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.
           





Sunday, December 13

Shop Talk 4 -The Rhode Island Bar Part 1

            The residents of Mark's Station work hard and play hard. As rowdy as they get there is surprisingly little serious crime. At the least you get kicked off by the Pohl's; put on the next transport and goodbye. The worst? "pushed out an airlock" is not just an insult. A particularly obnoxious liar, thief or murderer simply disappears. Most disagreements are settled among themselves.
            Although each of the five cities is about the size of a large shopping mall, they  have dozens of bars and clubs. Helena was named for the founder's daughter, but everyone here calls it Gastown because of the many ship ports.
            Me, Temple and George headed off to the Rhode Island Bar a short walk away. Like many night clubs, this one was filled with pulsing lights and loud electro dance music. It was crowded, noisy and just on the edge of uncontrollable. I wasn't concerned with trouble having Temple and a towering Chiron by my side. I glanced up to see a sign near the front door:
                                     IT HAS BEEN 9 DAYS SINCE A BAR FIGHT.
That's encouraging. As we plunged into the mayhem, George plowed us a path to the bar on the opposite side of the bare, cavernous room. After we got our drinks, we headed to the mezzanine level and stood at a railing where we could watch the crowd thrashing to the music on the dance floor. George and I enjoyed watching the people below while Temple sipped a coke in stoic silence. George nudged me and pointed toward the door where we spotted Elvis come in, still in his drab brown, work coveralls.           
            Oh no not him, I groaned in exasperation. Elvis was tall enough to see over most of the crowd, his head of black, brown and grey hair bobbed as he peered around curiously. The young man, I guess he was young, its hard to tell with Rogues, was an unwanted stray puppy. He was all gangly limbs clumsily tripping or knocking things over in an attempt to please only to annoy everyone with his forced joviality. George waved to him before I could stop him and I caught Temple looking as just as disappointed. Elvis perked up and headed our way.
            I decided to head for the restroom, always an adventure in a multi species environment, then joined Temple, who had moved to a table, to rest my tired feet. George and Elvis were having fun, jiving to rockabilly. The music stopped for a while and the atmosphere settled down by several degrees.
            A beefy fellow came by and sat in a nearby chair. He was good looking in a generic way and tried to make conversation as he swirled his beer.
            "You work for Montana Design huh?" he asked glancing at my sweatshirt with the shop logo on it.
            "Uh yeah," I replied dripping with facetiousness. He took the hint and tried again.
            "You work on McKinley's, I hear they are a bitch," he said causally but I knew where this was going. There were always spies from competitors looking for inside information or he could be working for McKinley rooting out any tipsters. I considered him carefully, risking a glance at Temple who watched the encounter closely as I stepped into the mine field.
            " I don't know, and if I did, I couldn't tell you or I'd have to kill you," I replied in a cheerful but deadly tone. Temple raised one eyebrow in sly approval of my retort. 
              George and Elvis returned from dancing and at the sight of the blue hulk the man quickly fled. I forgot that most folks are scared of Chirons. The two sat and opined about the "weird types" at the bar. It was an amusing contradiction coming from George. His massive head and thick brow suggested brutality but his bright blue eyes and kind smile belied a sweet nature. He was fascinated with human culture and I puzzled over his superb diction. He would occasionally let fly in his native tongue a stream of incomprehensible expletives that sounded like someone clearing their throat.
            “Where did he learn to speck such good English?” I asked Temple in an aside.   
            “He watches the Nostalgia Channel,” she replied with a straight faced.  That was a cable channel geared to Terrans with reruns of old TV shows from the late 20th century. I burst out laughing, it figures.
            "Whoa, look at that beauty," George said in an awed tone, his face lit up with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. We followed his gaze to a Chiron standing at the end of the massive u shaped bar dominating the club.
            She was an icy blue and her long fur had a soft look to it compared to his short cobalt fuzz. She wore a full length crimson red robe with a matching bow on the top of her head. I would have described her as girlish accept for the bulging muscles of her arms, broad, squat head as she towered over the hefty bartender. George muttered something that needed no translation of his admiration of her.  Elvis leaned close to me to be heard over the loud music.
            "Is that a female?" he asked with real naivete.
            " Yeah, the boobs are a tip off," I explained, enjoying his confusion as he rose to his full height to scrutinize her with a furrowed brow.
            "She's a real looker alright," Elvis gushed to George as Temple and I exchanged looks, trying to suppress our laughter. Elvis tried so hard to fit in it was painfully funny. George ignored our patter as he gazed intently at the object of his desire. I nudged him on the shoulder.
            "Why don't you go and introduce yourself ?" I suggested. He stared at me and shook his head in terror.
            "Oh go on George, it's now or never," Temple pointed with her chin as the Chiron daintily sipped her drink through a straw and moved away while an insistent customer tried to get the bartender's attention. George froze for an instant then set his drink down and headed straight for her.
             Elvis gave him an encouraging whoop, setting off another fit of laughter from Temple and I. We were quickly bored with the bar scene as the Chirons disappeared into the crowd.
            "Let's go next door," Temple huffed and gestured me to follow. Her invitation threw me off guard momentarily as she normally didn't give me much notice but I quickly recovered and we left, leaving the distracted Rogue behind.

continued in part 2

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 a welcoming 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

Shop Talk 1 Get a Job




            “ 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.