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.