Sunday, October 11

"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 café 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. 

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