The usual caveats apply.
Comments and recommendations appreciated, as always.
Danny had just finished with the turnover of Wessel’s cargo to the Mining Guild and released the crew for liberty when Estrella came over the PA. “Captain, priority call for you. Are you available?”
Did something happen to Dani? The baby? What? “Uh, yeah. Patch it to the…never mind, I’ll be on the bridge in less than a seg. Tell whoever it is to hold.” A double click sounded over the PA as he took off at a jog for the bridge.
Danny slid into the pilot’s couch and said, “Where is it?”
Estrella said, “Main screen…now.”
Victor Krasnov’s grim face came on the screen, and Danny said, “Vic, what can I do for you?”
“Where are you? Are you available for a trip?”
“Uh, sure. We’re at Gany now. What—”
Vic interrupted him, snapping out, “Leningrad is hard down at Tejas Station. Drive plates failed for the second time. The crew had already installed the spares earlier in the trip. I need to get six plates and a tech team from the manufacturer out there as soon as possible. I have nothing that can get there quickly. For one of my ships, it’s a forty-five-day transit.”
Danny glanced at Estrella. “Find Ish. I need him in on this discussion.” Turning back to the screen he went on, “We can do it, I just finished a cargo run. There is some stuff for Alpha, but I can get that picked up by somebody else. Where do you need us?”
“The plates are on their way to Gany from the St. George yards at Mars. The tech team should already be on Gany, since they have a major office there.”
“Tools? Equipment? Anything else that needs to be taken with?” If the plates are new, there shouldn’t be a radiation hazard, but…and how big are they? Crap, have I spoken too soon? Shaking his head, he asked, “Vic, how big are these plates, and are they new, not irradiated?”
Vic glanced down at something. “Ten by twenty feet, two inches thick, weight twelve thousand four hundred pounds per plate. These had better be brand new and completely scanned and certified! The others supposedly were, but didn’t even last one trip. St. George is trying to blame us for the problems.”
Quickly running the numbers, Danny replied, “I’ll have to load balance port and starboard, but there is room in the bays for them. I don’t have a loader capable of that weight though.”
Vic growled, “They supposedly have anti-grav units attached…supposedly.”
“When are they expected to get here, and which module?”
“Two days. If you can take them, I’ll have them delivered to wherever Ghost is parked.”
“Of course we’ll take them! I owe you more than I could ever—”
Vic interrupted again, “I’ll be arriving tomorrow. I will go with you, as crew.”
Danny started to answer then stopped. He is pissed! And I’m now wondering if something else is going on. “Ah, okay. Spacer Victor will be on the muster in two days. We’re at module twelve bravo one six. Any idea how many techs will go?”
“I should know tomorrow. I’ll message you.”
Danny sighed. “Copied all. We’ll start getting things ready. Anything else?”
Vic shook his head and finally smiled. “No, and I apologize, I shouldn’t have bit your head off, you didn’t cause this and you’re bailing my company out. Clear.”
Before Danny could answer, the screen blanked, and he turned to Estrella. “I…we need to make this trip as fast as we can, and I hope…”
Estrella replied, “Ish is on his way back. Nyx has the watch, and I cued him to what is happening. He is also curious as to the failure mode or modes for the drives. That makes little sense unless there were unknown manufacturing defects, or the quality control has failed. Normal drive meantime failure rates average twenty-three thousand hours.”
Danny bit his lip. “Uh, how many hours on our drives?”
“Nine thousand four hundred thirty-one on the port, nine thousand four hundred twenty on the starboard. Efrot and Nyx have improved them to where they really could get galactic patents for some things they have done, but they don’t want the notoriety,” Estrella replied.
“Gal patents? Deity, they should do that, it would mean—”
Estrella interrupted, “Notoriety, which they don’t want. They have plenty of credits and enjoy being right where they are. Leave them alone!”
Danny raised his hands. “Not touching them! I will not mess with what we have!”
Ish limped onto the bridge, looked at Danny and Estrella and asked, “What happened that you needed me?”
Danny said, “Vic needs the quickest trip possible to Tejas Station. Apparently, his freighter Leningrad blew a second set of drive plates.”
Ish whistled. “Tejas is out past Antares. That is…” he turned to the nav table and pulled up a holo. “Standard is forty to forty-five days, via Epsilon, Centauri, and Antares.” He glanced distractedly at Danny. “Let me see what we can do to better that. Give me a div to look at options.”
Two divs later, as Danny paced the bridge, Ish said, “We can do it in thirty-seven days, less if Efrot and Nyx can push up the power.”
Danny nodded as a smile lit his face. “Thank you! Now we need to make sure Nik knows we’re going to have guests aboard.”
Vic came aboard just after lunch the next day, in a worn shipsuit, fitting his persona as a crewman. He’d shaved his head and beard again, which changed his entire appearance. Danny shook his hand and said, “You know you don’t have to do this, this way. Ish says we can do the trip in thirty-seven days, worst case.”
Vic replied, “That’s great news, every day Leningrad is down is a million credits lost.” Waving at his shipsuit, he continued, “This way, if the techs talk, I might overhear something important. If they saw Victor Krasnov, they would be quiet as mice, and make damned sure neither I nor the company would find out anything about what happened to the drives.”
“Essie, log Mr. Victor aboard as…shit. Nik.”
Vic cocked his head. “Nick?”
Danny said, “N I K, no C, Rau, he was going to check with his family about whether he could continue as a crewman.” Shaking his head, he added, “If nothing else, he’ll come back for his check. Uh, Vic, we have…an assistant cargo master, Nik Rau, and we have a cook, not Daniella this trip. Neither Nik, nor Ju Tao, the cook, knows you, but the rest of the crew does. I don’t know…”
Vic chuckled. “We’ll play it by ear. I assume your crew is normally close mouthed from what I’ve seen of them.”
Estrella said, “Clams where the ship is concerned. Everyone gets along, and even socialize off the ship.” She made a moue. “That is one thing I would like to do, but I’m limited to the confines of the ship as a simulacrum.”
Vic and Danny both nodded and Vic said, “Yes, that poses problems. The simulacrum that replaces me is limited to the office complex. I have second at the house for public visibility. I don’t think there is a way for a simulacrum to operate independently, at least to my knowledge.”
Danny shrugged. “What will be, will be. Welcome aboard.”
“I’ll go check with Adrion and find out how he wants to load the plates and throw my bag on my rack.”
Estrella said, “Tech team is arriving, Moe just called from the head of the module.”
Danny sighed. “Send them down. We’ll get them settled, and the briefings done. At least that will be out of the way before we have to load the drive plates and can leave immediately afterward. I’ll go meet them at…no, have them escorted up to the mess. Give me the cabin assignments, and I’ll do that and the brief at the same time.”
“Yes, Captain. Pushing the cabins to your wrist comp now.” Danny waved as he headed for the hatch and strode down to the mess.
Ten segs later, Danny stood in front of an odd mix of technicians, four human, one huge Arcturian, and a blue, pinch faced Kepleran named Keelor, who introduced himself and sat at a separate table. The burly, dark-haired man sitting directly in front of him said impatiently, “Let’s get this done. I’ve got—”
Danny looked down at his wrist comp as he interrupted. “Scheuller? Are you Scheuller?”
“Yes, I’m drive plate production team lead, and I have—”
“Nothing to do until I finish briefing you. I am Captain Ortega. This is my ship, Ghost. If you do not get this briefing on safety equipment and procedures, you will not be aboard when we get underway, is that understood, Scheuller?”
Scheuller crossed his arms with a scowl. “Whatever. Not the first ship I’ve been on,” he mumbled.
Twenty segs later, Danny concluded, “We expect to load the drive plates tomorrow and depart immediately after that. There is a lounge in your area you are welcome to use, standard off-limits areas apply, but since you have cargo aboard, you are authorized into the bays, but limit your access to the bays unless accompanied by one of the ship’s personnel. Meals will be served here for the duration of the trip. Questions?”
“Yeah, why should we have to have minders to go in the bay?” Scheuller demanded.
“This is a research ship, not a standard cargo ship, so the bays operate differently. I do not want you to inadvertently space yourselves.”
Scheuller stood. “Let’s go. We’ve got things to do now that we’ve wasted half a div. Meeting in this lounge wherever it is in ten segs.” With that, he stomped out, closely followed by the other humans.
The Kepleran followed the Arcturian out of the mess, stopped at the hatch and turned back. “Captain, you have made an enemy. Mr. Scheuller is vindictive when he does not get his way. Beware.”
Danny nodded and asked, “You did not sit with them, Sir?”
“Call me Keelor. I am…quality branch. He does not want me here.” With that, he slipped quickly out of the hatch and down the passageway.
Well, isn’t that special? I better warn the crew that we might have problems. Looking up at the camera, he said quietly, “Essie, crew meeting on the bridge in ten. Not over the PA, use the IC.”
“Yes, Captain. I observed the briefing.”
The crew, plus Vic had just gathered on the bridge when Moe’s GalTrans came over the IC. “Bridge, tell the captain that Nik is back and on his way aboard.”
Danny said, “Catch him, Moe, and tell him to come to the bridge.”
“We’ll wait for Nik. Tao, this is Vic Victor, he’s a spacer we’ve used before as an assistant cargo master, since Nik is probably going to leave us here.” Tao and Vic shook hands and Tao immediately asked Vic what foods he liked. That wasted a few segs until Nik showed up. Danny said, “Nik, close the hatch, please.” Once that was done, Danny added, “Folks, we have a potential issue with this bunch of techs that came aboard. The lead, Scheuller, the big dark-haired guy, apparently doesn’t like to play by the rules, thinking he’s too important. Be careful around him, and keep your spaces secured, especially engineering. They are from St. George and we’re taking them out to change out the drive plates on Mr. Krasnov’s ship Leningrad.” Efrot and Nyx chattered to each other quietly, and Danny said, “Efrot, Nyx, especially I do not want them in engineering spaces at all. Keep the hatches secured.”
Efrot replied, “No, definitely do not want them looking around. I have not heard good things about Mr. Scheuller through the engineering network.”
“That’s all I’ve got. Questions? Curley, can you make sure Moe gets the word?”
Curley’s snarl came out of his GalTrans as, “With prejudice, Captain. We will monitor all of them.”
Danny nodded. “Dismissed.” As the crew filed out, he turned to Nik. “You need your paycheck, correct?”
Nik ducked his head and smiled sheepishly as he watched the crew leave. Once they were gone, he turned back to Danny. “No, actually I came back to tell you I’ve retired officially from GalPat. I’ve got my forty in, and they will continue to pay me for another three to six months to monitor your new installation.” He shrugged. “I guess when I said that to Sergeant Ramirez, it kicked off a thought I hadn’t considered. I haven’t really seen the universe, and this might be my best chance. Since I don’t have a family tying me down, this is probably my best way to actually see parts of it and do some good for all of us.” He smiled. “And you could use more training.”
Danny blew out a breath. “Oh…that is not what I expected to hear. I…we’ve already brought on somebody to…replace you.”
“That new guy, Vic?”
“Um, yeah. But maybe we can let him go after this trip.”
Nik shook his head. “Don’t worry about paying me, give what my salary is supposed to be to him, and I’ll just—”
“No!” Danny said. “You’re still on the books, so we will pay you your same salary. I’ll work it out with him. He’s…very knowledgeable, and he’s worked for us before.”
Nik looked up at the overhead and sighed. “Well, I could always move on.”
Estrella interrupted, “Captain, I think Nik deserves to know.” She turned to him. “Warrant, Vic Victor is actually Victor Krasnov. Yes, that Krasnov. The rest of the crew, less Ju Tao know who he is. That is close hold information.”
Before Danny could do anything, Nik whistled. “That…wow. Now I understand, I won’t say a word. I’m not even sure what I could or would say.” He turned and walked off the bridge shaking his head as Danny turned on Estrella, dumbfounded.
“Why did you do that?” He asked.
“Nik has a right to know. And we know he keeps secrets. What is one more?” Estrella raised an eyebrow. “You were about to talk yourself into a corner you wouldn’t have been able to get out of without lying to one or the other of them.”
Danny threw up his hands. “I give up. I just…I give up.” He got up and stalked off the bridge in a huff missing Estrella’s mumbled comment.
“Anthropoids. They have no concept of logical thought.” She turned back to her checks on the ship and her systems with a smile on her face.
“Captain to the starboard bay,” came over the PA. Danny cursed as he shuffled across the ship in his soft suit.
Cycling through the lock, he found Adrion and Vic confronting Scheuller as the outer bay door slid open. Switching over to the suit channel, he heard, “I’m the loadmaster, not you. You will not control the loading, nor will we load to your plan, if you want to call it that. The captain has already approved the load plan, period, end of subject.”
Scheuller bowed up, crossing his arms as he snapped, “You people don’t know shit about those drive plates. They can’t be stacked. Your bays aren’t big enough, so I’m cancelling this piece of shit ship off the contract, and I’ll get a real—”
The bay door opened, and they saw the freighter, Journey Six, less than fifty feet away with their cargo bay open and the drive plates stacked three high. Adrion snorted. “Can’t be stacked, huh? Well, looks like your company doesn’t know that either.”
Danny said, “Okay, let’s get on with it. We’re wasting time. Scheuller, either get with the program or get out of the way.” Scheuller turned and stalked toward the lock, followed by Nik, who made sure he was gone before turning back and giving a thumbs up.
Danny was surprised when the big Arcturian, Atool, stepped forward as Adrion took out the universal remote for the anti-grav units attached to the drive plates. “Run this, may I? Do all the time at factory.” Adrion glanced at Danny who nodded, and he passed the remote to Atool.
Moments later they were surprised to see the entire stack of three drive plates crossing the fifty feet still locked together as Atool stepped over to where the end of the plates would be in the bay. Adrion, Danny, Nik, and Vic quickly moved clear as Atool brought them smoothly into the bay, reaching out with one hand to stop them exactly on the mark on the deck plate, then lowering them gently to the deck. “Strap down, I do?” Atool asked as he passed the remote back to Adrion.
Vic shook himself and said, “No, we can do that. We’ll use both clamps and straps. Captain, are you going to flip the ship now?”
Danny looked up as he saw the freighter moving gently away on thrusters. “Ah, yeah. Guess I better get to the bridge. Can you be ready in ten?”
Adrion replied, “We’ll be ready.” Danny headed for the lock as the bay door starting closing.
As soon as he was through the lock, he peeled out of his soft suit and trotted to the bridge. Slipping into the pilot’s couch, he asked, “Where are we on the checklist?”
Ish said, “Holding at clamps. We’re on ship’s power, standing by for release. Station control says if you want to reverse around, they will tractor us rather than reclamp, since we’re leaving soon.”
“Got it.” He rolled his shoulders, reached up and patted the 8-day clock, then dropped his hands to the controllers on the arms of the couch. Keying the IC, he asked, “Status, Adrion?”
“Bay doors are closed, and…we’re clamped. Moving to the port bay.”
Estrella chimed in, “I depressurized the port bay, bay door coming open.”
Danny keyed the radio. “Gany, Ghost is ready to flip. Release clamps please.”
“Ghost, Gany is releasing clamps…now. Note, Journey Six is clear.”
With a clunk heard through the ship, Danny felt the ship come alive under his hands. “Copy clear, backing out now.” He gently used the thrusters to back out of the module, scanned the screens to ensure the freighter was clear, and swung the ship one hundred eighty degrees. “Gany, Ghost is backing in. Call position.”
“Ghost back thirty, twenty, ten, hold!” They felt a shudder as the station tractors locked on and the station controller said, “We have you. Journey Six, you are cleared to approach.”
The captain of Journey Six replied, “Approach begun. Five segs to position.”
A half div later, the captain of Journey Six said, “Pleasure doing business with you, Ghost. Safe spacing to you.”
Danny smiled as he replied, “And to you, Journey. Appreciate your assistance and ship handling! Break, Gany, Ghost is ready for departure.”
“Ghost, Gany station clears you Saturn two departure, Epsilon one jump point. Your window open at time one three four three.”
“Ah, Gany, Ghost cleared Saturn two, Epsilon one at one three four three.”
“Read back correct, dropping tractor…now.”
Danny eased Ghost away from the station and came over the PA, “We are underway, our jump time is one three four three for Epsilon. Crew and pax are free to move about until one three three zero.”
(C) JL Curtis 2023 All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Scheuller is vindictive when he does not get is way.
2nd “is” -> his
Bridge, tell the captain that Nic is back and on his way aboard.
Nic -> Nik
“Before Danny could answer, Daniella said”
should be “Before Danny could answer, Estrella said…”
Nik is off ship to check with his family…:Captain, he was going to check with his family
Later Nik is said to not have any family…. “Since I don’t have a family tying me down, this is probably my best way to actually.
Ag- Gah, thanks
Mark- Danny was lying to Vic to cover his real position, which is why Estrella does what she does.
All changes inputted… Thank you for ‘fixing’ my problems!!!
Schuller needs be either confined to quarters with Essie authorized to protect the ship and crew or have an ‘accident’ and spend the trip in the medbox. He is going to hurt somebody else before this story is done.
Hey Old NFO;
Some thoughts come to mind regarding AIs about their limits and bad behavior by passengers after re-reading the Rimworld stories.
JACE has limits on his use of force (at least officially when non-AIs are around), plus JACE has so many copies made destroying the Hyderabad is inconvenient, not fatal if he is the only intelligence aboard.
Does Estrella have the same limits? She has copies now but she knows Danny, Daniella, and the rest of the crew are vulnerable.
The question is what can she (or will she) do to defend Danny and the crew in extremis now that she has at least one simulacrum on board.
Not asking for spoilers, just thoughts about the snippet.
I have no corrections or criticisms. I love this story.
When is it available? I am committed.
Where can I buy this style of sci-fi? I’m going on a trip end of July and NEED this. LOL
OldNFO’s Rimworld stories on Amazon have a link on the page for a start. Other MilSF authors I like (who aren’t Ringo, Drake, or Weber) are Peter and Dorothy Grant.
Peter Grant has three MilSF series all set in the same universe. One trilogy is complete, one is waiting for the 3rd book, and his main series is at 5 books so far.
Dorothy writes Tactically Correct Romances that are good SF but with human relationships added to the mix.
Thanks need to do some Amazon’ing I see LOL
“… If you do not get this briefing on safety equipment and procedures, you will not be aboard when we get underway, is that understood, Scheuller?”
Stern regulations and industry practices, especially those that don’t make immediate sense, are usually “written in blood” of past disasters. (Why are castellated fasteners on liquid fuel rocket motors wired in place?)
Shades of the by-then old, old, old but evidently not forgotten tragedy of the Earth ocean surface vessel SS Morro Castle – if you are a cruise line passenger you WILL attend the safety drill and understand your muster station or you WILL be booted off the cruise at its next port of call.