Saturday, April 16

Shop Talk 7 Set Phasers on Reheat

            "How does this gew gaw work?" George cheerfully presented me with an complicated looking tool while I collected some dirty gears from the monstrous Jova ship that came in yesterday.
            "Oh no, not you too?" I wailed in exasperation. I tired of everyone grilling me for my mechanic's exam. George put the conversion scale down on the work table with a sad slump of his shoulders.
            "Sorry," he said with heartfelt embarrassment. I couldn't be mad at the sweet Charon.
            "It's nothing big guy," I said, giving him a smile and a playful swat on the arm. He brightened and helped me load the all purpose service cart.
            " How did your date go with-what's her name?" I asked about the fem Chiron he met at the bar a few weeks ago.
            "Doro? Oh she's a cutie, loves old TV shows too, even X-Files." He rolled his eyes at that. The show was still notorious fodder for loony conspirators and Chirons are known to have little patience with such nonsense.
            "Say, how accurate is Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman?"  He asked, referring to the eighties western melodrama. About as accurate as the X-Files, I was attempted to say, but didn't want to ruin his romance of the old west.
            "I don't know, it was a century before my time," I answered. Most aliens forget that, compared to them, Terrans have an absurdly short life span.             
             George and I put the gears into a high tech version of a dishwasher and waited through the wash and rinse cycles with a game of rock, paper, scissors .
            "You can't use two hands," I complained.
            "You can use both of yours," he countered, but after some playful debate, he agreed to use one. We were getting pretty silly when I happened to glance up at the big window that overlooks the shop and noticed two Jovas watching us intently.
            " I think we better behave," I suggested to him with an significant nod toward the window.
            "Oh prisk them, one more round please?" George dismissed with uncharacteristic brusqueness.
            I won the next game and when I glanced up again they were gone. They were a melodramatic race and I wondered what they and their ship was doing here.
            I forgot about the incident until after lunch when I was summoned to the bosses office. Uh-oh was my first reaction even though I got along pretty well with him and couldn't think of anything I had done wrong lately.
            Stan sat at his cluttered desk and greeted me affably, tossing his reading glasses on a pile of paper. He asked my opinion about some design work on the Jova ship that came in.
            " Why are they here? Don't they usually go to Scotty's?" I asked.
            "Yeah, but this is being refitted with McKinleys,"  he said distractedly.
            Most ships coming to Mark's are interstellar but don't always use McKinley's. I wondered at the odd request but filed it away for future study.
            "By the way, I have to attend the Report tomorrow and wondered if you would like to come along," he said in a causal tone that threw me off guard.
             The  'Annual Report' was a meeting of local leaders, as the Pohl's required, to  discuss policy and business.  The Governor, mayors of each city and the Guardianship of the Alliance would be there. It was not the company picnic and I'm just a glorified grunt like George so why was he be asking me out? Was this a date or strictly business? I stared at him in disbelief.
            "You know I'm not good with people," I carefully replied. That was an understatement, my social skills are a cross between a 12 year old and a cokehead.           
            "You relate well with the etees," he said as encouragement.
            " Have you asked Temple?" he gave me an incredulous look. She detested small talk and had even less patience with social rank than me.
            "Ok bad choice, how about Gaga?"
            " She's the one person they try to avoid. Look it's just for an hour or so, the Jovas like you and you speak AIL better than me." he fairly pleaded. He was referring to Alliance Interstellar Language.
            Now he was making sense. There are times when we are asked to help the boss and this appeared to be one of them. I agreed, to his relief.
            The event was held at Central in a round hall where Governor Pegoda gave a speech under a large photo of the founder and the Alliance emblem. The administrators of each city and an Alliance official, who I had never seen before, listened politely to the official drivel . All very boring, the real business happened when everyone retired to a banquet room where they promptly headed for the open bar after surveying the paltry canapes buffet.
            I stood near a wall with a gin and tonic trying my best not to attract attention but Stan kept introducing me to various delegates and I had to translate for him. I was out of my depth but it was a great opportunity to see the real powers that be, up close. Everyone was standing because, according to protocol, sitting was offensive to some of the races for some stupid reason. I suspect it was to keep such meetings short.
             "Who's that guy?" I asked, pointing out an alien the color of eggplant who towered over the diminutive governor.  Stan's gaze was a sharp reproach but I warned him I was blunt spoken and his expression melted into amusement at my ignorance.           
            "That's Ambassador Shem I told you about," he said. I remembered him from Stan's narrative about "The Awakening".
            Shem was tall and slim with striking features. He had smooth, hairless skin the color of eggplant under a silk robe of shimmering yellow and green.
            "How come he doesn't look like Imbler or Fet?" I puzzled.
            "Because I insisted they look human to work in the shop. Shem has been negotiating with the Nikon for years so he allegedly looks like one of them," Stan explained as he took a sip of his bourbon.
            The Nikon were an elusive race everyone wanted to get to know if the claims of their immortality were true. A Pohl convincing them to join the Alliance as their sponsor would be a major coup.
            "How did he get to be ambassador anyway?" I wondered.
            "Connections and a good reputation. Shem was the forensic investigator on the Polaris scandal," Stan said.
            "Remind me again what that was about, " I suggested, a little irked at his tendency to relate stories with the assumption that I know what he's talking about.
            "Ten years ago an associate in the Alliance was convicted of murder using a disruptor weapon found at the scene," He began. " The guy swore he was innocent but the case was airtight based on the signature trail of the weapon," he said and I put a hand to his arm as I remembered that dramatic case.  Those weapons are very illegal as vaporizing a person makes for the perfect crime.
            " Oh right, then the victim showed up at Alliance headquarters after the conviction, I bet that was embarrassing."
            "Big time. Anyway, Shem discovered the signature trail of the weapon was similar to the shitty Belock designed microwave oven that leaked radiation."
            " You're kidding me?" I never heard that part before. Stan nodded.
            "Shem recommended the appliance be redesigned and widened the range of what is now the best disruptor detectors," Stan explained.
            Very impressive, I really wanted to meet this guy.


Thursday, March 3

Fire Fly Chapter 4 An Uncommon Man

                     
            The visit from the mysterious flying man left me rattled for days. The page in front of me remained blank as I stared at the typewriter, willing the words to come. Here I was on the verge of quitting the newspaper grind and the biggest story ever drops in my lap. I should have majored in economics like Mother advised.
            This was going nowhere, I sighed in frustration and took another gulp of tepid coffee. I picked up the essay I wrote for the magazine section of the Sunday Gazette and read it again hoping it would jar my brain loose from the writer's block gripping me. I may have been new at reporting but knew how to write an interview. I revised the copy four times before handing it to my editor when he was in a good mood, hoping it wouldn't look ridiculous.
            Al Mackie did not put up with the ridiculous. I watched him read it without correction then he peered at me over his reading glasses.
            "You're fucking kidding right?" Al famously excelled at editing and swearing with equal skill.
            "No, he's the real deal," I assured him, a touch chagrinned. He narrowed his eyes, unconvinced of my assessment.
            "First you speculate this guy is a myth, only to have him conveniently show up on your doorstep where you interview him like Lois Lane, for Christ's sake, and you expect people to believe this?"
            " Well, not when you put that way but I was hoping  you would," I answered, as I watched my credibility crumble. He perched his glasses on his head and leaned his chair back in exasperation.
            " Look Vic, you've been straight up so far, but this is outrageous. I'm going to need verification this is legit," he said, not quite sure where to go with this. Inwardly I fumed but he had a point. Now what?
            "He'll call me in two weeks. When he does, I'll set up a meeting between the three of us and you can see for yourself okay?"  I volunteered. I had no idea if flyboy would go along with any of this but he had to, if I was going to get the story printed.
            "Deal, let me know when," he said, signaling the end of the conversation. We would sit on the story until then.
            I was relieved when he called exactly two weeks later and I explained the situation to him. He wasn't keen on the idea but agreed to the reasonable request. We arranged to meet at a defunct golf course outside of town in a few days. No one else comes and no cameras he demanded.
            You know the feeling you get on a roller coaster as it climbs up the hill- how your anxiety builds until you get to the top before that moment of release? That's how I felt until the next meeting.
             Neil was leaning against his car wearing jeans and a Steeler's jersey when we pulled up in Mackie's car. Frankly I was surprised he did show up, demonstrating for total strangers-journalists no less, had to be intimidating after a life time of secrecy. Mackie unfolded his tall, lanky frame from the car while Henry, our photographer and I emerged from the back seat.
            " I said no cameras." he crossed his arms defensively, ready to end the encounter. Mackie mollified him by waving at Henry to put his camera away which he did reluctantly but remained where he was. There was an awkward pause.
            "How does this work, you need a running start or what?" Mackie asked in a condescending tone I warned him against. Neil regarded us carefully, his half moon eyes squinting in harsh determination. Any misgivings he may have had were instantly replaced with a desire to put Al's haughtiness in its place.
            He gazed out over the wide grassy lawn of the driving range where a line of huge boulders marked the far side. He launched himself a hundred feet in the air and I held my breath. It was a weird and dangerous sight with no turning back. He flew to a boulder, landed on it briefly, then returned to his starting point.
            "Well?"  He prompted after a stunned silence. His show had the desired effect.
            "No one will believe this, no one will believe this, no one will fucking believe this," Mackie sputtered as he paced back and forth.
            "Will you stop saying that," I winced in embarrassment. That was not the reaction Neil expected and his face drooped. He started for his car when I put a hand on his arm.
            "It was very brave of you to come, thank you." I smiled and he gazed at me for a long time before returning it. He turned his attention to Mackie.
            " I hope this satisfies you that Ms. Ball was telling the truth. I would appreciate it if you hold off publishing this story until I inform a few other people first,"  he said. I cringed, that wasn't going to happen.
                         
                           *                                                *                                                *
            The reaction from Mackie made me reconsider this whole revelation idea. I was a jittery wreck after I left the golf course and fretted about how my family, friends and the Bureau would react. Especially the Bureau. I should have gone to the Public Information Officer but decided to see how this played out first.
            I called Victoria and asked to meet her to get a take on all this. Maybe it's not a good idea to be chummy with a reporter, given the love hate relationship between the media and fire departments: the media wants drama and the departments wants accuracy.
             I knocked on her door once more, I wavering between doubt and curiosity. She opened it seconds later; her oval face flush from exertion.
            She must have just gotten off work as she was still in a black skirt and a light gray striped shirt that showed off her Mediterranean complexion and curvy figure nicely. A blazer and pair of shoes had been carelessly tossed on a couch which she hastily cleared off as we entered the living room. She added them to a pile of mail on the coffee table, apologizing for the mess which I politely ignored.
            " Thanks for coming, I'd like to get some more background information if you don't mind," she said in full reporter mode as she picked up a notebook and pen.
            "Maybe I should do the same of you," I replied likewise as we sat down across from each other. The couch, like her chair, was a dun corduroy and as worn and comfortable as an old pair of shoes; the arms stained from being used as a napkin.
            "Why did you come to me in the first place?"  she asked, pushing a strand of black hair out of her face with a delicate hand.
            " Because you're the only one I trusted," I answered. I stared into her dark eyes, both of us startled at my unexpected response. Honestly, she was smart, attractive and took me seriously which was good enough for me.
            The smell of fresh coffee from the kitchen caught my attention and she fetched each of us a cup to brush away the awkward moment.
            "So how did you become a nosy journalist?" I asked lightly as I stirred in a teaspoon of sugar.
            "Not at all really. I dislike the 'good old boys' mentality in journalism. This job is just for experience and contacts. What I really want to do is be a publishing editor," she replied. The explanation felt weary from frequent use.
             While she distracted herself with some internal debate, I looked at her apartment for the first time. Along with the couch, the furniture was sparse and practical although most of it was covered with disarray of some kind as if she had better things to do than attend to the clutter.
             The place was dark with a window in the small open kitchen and a sliding glass door at the other end of the serviceable living room. On the wall across from us, hung a diploma from Yale next to several crooked photos above a desk with an electric typewriter.
            "You're not worried about letting a strange man into your house?"  I asked, breaking the long silence. She considered my lame non sequitur with a thin smirk.
            "You're hardly a stranger. I know who you are," she said confidently as she settled back in the chair. She knew my full name, education and work history with the PBF.--the sort of thing on my resume. I should not have been surprised.
            " You like jazz, play the clarinet-- oh and you just turned twenty eight," she said with a wry smile.
            "And you'll be twenty seven in August."  I retorted, having done some snooping of my own.
            "Touche," she said, putting down her cup. After some discussion, it turned out we were both on track teams in high school.
            "Sprint or long distance? " I asked.
            " Cross country --but not for long, the coach was a macho jerk," she answered and we traded familiar training stories. I learned she was born in Paris and raised in Bethseda. Her parents were divorced and her younger brother just joined the Navy.
            "How did you become a firefighter?" she asked, turning the subject back to me. Instead of being cautious, I decided she was entitled to a full picture since I was dragging her in to this haphazard plan. I gazed at the ceiling as I closed in on the memory.
            At nineteen, I had no idea what I wanted to do. College seemed unaffordable but working at Dad's hardware store was stifling. I got a job as a truck driver doing deliveries between Chicago and Galesburg.            
            One day, while frustrated with a long wait in traffic, I got out to investigate. Beyond a roadblock, fire trucks and police cars swarmed around a partially collapsed building in a neighborhood of boarded up houses.
            "Some kids are trapped under the rubble," a cop informed me crisply, holding out a hand to bar me from getting closer.
             I could see firefighters throwing aside big chunks of wall board and cinder blocks in the continued to search for more victims. A trio of firefighters struggled with a large piece.
            My God I could easily move that.  I tried to rush in and help but the cop would have none of it. I glared at him and intended to shove him aside when I heard shouting as the rescuers pulled a kid out and the crisis passed. I watched the scene in a trance and knew exactly what to do with my life.           
            " I can see a straight line from that epiphany to this moment," I said as a curious feeling of self awareness rushed up. Her eyes narrowed as she mentally constructed a narrative.
            "Not everything I say is for public consumption," I said, stopping her thinking.
Victoria gave me an odd look, like I didn't get it.
            "Everyone is going to know your history when this breaks, so you better get used to it," She informed me bluntly. I squirmed in my seat. Once again I had the uncomfortable feeling this was a bad idea and felt the urge to run and hide.
            "Have you talked to anyone else about going public?" she inquired. I shook my head, leaving Roscoe out of the equation. There was an anxious pause as she stared at her cold coffee and I got an ominous feeling.
            "Uh-oh," I groaned as a prompt.
            "Mackie wants to pass on the story."
            "What?" I blurted, incredulous.
            "We know it's true, but he's a conservative journalist and a cautious man."
            "I thought the press loved this kind of story," I said, expressing confusion.
            "Oh they do, the more dramatic, the better. Extreme behavior, the eccentric and the horrible-- all makes for good press," She looked out the rear door for a long time before finishing. "But this one requires-- more than print copy," she said tactfully.
            "What should I do, fly into Three River Stadium in the middle of a ball game and land on home plate?"
            Wow, this was proving to be more troublesome than I imagined. There was no in between, either I make a big reveal or not at all. I crossed my arms impatiently.
            "Superheros never had this problem," I sputtered.
            "This isn't the comics," she replied. I blinked, that's exactly what I once said to Pete.             "Don't worry, when this story breaks the press will be all over you," she said with sardonic humor.
            " And I can kiss my privacy good bye," I sighed. She shook her head.           
            " No, never give up your privacy. Never compromise or answer the unasked question. If you really want the press to ignore you, be boring, they hate that."
            "Actually, I am kind of boring," I said. She gave a small laugh at my modesty.
            " I doubt that highly."
            We discussed the problem a bit further. In addition to the public and press, the government was going to be keenly interested. That hadn't occurred to me and I went into shock at the prospect of powerful, incompetent agents putting their hands on my balls.
            "Maybe you could wear a mask or have a secret identity," she suggested with little conviction. I snorted at the idea.           
            "There would be a race to unmask me. I'll have a better idea what to do after I talk to my parents," I offered.
            "They don't know?" She sat up startled.
            " Kind of, " I hemmed. I planned to visit them in July for the holiday.
            " Don't worry, I don't think anything will happen between now and then. I have all summer to yard this thing out," I said off handedly. 
            Famous last words. 


Monday, February 29

Shop Talk 6 License to Break Things

            "Name the three main fuels for propulsion."
            "Chemical, nuclear reactors and electromagnetic drives," I answered.
 Temple  was grilling me for my mechanic's exam, it won't qualify me to fix anything important but I can get a raise and more knowledge is always a good thing.
            "What are the four basic types of  transport?" she continued while bolting down a steel plate with a pneumatic drill. We were ten feet up crawling around on top of the wing of a patrol ship replacing armor. An uncomfortable place for quizzing and my distaste of heights didn't help.
            "Airship, interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic,"  I answered as I adjusted the next plate.
            "-And their engine specs,"  she demanded. I hid my groan of frustration at the interrogation under the guise of lifting another plate. Damn these things are heavy, where is George when I need him?
            "Airships, like this one, use chemical fuel and have wings. Interplanetary are generally electromagnetic drive, kept far away from the occupants. Interstellar uses ion drive or fusion reactors, usually at the rear and intergalactic is anyone's guess," I said as I put the last plate down.
             Indeed, intergalactic travel was still theoretical. Interstellar travel was hard enough with all kinds of technical problems and concepts Terrans just couldn't grasp-hence the subterfuge by the Pohl's. Once the whole- you can go faster than light limitation was overcome, it got easier but not much.
            A trek into outer space discouraged all but the hardiest or determined. If you could afford it, you could take the flight from the Air and Space port in California. I couldn't, so I went to French Guiana for their cut rate tourist, commercial service. You were shot into space for a three and a half day trip to the colossal station on the moon that was awful and disliked by everyone.
            "So far so good," Temple gave me a rare smile as the last plate was set. I shook my head in doubt. There was a mountain of technical jargon to remember and I had just scratched the surface.
            " Maybe I should just stick to the interior design of a Cassarian yacht," I complained.
            "You'll do fine Alisa," Temple assured me.
            She  went on to cover the joys of hydraulics systems with all the awful lubricants and chemicals that can leak, spill or squirt on you.
            Stan walked by under the high outrigger engine and I took a needed break as he and Temple exchanged shop talk.
            I loved working for Stan but legions of travelers will never forgive his revered father for the monstrosity his company built on Luna. Cold, loud and built on a shoestring budget, everyone rushed to leave it as soon as possible. I was lucky to get a last minute seat on a behemoth freighter appropriately named The Pavarotti, after the famed tenor.
            " Hey I hear Goddard Cruise line got an improved TARDIS on their newest ship," Stan quipped to a mildly surprised Temple.           
            "Maybe they'll actually get some tourist business," she replied sardonically and they chuckled.
            Well, almost lucky because unlike the cushy transport out of the Mojave or the Cosmodrome in Russia, The Pavarotti did not have a TARDIS.           
            Beyond Light Speed is not fun because of the massive gee and warping of space.  The jump doesn't last long but you have to say focused on the present or you get the weird and terrifying feeling of  hanging out in the black emptiness of space until your consciousness catches up with the act of leaping beyond human perception. My head hurt and I held onto any anchored object for a week afterwards.           
            Terrans  usually travel in a comfortable compartment safe from the inter-dimensional mindfuck in what was humorously dubbed The TARDIS in homage to Dr. Who. My advise:  pay for the upgrade, it's worth it.
            Stan waved to me as he continued on his daily rounds. I looked at my tutor and realized how lucky I am.
            Temple Giotti is one of the best mechanics I've seen, she gets it. Even the Pohl's- no slouches when it comes to high tech-solicit her advise on new or experimental craft. My confidence in passing the exam rose.
            The Alliance welcomed and desired Terrans  because we are hardy, good at handling emergencies and problem solving. I mean we excel at it compared to other ETs.
            After dealing with the doltish Rogues in the warehouse I first worked at and the ornate bureaucracy of the Jova's, I developed a better opinion of the brain power of my fellow Terrans.
            "Do you remember how the gee force generator works? " Temple interrupted my reverie.
            "Oh enough already, let me deal with this shit first," I rebelled as I wrestled with a air vent cover.
            "You're off the hook until after lunch," she informed me half joking.
            "Gee thanks," I retorted facetiously.
            I finished throwing a pile of dirty air filters onto a wheeled cart and gladly climbed down the ladder to the shop floor.
            I passed by Imbler on the way out and gave him a nod, his artificial human appearance not the least bit abnormal anymore. He was pleasant and unlike Elvis, he was actually helpful in the shop. Once, a high tension spring from a landing gear snapped and in a high speed blur he moved Stan safely out of the way as the shrapnel flew past them, hitting the far wall like a bullet. Stan was momentarily stunned by the sudden action but unhurt. Imbler returned to work, cool as ever.
            I discovered he enjoyed, like other Pohl's, haiku poetry and we got along great when I introduced him to a volume of Japanese masters. The Pohl's, however, don't get our humor like George does.
            "How many idiots does it take to change a light bulb?-one," I told George at lunch.
            We cracked each other up with dumb jokes while Imbler stared at us in mute puzzlement.
            After more tutoring from Temple, endless walking around and working in a perpetually cold shop, I was exhausted and headed to the crew lounge to warm up. An alarm sounded and I braced for a blast of frigid air as the huge Bailey doors at the rear opened to let a ship enter. I learned the trick of putting on over the ear protectors to block out the noise and change in air pressure. As always , I stop to watch the hydraulic machinery required to lift the heavy airtight doors.
            In glided a Jova  interstellar cruiser. Big, shiny and ridiculously complicated. I groaned as I headed out, knowing how much work one of those was going to be if it needed  interior work, their do love fancy decor.
            The big shock to humanity after the "The Awakening" was how humanoid aliens looked, especially the Jova. It turned out our biological form was more common than we ever imagined. The religious had a field day with the-"we are made in God's image" and a raging desire for mass conversions but the aliens would have none that bullshit.
            Alien contact was good news, bad news. It meant we could relate to other species with more or less similar environmental needs but different enough to prevent cross species pathogens. Terrans  made the mistake of thinking that if some of the aliens looked like us, they would think like us. They don't, and it confirmed the Copernican theory that we're not that special, but that was about to change thanks to, of all things, a cocktail party.           
           


           

Friday, January 22

Shop talk 5 The Awakening

           



             

             My head was ringing when I left the cafe hours later. I wandered around the town square aimlessly, too excited to sit still or sleep.
            I had heard the story from media, books, people who knew people and now from the closest sources yet. Inspiration struck and I hurried back to the apartment to write my own account of the legend. I gathered my notes and sat down to a desk in front of the window overlooking an unspectacular view of the empty street below. I turned off the phone, pulled the blinds and began to write.

Ping....ping.... a high pitched tone woke the Garin Rogue from a very sound sleep. Ping...ping... he opened a yellow eye to see the ship's clock. Long distance space travel had one, and only one perk-lots of sleep time. He groaned as he slowly heaved his thick  frame up and turned off the alarm.
            "Good waking Teotao," the ship's computer voice chirped, when he turned on the bedroom light.  He mumbled a profanity as he pulled on charcoal gray pants and shirt.
            "We have entered the Yi system two cycles ago, shall I start the solar orbital sequence?" the computer went on cheerfully.
            "Hmm? Oh sure Betty. You pick up any broadcasting yet?"
            "Plenty, most of it is indecipherable," Betty replied. Of course it is, Teotao thought, annoyed at the computer's thoroughness.
            Very little was known about this system except that it had one inhabitable planet, a rarity with many systems, and the single species was a scattered mess of politics, cultures and religious superstitions.
            "Narrow it down to the ten most frequent bands and run a full mineral scan on the place when we're close enough. Keep us in the shadows of any surveillance too, " he ordered as he finished dressing and tended to his personal grooming. He looked in the mirror and primped with his lush pelt of hair the color of cinnamon  covering his head and body, neatly trimming his facial hair.
            Done with the ritual, he climbed the steep stairs to the bridge. The barge had small living quarters and a sparse bridge but that was the point. All the available space was for cargo. His thick, pudgy fingers danced over the controls as he took command of the ship and ran a check on the small solar dinghy he used as a commuter vessel.
            After an hour of scanning he had a better handle on the new world. All the right elements were there, ripe for the taking. There was evident of recent nuclear activity but none of the feeble military defenses had space based weapons and-- praise be the Four Powers, Betty isolated one of the languages which was on file in the Alliance library. He would spend the remaining time of the approach learning the basic vocabulary, easy business for a Rogue, and figuring out which dominant control to contact for business.
            Teotao rubbed his hand with glee at hitting the jackpot: a fresh planet with lots of raw minerals and ignorant suckers ready to trade.
            That the system had been declared off limits by the Alliance made the prospect easier with no interference from the insufferable Jovas.
             They were a female dominated planet and he thanked the Four Powers he was born a free agent on Gar, a nice planet of hardy sorts who gave the Alliance a rude gesture when they tried to run the place.
            He shuddered as he sat in the pilot seat. He preferred his own counsel rather than those fems and their prissy males with their high drama and rules when it came to riches waiting to be plucked for the adventurous.
            He chuckled at the Guardianship, they did the work for him with their monitoring and data collection of the system for eventual contact. He had spent a good amount of time at the Alliance library familiarizing himself with his new find.
            He hitched the barge to the orbit of the gray, lifeless moon nearby and gazed wolfishly at on the bridge monitor. He would wait for the right moment to introduce himself to the citizens of the bright blue orb with wisps of white clouds over a half dozen land masses.

                                    *                                    *                                    *

            "Of all the greedy, arrogant, irresponsible things you have done Teotao this takes the prize," Madame Malinka of the Alliance Guardianship Commission could no longer contain her temper.
              The Jova Administrator along with the Pohlian and Chiron representatives, were seated in a large conference room where the Rogue was being interrogated.  The awkward silence stretched as Teotao and his lawyer shifted uncomfortably on the other side of a massive white table. Teotao shrugged his bulky shoulders at the verbal lashing.
            "Nobody was hurt or killed, so what's the big deal?" his disdain increased her ire.
            "The big deal is that you-- an unlicensed trader made first contact with an unaligned, barbaric, non-space faring civilization without our consent," she fumed, incredulous at his audacity.
            "How can they become aligned if they aren't contacted first?" he argued and his Cassarian Lawyer nodded his double chin in agreement. Malinka slapped the table with a small elegant hand.
            "That's for the Alliance to decide, not some raw ore dealing pirate, " she hissed.
            You don't run the universe, he wanted to retort. It was the Jova's turn to run the Alliance, a loose federation of fifteen races on twelve planets among five solar systems.
             Don't play with non-Alliance folks, they scolded, repeating the outdated prohibition, but the Pohl's and especially the Jova's, freely dealt with new worlds all the time and they call me arrogant, Teotao seethed.
            "What exactly did you promise the Orbis, pray tell?" Ambassador Shem inquired in his typical formal manner.
            Boy he's an odd one, Teotao thought as he considered his answer. The Pohl would make a superb gambler with his blank expression and minimal body language. He wondered if it was true that the hairless gray physique under a mauve robe was a robot housing a squishy blob. His lawyer put a fat hand on his arm and sotto voce discouraged him from answering but he felt no need to hide his actions.
            "We decided on a fair trade of copper and nickel, in exchange I gave some of their-ah what's the word," he groped for the term as he waved a large hand vaguely.
            "Astronauts, a ride around their solar system. They were thrilled with the deal," he gave a hearty chuckle as he recalled their child like enthusiasm.
             "They did not inquire about interdimensional travel?" Shem pressed on.
            "I told them that was too tricky," Teotao admitted with a smirk. He leaned back, pleased with his response to a potential trap.
            It was true, there was no way these newbies could handle the warping of interstellar travel. And, while trading ore was one thing, selling technology was a serious offense.
            "My client made a business transaction with private citizens, not with any government. All perfectly legal under Alliance guidelines, despite Madame Malinka's objections," his lawyer Parthalon added with confidence.
            "That is quite correct counsel, however trading with the Klee is not," Shem retorted smoothly. Teotao stiffened.
            "I never had anything to do with those bastards, it's not my fault they tried to horn in on the action," he snapped, deeply offended. Still he hoped the Klee didn't get near the Orbis, they wouldn't survive an invasion by those roaches.
            "Then you should have been more discreet with your new found wealth," Malinka added.
            She didn't care about his dealing, it was the Klee getting wind of it that worried her. Was he really so ignorant to think they wouldn't  notice the sudden influx of sought after minerals he was offering on the open market? They were bound to wonder where he acquired it.
            "How did they find out?" Shem continued.
            "My client doesn't know." Parthalon answered before Teotao could give a snarky reply he would regret. Shem arched an eyebrow. Given the Cassarian's poor bluffing skills he was probably telling the truth.
            "I think we need to take a break so the counsel can consider the evidence Teotao has graciously given," said Clement, the Chiron member of the triad.
            At least he was polite, Teotao thought as he and his lawyer quickly retired. Clement stood and stretched, thankful for a break from sitting in a chair that was not designed for a creature with four arms and long legs. Malinka swiveled in her chair impatiently while Shem contemplated his hands.
            "The Alliance will have to recognize this system," Shem said finally, making the informal offer as sponsor. The other two exchanged looks.
            "Do you think they are ready for the leap?" Malinka asked, dubious of his motives with the primitive species.
            "Ready or not, we need to get to them before the Klee does," he said, expressing their true fear. A conflict between the Klee, the Orbis and the Pohl's would not end well for anyone.
            "Fair enough, let's assume a spy must have overheard the Rogue while he was celebrating and find them out," Clement said, turning away from the tall window to face his coordinators.
            Shem barely heard him as his mind reeled with anticipation of another ally. What kind of contribution could this new planet make to the burgeoning alliance of civilizations?




           

           
           

Friday, January 8

Shop talk 4 The Rhode Island Bar part 2


            Temple lead the way through a long hallway and a set of heavy doors to a quiet, genteel cafe next door. The lighting was low key with several floor lamps scattered about giving the large space an intimate feel as people sat working on laptops and drinking coffee. An espresso machine hissed away behind a long counter that was an extension of the previous bar and continued at a right angle through a large mirror to a brown zone bar-off limits to humans.            
            I spotted Gaga, the office matron, and Stan sitting at a corner table and she waved us over. I froze at the prospect of making conversation with Stan and Temple, they intimidated the hell out of me but moved ahead at the warm smile from Gaga. She was a large black woman with flamboyant taste in clothes and a personality to match. They greeted us pleasantly as we settled into sturdy metal chairs. Stan must have just got off work, as he was still in work pants and sporting a Montana Design tee shirt like mine. A rail thin waiter in an iridescent green jumpsuit who seemed familiar with Gaga, took our orders.
            To my small surprise Temple ordered coffee. I always pictured her as a hard drinking, battle scarred warrior after spotting the star shaped, insignia of the Terran Defense League tattooed her upper arm. Those pilot's were officially bad ass. I knew better than to inquire about it as she was an intensely private person.
            "Those days are gone," she said simply enough. Gaga nodded.
            " Amen, it's not like the days when we used to knock em back with old Sam," she said with a significant look to Stan who gave a small nod. I was about ask who Sam was  when a loud bang from the direction of the brown zone caught our attention. We couldn't see it, but something hit the large mirror from the other side causing it to quiver for a moment.
            Shit, I hope that glass doesn't break, I thought in alarm. A breech from one zone to the next is never good and usually involves an emergency evacuation. The staff behind the bar skittered away but the others seemed unfazed by the commotion.
            "Looks like the Pohl's are rumbling again," Temple ventured calmly as she turned back to her coffee.
            " Enough to get a gassy lecture from Shem no doubt," Stan added.
            Shem was co governor on the moon whose job was to insure the relationship between the resident's and his people remained civil-- not too hard given the normally passive nature of our alien hosts.
            "What are they so riled up about these days?" Gaga wondered, which caused me new alarm because if anyone knew, she would, she was the biggest gossip in town.
            "Probably spooked by rumors of the Klee starting shit again," Stan said and the ladies snorted at some private joke. Personally, I found nothing funny about the Klee, a truly obnoxious race no one liked.
            "What's the deal between the Pohl's and the Klee anyway? " I asked, my curiosity piqued.
            "Difference in cultures, politics, religion, who knows. Apparently they have a grudge that goes back centuries,"  Stan suggested. He pulled up his short sleeve to scratch his arm and I noticed a star shaped tattoo. In a sudden burst of insight I made the connection.
            "Oh my God, you're related to Sam Mussel?" I blurted. Stan offered a faint honored smile, while Temple looked annoyed at my lack of manners.
             Sam Mussel was a legend among astronauts. He was the commander of the first space mission after "The Awakening".
            It was supposed to be a grand adventure, humans would at last leave the solar system to travel among the stars. Instead, the ship never got off our moon thanks to poor engineering, a rushed mission and the politics of proving to the Alliance that humans were ready for star flight.
             Mussel was legend for his piloting the craft to an emergency landing saving the lives of the seven crew members. There was a lot of finger pointing between NASA, the US Department of Defense and members of the UN about the crash. Mussel lost his hero's shine when the powers-that-be tried to pin the mission's failure on him. In return he gave the directors of the pansy ass, late great, NASA the finger. He went on to start the Interstellar Cooperative, a real space program to understand alien technology that would eventually launch Terrans into deep space. Stan and Gaga seemed amused with my exposition.
            " She don't know about the Rogue," she opined, putting her manicured hand on Stan's arm. Stan gave me a sharp look.
            "They're still spinning that story about dad huh? How do you think we acquired Eat Tee technology?" he asked, while Temple and Gaga watched intensely for my response. It was a trick question I was sure.
            " We stole-er we reversed engineered it but nobody would admit it," I sardonically pointed out what everyone suspected. Stan gave me a look one gives to forgive innocence.
            "Kind of. The Pohl's gave it to us but claimed we stole it," he corrected.
            "Why would they make a claim like--oh I get it," I stopped myself as comprehension sunk in.
            It was a good cover story "Look how those clever humans figured out interstellar space mechanics all by themselves," When in reality by giving us the know how, it forced the Alliance to protect us from the Rogues.
            They had a hearty laugh at my ignorance but there was no malice in their humor. I had a clearer picture of the modern mythology and spent a lively evening listening as the three spun a very interesting yarn.