, blinking several times and shaking his head. I agreed, their sporadic changes in tempo and stiff human appearance was unnerving.
            The elusive Pohl’s were nice enough to let Mark Fruerstein establish a base on their largest moon and left the settlers alone as they were very reserved. They insisted, however, on having a few of their own around to make sure the Terrans behaved. There was a cordial but cool relationship between the two.
            No human had ever been to Pohl, the heavy gee and toxic atmosphere was too hostile. The Pohl’s however adapted well to the thinner air and low gee of the moon.
             There were five “cities’’ on Mark’s Station, clustered around a convention sized “city hall” as the locals called it, where all interspecies business was conducted.
            The Station was supposedly autonomous but the Pohls’ really called the shots. They were the dominant species of Huxley. Solar systems were referred to by their suns and the silly custom of using writers names persisted.
            Sitting at the lunch table and watching the two alien mechanics piqued my interest once more. I wasn’t close pals with Temple but relied on her to fill me in on technical stuff and the crew. I nudged her with an elbow.
            “What do the Pohl’s really look like?” I asked under my breath.
            “You don’t want to know,” she replied, giving me her patented “don’t go there” glare.
            “Really?” I pushed on.           
            “This is one area you should leave your curiosity unsatisfied,” she answered with a mixture of parental scolding and odd discomfort. I glanced at the pair and wondered.

Wednesday, September 9

America Today

    What ever happened to the American "melting pot"? Now I think English should be the official language but our lack of skill at foreign languages and getting upset because someone is speaking something other than American accented English is getting out o hand.. I could link half a dozen articles about 'Muricans getting bent out of shape by some foreign influnce. Even European influences. News flash, that's where port of the population originated from. Persoanlly I think a foreign langauge should be complusory in primary education like it used to be.
    Ok I'm done ranting.